Publisher who helps readers find fine literature from faraway lands to speak at UHV

Sometimes great works of literature get lost without translation, book publisher John O’Brien said.

John O'Brien

“Some of the best literary masterpieces being created in the world today simply never make it to English-speaking shores,” said O’Brien, founder of the Dalkey Archive Press in Champaign, Ill., and the next speaker in the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Spring Reading Series.

O’Brien will talk about the troubles with translations at noon Thursday in the Alcorn Auditorium of UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The event is free to the public, and light refreshments will be served.

“The view toward translations in the publishing world is that they have far less of a chance of selling well than books originally written in English,” O’Brien explained. Few publishers are willing to make the investment in translating a work that doesn’t have guaranteed strong sales.

Dalkey Archive Press, a nonprofit operation, strives to find the best literary masterpieces across the globe and have them translated into English for serious readers in the U.S. and United Kingdom, O’Brien said.

This mission often takes O’Brien and his colleagues to the far corners of the globe to talk to critics, publishers and authors.

And once the works are found, translating such literature isn’t easy.

“A translation has to capture the book, not the literal translation of the words but the spirit and the culture that was the experience of the original audience,” O’Brien said.

For example, adding the word “Street” to a proper noun can make a book much clearer to an English reader. Even though the original text didn’t contain the word, it was clear to the native reader that the name referred to a street.

Translators also have to figure out how to translate cultural humor, puns and occasionally rhyming verse.   Sometimes things get lost in translation, he said, but a truly masterful translator can provide a remarkably similar experience for an English reader to that experienced by those who enjoyed the book in the original language.

“Reading literature in translation broadens the horizons of readers and provides them with an experience they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to enjoy,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, publisher and editor of the American Book Review and dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “In this age of globalism and cosmopolitanism, reading literature in languages other than our own takes on increasing importance: It flattens the world by bringing to our attention other ways of living.”

ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal that champions works by small presses in six editions published each year. Founded in 1977, the journal moved to UHV in 2006. It has a circulation of about 8,000.

While in Victoria, reading series authors attend roundtable discussions with UHV faculty and students, make classroom visits to area schools, give lectures open to the community, and go to receptions hosted by Friends of ABR patrons. Past speakers have included Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David M. Oshinsky, author and Iranian refugee Farnoosh Moshiri, Mexican American author Dagoberto Gilb and American Book Award recipient Graciela Limon.

Other speakers in the Spring Reading Series include:    

  • Zulfikar Ghose, April 2 – Ghose is a novelist, poet, short-story writer, autobiographer, journalist, educationalist, essayist and literary critic. He was born in Pakistan in 1935, grew up in British India and emigrated to England in 1952. He now lives in Austin. He has published 12 novels, including his most recent, “The Triple Mirror of the Self.” He also is the author of two story collections, an autobiography, six volumes of poetry and four books of literary criticism.  
  • Ana Castillo, April 30 – Castillo is a celebrated poet, novelist, short story writer and essayist. Renowned Chicano author Rudolfo Anaya has referred to Castillo as “one of our finest Chicana novelists.” Castillo has published numerous books, including “The Mixquiahuala Letters,” for which she received the Before Columbia Foundation’s American Book Award in 1987. Her most recent work, “The Guardians: A Novel,” was published in 2007 and tracks the lives of Mexicans who illegally cross to the U.S. to work.

For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call ABR Managing Editor Charles Alcorn at 361-570-4100 or go to

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Thomas Doyle 361-570-4342