Catalan literature was on show at the New York Pen World Voices Festival

Writer Teresa Solana, Brown University Professor Enric Bou, university professor Mary Ann Newman and translator Peter Bush all took part in a debate on Catalan literature and culture at the New York Pen World Voices Festival. The complexity of translating from the Catalan language, the differences between normative Catalan and the 21st century language and the rich tradition of its literature all emerged as key elements of a debate moderated by writer Aleksandar Hemon.

CNA / Ariadna Matamoros / Albert Lladó Romero

June 3, 2011 08:31 PM

New York (ACN).- "The decision to write in Catalan is a personal, political and editorial choice” or “the Catalan language is in danger” were just some of the reflections heard during the debate about Catalan literature at New York’s Pen World Voices Festival. Writer Teresa Solana, professor of Brown University Enric Bou and translators Mary Ann Newman and Peter Bush debated about both the Catalan culture and language to bring readers closer to prominent Catalan writers like Josep Pla and Llorenç Villalonga. The speakers also discussed the complexity of translating from the Catalan language into other languages, and how literature treats the growing differences between oral and written Catalan.     

The debate was moderated by the writer Aleksandar Hemon, and began with an introduction by Enric Bou, who took a look through Catalan literature since the Renaissance until the present. Bou talked about two of the greatest Catalan writers ever, Josep Pla and Llorenç Vilallonga, and presented some of their most important books, like ‘Quadern Gris’ or ‘La Sala de les nines’, respectively.

The translator Mary Ann Newman pointed out that when you talk about Catalan literature we are not just talking about the language written in Catalonia, but every book written in Catalan including the Balearic Islands, the south of France and Valencia. Newman explained the “rich tradition” of Catalan literature and pointed out that, despite a market of over ten million Catalan speakers, the language cannot count on enough support from the Spanish Government when compared to other minority languages around the world.

When her turn came round, writer Teresa Solana focused her speech on recommending a Catalan writer not yet translated into English. Solana presented ‘Vals’ a 1935 novel by writer Francesc Trabal which recounts the story of the Catalan bourgeoisie and talks about the splendor of youth.    

The other translator at the debate, Peter Bush from Great Britain, remarked that Josep Pla’s ‘Quadern Gris’ “is one of the best books of the entire 20th century”. Bush praised the writer’s skill and especially his use of humour and irony. Bush also praised Pla for his complex-free use of the Catalan language. Pla, he said, was fully confident about the future of the language and did not see any threat of its extinction”. Along these lines, the British translator said that nowadays, “Catalan writers seem to have a literary police checking out that they are using normative Catalan”.    

Following Bush’s train of thought, Teresa Solana explained that she employs a Catalan similar to that used on the street, a language which includes some foreign words, and defended the need for finding a midway point between normative Catalan and the changing language we find at the start of the 21st century.