Teresa Dovalpage interviews Ecuadorian-American writer, editor, and translator Melanie Márquez Adams. The interview is part of a series with Latino Latinx authors.
Dovalpage: You are the founder and editor in chief of Anfibias Literarias. What is the purpose of this digital platform and what voices does it seek to highlight?
Márquez Adams: Anfibias Literarias seeks to publish literary work —short stories, poetry, and personal essays— by women writers from different trajectories, generations and writing backgrounds. My vision for this digital publication is to highlight the work of women writers, those who are just starting to publish alongside more established authors: a celebration of sisterhood. It is a feminist platform by and for women. Women’s writing has long been marginalized and what the public gets to read is what the mainstream publishing industry promotes out of trending hashtags and convenience. We are living a defining moment in which relevant conversations for women are taking place and I want Anfibias Literarias to become a space where these much-needed dialogues are encouraged. Anfibias Literarias is about resisting labels and tradition, transgressing stereotypes and expectations, subverting the canon.
Dovalpage: And the canon certainly needs to be subverted! Let’s not get too comfortable, right? You’ve translated Jason Reynolds’ Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race and Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. As a translator, what are you trying to achieve when translating a book from English to your native language? Do you have a translation philosophy that you would like to share?
Márquez Adams: As a translator, I strive to be the bridge that opens the communication between the original language and the target language. For me, it is not about producing a carbon copy where you simply replace one language with another but to work on an interpretation of the literary work that facilitates its accessibility and enjoyment by readers in the target language. I always keep in mind Umberto Eco’s theory that “translation is interpretation.” There is also a quote by Jhumpa Lahiri that I use as my compass during the translation process: “A translation is a wonderful dynamic encounter between two languages, two texts, two writers.” I want my translations to be a magical encounter of the two languages in which I exist.
Dovalpage: And I think you have fully achieved this. No Google Translate here! Now, let’s talk about your writing. You’ve published two essay collections, El país de las maravillas: crónicas de mi sueño americano and Querencia: crónicas de una latinoamericana en USA, and one short story collection, Mariposas Negras. How has your narrative voice evolved? Any advice for beginning writers?
Márquez Adams: The other day I heard an author comment on the “beautiful imperfections of a first book.” And it is true, when I go back to Mariposas Negras, I no longer find myself in certain themes, certain images, certain narrative choices. I am also more aware of rookie mistakes that hurt like nails on a blackboard. But it is important to remember that we all must start somewhere: that first publication, that brave gesture of letting go of our work so that it becomes part of the reading universe. The process of publishing my work has helped my narrative voice evolve. Publishing has afforded me the opportunity to interact and receive feedback from an audience, and from myself once I was able to look at my work more objectively. Creative writing workshops and anthology projects have been particularly helpful. Learning to find the strengths and opportunities in the work of other writers has helped me tremendously in being able to revise and polish my own work. My advice to those who are getting started is, first, not to be intimidated by writing workshops. It can be a tough experience, it’s true, but you’ll come out a stronger writer on the other side. Second, I recommend looking for editorial work opportunities, either in anthology projects or literary magazines. But, above all, you must read a lot, and not only in the genre that you are interested in writing. We never know what is going to light the spark that will lead us to a new story.
… whoever tells you that your work is so wonderful that it requires no editing, is lying to you.
Dovalpage: Yes, and you must keep it alive. Now, you have edited several books, such as Imaginar Países: Entrevistas a escritoras latinoamericanas en Estados Unidos (Hypermedia 2021), Ellas cuentan: Crime Fiction por latinoamericanas en EE.UU. (Sudaquia 2019) and Del sur al norte: Narrativa y poesía de autores andinos (winner of an International Latino Book Award). When you edit the work of others, how does this editing work differ from the revision of your own writing? What advice would you give other writers so that they can self-edit more effectively?
Márquez Adams: It will always be easier to identify strengths and opportunities in other writers’ texts. Our ego—and writers’ egos can be huge—makes us blind to aspects that we need to polish in our writing. By providing feedback to other writers, you can recognize your own challenges and it humbles you because —unless you live in a bubble— you will realize that someone else could make those same comments regarding your writing. Going through that experience sharpens our lens so that we can identify some of the big and little things that need to be polished in our writing. However, there is a limit to our ability to self-edit. It is always good practice to get someone else to read and comment on our work. Being part of a workshop or a writing group, with whom you can share your work, becomes essential. I also recommend letting a first draft sit for as long as possible before jumping into revisions or edits. That will help with objectivity. If you have the time to let it sit between drafts, even better. Something important: whoever tells you that your work is so wonderful that it requires no editing, is lying to you. It’s easy to tell when a published book didn’t have the care and editing that a serious publisher should provide. And I think that is very sad.
Dovalpage: Very good advice. Four eyes (or six, or ten) are better than two. And to finish, what do you think, based on your experience in your different roles as writer, translator, and editor, of the publishing landscape for Spanish-writing in the United States?
Márquez Adams: I’m going to be completely honest —and I know that being so candid makes me uncomfortable in the eyes of some people, but honesty and transparency are important to me. The publishing landscape right now, if we don’t do anything to change things, doesn’t look very promising for Spanish-writing in the United States. Unfortunately, our Spanish-reading base in this country is reduced to academic spaces—mostly through anthology projects in which the contributing authors are pretty much always the same. I am very lucky that my publisher, Katakana, is distributing my book of essays Querencia in Mexico where the readership in Spanish is immense, however, I also want to be read in Spanish here in my home, the United States. Waiting for the mainstream industry to change and start publishing works in Spanish—in addition to setting aside expectations of clichéd stories by Latinx authors—is a chimera. I am not a pessimist, just a realist. I believe that if we really want to change the publishing landscape in this country for writers who write in Spanish, we need to be proactive and build networks and spaces with other Latinx authors. Unfortunately, at this time, most of the platforms, spaces, workshops, calls, etc., led by the Latinx community of authors who write in English, are not inclusive of writers who write in Spanish. I have voiced my frustration regarding this issue on several Facebook groups, asking them to open those doors and welcome Spanish writers in their spaces. I am happy to say that my comments have resulted in my being invited to facilitate an open-mic in Spanish as part of the National Latinx Writers Gathering activities that will take place in mid-October. I see this as progress. It gives me hope. It may be just a window barely open, but it is a start. Recently, I also was able to convince the renowned online platform Latino Book Review to agree to publish book reviews in Spanish alongside their corresponding translations in English and I am now their Spanish Content Editor. I know that not all people in the Latinx communities speak Spanish, and let me be clear, I do not share at all the idea that not speaking Spanish makes a person less Latinx, Latino, Hispanic (use the label of your preference), but maybe they would be open to reading literature written in Spanish right here in the U.S. if they knew about it. The problem is that they are not aware of our publications because our book reviews and literary events remain in the bubble of the Latin American diaspora where we interact with the same people over and over. It is time to burst our little bubble once and for all and expand our horizon.
Melanie Márquez Adams is an Ecuadorian-American writer, editor, and translator. She holds an MFA in Spanish Creative Writing from the University of Iowa where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow. The winner of an International Latino Book Award, Melanie is a passionate advocate of Spanish-writing in the U.S. Her most recent fiction and nonfiction can be found in The Southern Review (forthcoming), Puerto del Sol, Laurel Review, Spansglish Voces, and Huellas Magazine. Melanie is the founder and editor-in-chief of Anfibias Literarias, and the Spanish Content Editor for Latino Book Review. She teaches Spanish creative writing at Hugo House, Seattle Escribe, and The Porch.