Translation Firebird: Finding a Future for Slavonic Voices

Thurs 07 – Friday 08 April 2022

  • Can we redefine the Slavonic literary canon by bringing fresh and diverse fiction to English-language readers?
  • Can new platforms make Slavonic literature more accessible to readers?
  • How do we encourage English speakers to read more literature in translation from the new nations of the former Soviet-region literature?
  • How can Russian literary translation renew itself in the aftermath of a global pandemic, internecine conflict and increasingly toxic geopolitics?

However you respond to the questions above – and whether you feel the answers lie in new technologies, better education, outreach programmes, prestigious literary prizes, translator bursaries, a combination of all of the above, or something else entirely – there’s no denying that the translation of Slavonic-language literature for Anglophone markets had run into a тупик (a blind alley or dead end) even before Putin’s war polarized markets. The most talented Russian and other Slavonic writers of the twenty-first century, and the most dedicated and gifted translators, struggle not just to sell books in the West but even to have them accepted by publishers. This situation is about to get worse for Russian writers and translators, but possibly better for Ukrainians – or not? How do we keep lines of communication open with those Russian writers who dissent from their regime? How do we continue to support Ukrainian writers and translators in the long term? How do we find readers for other literatures from the post-Soviet space? Since 2019, the ERC-funded RusTrans team at the University of Exeter has been studying the current situation of Russian literary translation within the global context. We have seed-funded twelve new translations of contemporary Russian fiction. We have interviewed translators, publishers, literary agents, cultural ambassadors, editors, and writers, seeking their diagnosis of what’s gone wrong with translation and how to fix it. And now, in the wake of a pandemic that threatened to cripple the publishing industry and an illegal invasion that has horrified the world, we have invited selected voices from the world of Slavonic-to-English literary translation to join our 2022 Project Conference to share their views on a rapidly changing market.

Welcome to Translation Firebird

April 7th-8th, 2022 St Catharine’s College, Cambridge


  • 9am-10am: Staggered Registration at designated meeting room (Ramsden Room)
  • 10am: Welcome Talk from Organizers: The Curse of the Firebird (Muireann Maguire and Cathy McAteer)
  • 10.45-11am Coffee break
  • 11am Keynote Talk: Viv Groskop on the appeal of Russian culture – and its failures. Chair: Elena Sudakova & Denis Stolyarov (Pushkin House)
  • 12.05pm-12.30pm (pre-recorded discussion) Robert Chandler introduced by Sarah Gear on ‘Honouring The Work Of Other Translators – and Learning From Them’
  • 12.30pm-1.30pm: Lunch (College cafeteria)
  • 1.30pm-2.30pm: Natasha Perova on the precarity of translating Russian literature; Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Wheeler on their experiences of translating Ukrainian literature. Pre-recorded panels chaired by Sarah Gear
  • 2.45pm-3.45pm: Keynote talk by Will Evans (Deep Vellum, Dalkey Archive): ‘Publishing’s Infinite Constraints’ (Chair: Muireann Maguire)
  • 3.45pm-4pm Coffee
  • 4pm-5pm: Round table with Eric Lane (Dedalus Books), Anete Klucnika (Foyles), Peter Kaufman (Read Russia), and Thomas Wiedling (Wiedling Literary Agency) on Publishing Industry Priorities, Problems, Aspirations for Ru-Lit Translations in a Post-Covid World (Chair: Muireann Maguire)
  • 5.15pm-5.45 pm: Antony Wood on Angel Classics (Chair: Peter Kaufman)


  • 9am-10am: Andrew Bromfield – Is Akunin the Answer? Is Literary Translation A Viable Profession? and Marian Schwartz: Berberova Today, Solzhenitsyn Tomorrow: Making a Life’s Work Work (Chair: Max Lawton)
  • 10am-10.15am: Coffee
  • 10.15am-11.15am: Translators’ Round Table I: Huw Davies, Lisa Hayden, Sian Valvis, and Sarah Vitali (Chair: Anne O. Fisher). Focus: Publishing Rus-Trans-supported translations
  • 11.30am-12.30pm: Translators’ Round Table II (Pre-recorded panel): Hamid Ismailov, Shelley Fairweather-Vega, and Carol Apollonio (Chair: Cathy McAteer). Focus: Translating from Languages (and Cultures) other than Russian
  • 12.30pm-1.30pm: Lunch (College cafeteria)
  • 1.30pm-2.30pm: Pitching Translations and Working with Publishers: James Womack, Max Lawton, Bryan Karetnyk, Natalia Poleva (EKSMO), Arch Tait (Chair: Marian Schwartz)
  • 2.30pm-3.30pm: Translation, Technologies and Teamwork: Tina Kover (Translators Aloud), Sarah Gear (Discord reading groups), Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Project World Kid Lit), and Will Evans (televisual media). (Chair: Peter Kaufman).
  • 3.30pm-3.45pm Coffee
  • 3.45pm-4.45pm: Translators’ Round Table III: Oliver Ready on Past vs Future Classics, Olivia Hellewell on state-funded translation, Antonia Lloyd-Jones on translating genre fiction (Chair: James Womack)
  • 4.45pm- 5.15pm: Peter Kaufman: Publishing Russian Literature and Culture in a World Gone Mad
  • 5.20pm-5.30pm: Thanks and closing remarks from the organizers

End of Conference 





Яков Петрович Полонский, Зимний путь

Ночь холодная мутно глядит
Под рогожу кибитки моей.
Под полозьями поле скрипит,
Под дугой колокольчик гремит,
А ямщик погоняет коней.
За горами, лесами, в дыму облаков
Светит пасмурный призрак луны.
Вой протяжный голодных волков
Раздается в тумане дремучих лесов. —
Мне мерещатся странные сны.
Мне все чудится: будто скамейка стоит,
На скамейке старуха сидит,
До полуночи пряжу прядет,
Мне любимые сказки мои говорит,
Колыбельные песни поет.
И я вижу во сне, как на волке верхом
Еду я по тропинке лесной
Воевать с чародеем-царем
В ту страну, где царевна сидит под замком,
Изнывая за крепкой стеной.
Там стеклянный дворец окружают сады,
Там жар-птицы поют по ночам
И клюют золотые плоды,
Там журчит ключ живой и ключ мертвой воды —
И не веришь и веришь очам.
А холодная ночь так же мутно глядит
Под рогожу кибитки моей,
Под полозьями поле скрипит,
Под дугой колокольчик гремит,
И ямщик погоняет коней.

1844 г.