Translator breaks barriers

An MU Spanish professor wins a PEN award for work on novels.
Friday, May 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:46 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Margaret Peden began translating in 1969 after reading the Mexican novel “The Norther.” She enjoyed the book but was disappointed that she could not share it with others because of the language barrier. As a former MU Spanish professor, she decided to translate the book herself. It was published in English in 1970.

Now publishing companies call her to translate Spanish works. She also translates poetry, plays and essays.

“It’s a passion, it’s love,” Peden said. “It’s something I would do even if I weren’t paid.”

Peden has translated 50 works, mostly novels, including 11 by Isabel Allende. Each takes about six to eight months to complete, she said.

Peden recently learned she has won the prestigious PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize for her translation of the novel “Sepharad” by Antonio Muñoz Molina. The PEN prize, first awarded in 1963, is given for a “distinguished book-length translation” into English. Peden will receive $3,000 at the awards ceremony held in New York on May 24.

Barbara Davis, friend and former student of Peden, considers the award the “Oscar of translators,” comparable to an Academy Award for a soundtrack or editing. It is the highest recognition for translators.

Peden’s 15 years of retirement have allowed her to concentrate more on translating, which she works on almost daily. She tries to keep in contact with the author of the work she is translating, to inquire about puzzling passages.

“It’s part of the fun, of knowing so many writers,” Peden said.

Peden also was recognized by PEN in 1992 as a translator and educator who has promoted the appreciation of Hispanic literature with English-speaking readers.

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