20 October 2021

Literary Translation: 21 Magazine

John Cairns knew he enjoyed literary translation. When he was offered the opportunity to join a platform for international writers and translators, he said YES. A year later he presents the results.

Student showing magazine with big smile

"It is great to have such well-connected tutors at Sheffield! Over summer, I was offered the opportunity to collaborate on a new and exciting project all about literature and translation. 21 Magazine is a collection of short stories, poetry and prose from unpublished, up-and-coming authors from around the world, which have then been translated into many languages, such as English, German and Croatian.

The name 21 Magazine refers to the 21st century; the texts deal with modern, current issues and reflect the world of today. A multilingual literary magazine, it provides a platform for writers and translators to share their work, with the aim of making it accessible to as many people as possible.

A taste for literary translation

I got a taste for literary translation during our annual Dutch Translation Project so I knew that it was something I’d be interested in pursuing further. So when I was approached about contributing to this European project as a translator, I jumped at the chance. I was certain that I would learn a lot from it, as well as be able to further develop my skills as a translator. I was given a few texts to translate initially and had lots of freedom to work on them how I wanted to.

I translated a range of texts, from a short story of about 1500 words, to a poem of as little as eighty words. The broad range of texts meant that I was exposed to lots of different types of translations, each of which posed their own unique challenges. From cultural references to unusual idiomatic expressions, each translation required a thorough and meticulous approach with no one-size-fits-all method to tackle each text. Despite the difficulties, I really enjoyed the ability to adapt and try out new skills, which was really beneficial to me. 

I got a taste for literary translation during our annual Dutch Translation Project so I knew that it was something I’d be interested in pursuing further. So when I was approached about contributing to this European project as a translator, I jumped at the chance.

John Cairns

Final Year BAMLC Spanish, Dutch, German

Working with the authors

I was a great bonus to establish contact with some of the authors of the texts that I was translating. I could ask them questions about their intentions behind the text, or explain some of my translation choices. The chance to learn from them and be able to understand the texts I was working on a bit more was an invaluable opportunity.

There is now a physical publication, as well as an online version of the magazine, so I can share not only my own work with friends and family, but also see and read other stories that have been translated. The beauty of the project is that it allows you to access literature that previously would have been unavailable to you, as well as being able to admire the work done by so many talented people, writers and translators alike."

Explore the University

Discover what sets Sheffield apart at our next on-campus open day.