It's been a beautiful autumn here in this part of Aotearoa. Normally it's hard to drag me out of the Hokianga whenever I'm here, but I'm really excited to be part of the schools program at the Auckland Writer's Festival next week. Honored to be invited, hope to see you there!
I first heard the term 'the invisible translator' from Sonja Finck, who has been translating English, Spanish and French texts into German for almost fifteen years. It had never occurred to me that translators are rarely acknowledged when we talk about books we love, perhaps your favorite edition of Anna Karenina? (I chose this because I read Anna Karenina every year at Christmas and I actually have my favorite translation of it, the Kent-Berberova revision of Garnett's translation, but I digress...)
Personally, I have always been fascinated by translators because I'm fascinated with language, and I'm jealous of anyone who can master two or more languages to the extent that enables them to move so seamlessly between stories and cultures.
But being able to also translate nuance and poetry and truly understand what an author is attempting to do beyond the written word, well that's a whole other level. One that Sonja Finck excelled at when she translated THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES into German. (It probably also helps if you talk to your translator every single day over email for a month) Without a translation that captured my original intent there is no way that DER GERUCH VON HAUSERN ANDERE LEUTE would have ever won the 2017 German Youth literature award at the Frankfurt Book Fair. (It did! Or perhaps I dreamt it?) Journalism friends, please forgive me for burying the lede. It was inevitable.
I am so grateful to Sonja and to my German publisher Barbara Konig, from Konigskinder Verlag who fell in love with the story by page four, or so she tells me. Thank you German readers and the German Literature Award committee! Der Deutscher Jugendliteratur Preis celebrated it's 60th year during the Frankfurt Buchmesse and I am so honored to have been a part of it with these amazing people. Vielen, vielen Dank!
This is where I was living--in the Hokianga--when I first started writing The Smell of Other People's Houses. It's a long way from Alaska, a great place to write, and always fun to come back.
Some lovely footage here to set the stage for 1970's Alaska. Makes me want to have singing contests with my sisters (I always lost) while walking to Dairy Queen on Airport Way in Fairbanks. Sadly, that Dairy Queen was destroyed in an explosion and fire in 1984. Aw, Fairbanks and its history. Shout out to Faber & Faber for this cinematic book trailer.
My new writing yurt in Fairbanks. Excited to plant a garden this summer and write stories in this beautiful place.
My film maker/photographer niece captured the essence of our Alaskan family during Gramzy's birthday weekend in January. Click the image below to see her photo essay.
The YALSA William C. Morris Debut Award will be announced at ALA midwinter in Atlanta on January 23, 2017. It's an honor to be nominated along with GIRL MANS UP by M.E. Girard, THE SERPENT KING by Jeff Zentner, TELL ME SOMETHING REAL by Calla Devlin, and RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT by Sonia Patel.
Please snow, please visit soon.
How many people become friends with their translators? How many people even get to MEET their translators? I still can't believe my luck.
Words. They really mean something. They connect people across continents and oceans. There are so many things to say about the reading and school visit I got to do in Munich, but I am trying to keep it short and succinct. Sonja Finck translated The Smell of Other People's Houses into German for my publisher Konigskinder.
Sonja emailed me almost everyday for a month to ask me things like, "where exactly was Alyce standing on the boat when she and Sam were eavesdropping on her father?" She asked me questions that made me realize she was not just 'word for word' translating my book. She was capturing the tone, the emotion, and the heart of what I wrote. Sonja speaks Spanish, German, French and English. She is witty and smart and very fun. She lives in Berlin and Quebec. Here are some photos of our time in Munich, taken by Katrin Ruger and Frederike Wagner, owners of Buchpalast, who are so amazing they deserve a blog post of their own!
Before the reading we met just with the Buchpalast "Book Eaters" club. (By the way, Bucherfresser is a lot harder to say than you think, trust me) Ranging in age from 12-20 this group of teens asked Sonja and I the most intelligent, probing questions about both writing and translating. I've been home over a week and some of their questions are still swirling around in my brain. These teens read about 300 books a year and are currently the jury of the German youth literature prize. (Jugendliteraturpreises)
I'll be at BuchPalast in Munich with Sonja Finck, the translator for 'Der Geruch Von Hausern Andere Leute.' This Thursday, 29. September at 7:30pm. It's going to be fabulous!
I also love that just because they couldn't find Alaska salmon or halibut, that didn't stop them from putting a Kugelfisch in the window. Does anyone know what a kugelfisch is?
This is just a smattering of the books on my Alaska shelf. Okay, I have a few Alaska shelves. And here's a confession, I never have and still do not consider myself an Alaska writer, as in, 'I write about Alaska.' I wrote a story about FAMILY that was set in Alaska because that's where I'm from and it's all I know. It's just one story. My story about growing up here and the people I grew up with. There is no such thing as a definitive Alaska story. Everybody I meet has their own.
These are the books I turn to when I'm far from home and need to see a friendly face. (The one that has just a black spiral binding is a Gwich'in-English dictionary written by Ginny and Clarence Alexander from Ft. Yukon). No, I don't speak Gwich'in. Which is why I need the dictionary.
Here are some of my favorite Alaska writers and books, in no particular order and not necessarily featured in the photo.
Ordinary Wolves, by Seth Kantner--Okay, I lied. This is my favorite Alaska book. It was the first book I read that felt like someone was finally honest about what it was really like growing up in a state that is so culturally mixed, the stereotypes are all over the place on both sides of the aisle. Maybe only those of us from a certain time and place will ever really understand this life in the way it needs to be understood, but I got into fist fights with strangers in bars over this book. If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is.
(edit on Sept 25, 2016...) I lied again. My new favorite Alaska book is To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey. Although everything I said about Ordinary Wolves still stands, hopefully there's always a new kid that moves in and sheds yet another bit of light on the Alaska experience. Bright Edge is that new kid. (released Aug. 2) It lives up to all the hype and more. This book is BIG and still, I carried it across Europe afraid to finish it because I didn't want it to end. It was basically like carrying a big chunk of Alaska in my luggage (and just as heavy). I had to gift it to my agent after I was done because she's in London and that made more sense than toting it home. But I will buy another copy to keep forever. One sentence sums up this book for me: "Never are the people here allowed to forget that each of us is alive by only a small thread." -Eowyn Ivey
Shadows on the Koyukuk, by Sidney Huntington as told to Jim Rearden--I have two copies of this on the shelf. I think that says enough. Like it says on the book jacket, his story, simply told, is a testament to the durability of Alaska's wild lands and to the strength of the people who inhabit them. I interviewed him in the last years of his life for Alaska Public Radio. An honor and a gift.
Raising Ourselves and Bird Girl, by Velma Wallis--An Athabascan writer from Ft. Yukon who does not mince her words. I love Velma Wallis. And anyone who has wondered about the history between the Athabascan and Inupiat people will find much to learn from her writing. Even Willie Hensley, a prominent Inupiaq leader said he was distressed to see his people portrayed as villains in Bird Girl. (History makes no bones about the warfare between Inupiat and Athabascan people) But he wrote the forward and is testimony to the ways that Alaska's indigenous populations have lived and evolved over time. I love that I come from a place with so much history and such a strong will to survive.
The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey--Fiction and magical realism at its most prolific. This is a third generation Alaskan writer that I loved on the page before I met her and discovered she was even more wonderful in person. Alaskans are the best people in the world. Eowyn was raised by a poet and anyone who reads her writing will realize this immediately. Her new novel, To the Bright Edge of the World will be released on August 2nd. (see description above)
The Rising and the Rain, poems by John Straley--The 12th Alaska writer laureate in 2006, John Straley is also a public defender, writer of mystery novels, public radio advocate and friend of homeschooled children with too much time on their hands. All of that aside, his poems are like falling asleep to the sound of the rain on a tin roof. One of my favorite writers and people in the 49th state. Period.
To be continued...but feel free to email me any that you love. hitchcock at Alaska.net
I'm thrilled and a little stunned to announce that The Smell of Other People's Houses has been long listed for the 2016 Guardian Children's fiction prize. The authors on this list are brilliant and these books are amazing. So, all I can say is what a crazy, crazy wonderful thing to be part of. Thanks to the Guardian judges, and for librarians and readers everywhere.
There is nothing a writer needs more than a good editor. I mean, besides coffee. I have been incredibly fortunate to have not just one, but two amazing editors. Here we are in New York City the first time I met them in person. Alice Swan, my editor at Faber & Faber and the infamous Wendy Lamb, of Wendy Lamb Books.
I still love radio...
It was so much fun visiting the BBC in London with my agent Molly Ker Hawn. We toured the second largest news room in the world, leaving me awestruck and speechless. (Which is a terrible thing right before a live broadcast) Check out my press page to hear what we did at the BBC, besides taking selfies.
Do not go to London without taking a detour to visit THE ALLIGATOR'S MOUTH bookshop in Richmond.
While in Germany, I visited The Franconian International School and spoke to students there for three days while they peppered me with brilliant questions about my book and even endured listening to one of my old radio stories featuring one of their teachers who used to work in Fairbanks (very small world). I wish I could post pictures of our pizza party but school rules say no. Instead, I give you a couple shots of my sister, who is a middle school librarian at The FIS and who was also very excited to find the German version of my book in Erlangen.
Knowing people will read translations of the book gives me all kinds of joy. The first German copy was gifted to this guy, an old friend I met in Austria 32 years ago.
Curious what he will think of the German translation, but he's busy hanging off cliffs and putting up climbing routes in Oberosterreich so all bets are on whether or not he'll actually read it.
Officially my first book club event was at the Lyons Community Library and it was awesome. (photo to come if I can find one) But my first "official" book club event in someone's house was in Colorado Springs with my college room mate's (blue sweater on my left) literary, crazy, insightful and wine drinking friends. I would post every photo we took leading up to this one but that would just be painful and embarrassing. So, here you go. What a wonderful night with insightful questions about publishing and writing from bad ass women. There was also wild Alaskan salmon (of course) and my favorite beer from the local Bristol Brewery, Winter Warlock.
I was blown away by students at Floyd Dryden Middle School in Juneau, Alaska when I asked them to do a five minute writing prompt. They were so engrossed that we ran out of time and I wasn't able to read all of their writing, but two students showed up at my reading later that night with prompts in hand. I asked Aidan, an 8th grader, if I could post his writing on my blog. Here it is with his permission--a five minute freewrite about smells. (Klukwan is a Tlingit village in Southeast AK)
"Like an old cedar basement, not the sour moldy ones like in Klukwan, but instead the kind of a welcoming grandparent. Old and dusty like the basement they reside in. jarred fish, dust and sunlight. Pillows in a corner littered with crisp yellow pages. The kind of place where if you let your breath out you can see the golden flakes of dust dance away from you. Last nights fire with the nettle leaf tea whistling its call. An open window allowing cold north wind to play with my back."
My niece, Kendall Rock, made this film for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. It's all about the water! Lovely visuals of life in Southeast Alaska and what it means to rely on healthy fish and ecosystems. (The boat my kids fish on makes an appearance around the 14:37 mark)
Thanks to everyone who turned out for the book release in Sitka. (Especially my brother who launched me in his fork lift AND made a cake) And to everyone who turned out at other Alaska venues for signings and readings, thank you. It was so good to be home.