TWO VOICES: Translators Steven T. Murray and Tiina Nunnally on Stieg Larsson and Nordic Crime Fiction

Posted on November 21, 2011 by Scott Esposito

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On November 11, 2011, the Center for the Art of Translation's Two Voices events series hosted the pre-eminent translators of Nordic crime fiction, Steven T. Murray and Tiina Nunnally. Since 1984 they have produced award-winning translations, including books by Henning Mankell, Peter Høeg, Camilla Läckberg, and Mari Jungstedt. Murray is best-known as the translator of the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, and Nunnally is well-known for translating another runaway bestseller (from the Danish), Smilla's Sense of Snow. The couple were presented in conversation with Sedge Thomson, host of West Coast Live.

In this audio the duo begin by delving into the many complex issues surrounding the publication of the blockbuster Millennium Trilogy. Murray discussed the reason why he chose to take the pseudonym Reg Keeland while translating the Trilogy, which had to do with the excessive (and in his opinion, poor) intervention made by the book's editor. (He also explained the the pseudonym's surname comes from a combination of Nunnally's and Murray's hometowns, respectively Milwaukee and Oakland.) Nunnally also pointed out that taking a pseudonym was a drastic choice, as they prefer to support the work of translators by having their names prominently displayed on the books they translate. These points eventually gave way to talk about the business side of translation, where Nunnally discussed a translator's rights and why one should never sign a "work-for-hire" contract, as well as the difficulty of making a living as a translator in the United States.

Nunnally also addressed questions of re-translation in her work on Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset's landmark Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. She explained (and used textual evidence to exemplify) why she believed the old-fashioned, stodgy tone of the previous translation was in need of rejuvenation.

The couple concluded the evening with some Q&A, which included questions about Google Translate, the differences between translating prose and poetry, their favorite translators, Nunnally's thoughts on the new translations of Dostoyevsky made by superstar translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and reasons why Nordic crime has now caught on so much in the United States.