Jennifer Croft

Date Published: May 12, 2021

“Even the simplest words have secrets”

I want to start my series of occasional articles focusing on translators by giving an insight into the work of American translator and author Jennifer Croft. Croft translates from Polish, Ukrainian and Argentinian Spanish. She shared the International Booker Prize in 2018 with Olga Tokarczuk for Torkarczuk’s novel Flights and has also written her own memoir Homesick/Serpientes y escaleras in both English and Spanish. I first came across her work as a translator through the brand new book of short stories A Perfect Cemetery by Argentinian Federico Falco (published by Charco Press).

Croft sees her work as translator as a process of co-authorship, requiring sensitivity and versatility. She doesn’t translate word for word and always reads the whole work, immersing herself in the text before beginning the task of translating. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times she says:

“I’m trying to be respectful to the atmosphere, for example, of the original, but they’re my sentences. And every time I translate a word, I’m choosing not to translate it in seventeen other ways. I’m making something that I think is beautiful in a way that is similar to how I found Olga’s [Tokarczuk, writer of International Booker winner, Flights] original sentence to be beautiful. But it is the way I would write it.”

On translating from Spanish she tells Words Without Borders:

“I only translate works from Spanish that were written by Argentine authors—there’s such great diversity among the different Spanishes, and I’ve always felt it’s really important to be fully familiar with all the little components of speech, the quotidian rhythms writers employ and depart from. It’s important for me to be able to hear the tone of a sentence, picture the facial expression and gestures that would accompany it, in order to find a fitting rendition in English.”

Croft was homeschooled, and experienced a turbulent childhood due to her sister’s longterm illness. Her household in Oklahoma was monolingual but she always had a fascination for languages and felt that learning them would open doors for her. She initially studied Russian and went to university aged fifteen, gaining a degree in literary translation from the University of Iowa and subsequently a Fulbright scholarship which led her to Poland. Her memoir Homesick was first written in Spanish during a seven year stint living in, and falling in love with, Buenos Aires, but later she rewrote it in English so that her sister could read it and make suggestions.

“I thought, I’ve come so far. I wish my 15- or 16-year-old self could have been aware of all the possibilities that awaited her. So when I decided to write about the difficulties I had when I was a teenager, it was a way of getting this message out.”