Member Profile: Juan Miguel Zarandona

Why did you choose Translation Studies?

Although I was born in Equatorial Guinea, a former colony of Spain in Africa, I moved with my family to the city of Valladolid, Old Castile, as a child. The University of Valladolid, a medieval institution, had a very old School or Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Facultad de Filosofía y Letras), where I started a combined degree in Hispanic Studies and English Studies in the early 1980s. At the time, I did not study translation. In addition, I was too idealistic a student to get really good marks. I was also very prone to absent-mindedness, to tell all the truth. Despite this, the Chair of the Department of English Studies (Filología Inglesa) encouraged me to apply for a position in their department at the Campus of Soria of the University of Valladolid. I got it and I started to teach English language and literature. Not long after, that degree program was cancelled due to lack of students and a new School of Translation Studies was opened in Soria instead. It was one of the first programs in Spain to offer a five-year degree in translation. More than thirty years have passed since I moved to Soria. And something that I did not expect at all –to become a Translation Studies scholar– happened, almost by chance. Of course, later on, I did a master’s and a doctorate in TS.

What are you working on at the moment? What are your areas of research?

As far as my research is concerned I have always combined my background in the humanities (literary studies, linguistics, and languages) with the new horizons that I discovered in translation. For example, my doctoral dissertation was on the 19th-century British poet Alfred Tennyson. I compiled and studied all the translations of his poems into Spanish and the other languages of Spain (Catalan, Basque, Galician, and others). The most popular ones were clearly those devoted to Britain—in other words, King Arthur, the Round Table, Camelot, or the Grail. This was just a starting-point as these translations of the Arthurian poems by Tennyson led me to undertake what proved to be a difficult compilation of a Hispanic corpus of contemporary Arthurian literature (Spain, Portugal, and Latin America). It was something that nobody, including international specialists on Arthuriana, suspected the existence of. But it does exist and twenty years later, I have not yet finished my compilation. My dream is to be able one day to compile Hispanic translated Arthuriana, a much wider corpus. In Spanish, as in many other languages and cultures, the translations of King Arthur (mainly from English and French), movies included, are much better known than the original versions.
As an African by birth and vocation, I am usually involved in some research on African literature and translation too. For example, I am a member of a group of scholars led by the Autonomous University of Barcelona who are looking into English-language literature produced in the countries around the Indian Ocean. In other words, the project involves three continents: Africa, Asia, and Australasia. Besides, with the sponsorship of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Research, we are trying to translate works by writers from this vast region who have never been translated into Spanish.
I am also fond of translation history. Soon I will have to submit an encyclopedia entry dealing with the translations of English literary works published in Spain during the 19th century.

What book/film/band has made the biggest impression on you recently?

A book: The Grandmothers (2003), by Doris Lessing. When reading it, you understand what it really means to be a master writer (very touching and daring). Two movies that I have watched very recently: the American film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), by Quentin Tarantino; and the French Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon dieu? (2014). The first one took me to the years of my youth (I love Tarantino, anyway), and the second made me laugh without restraint. A song: “Me quedo contigo” (2019) (I choose you), by Rosalía. Don’t miss it on YouTube. She has surprised Spanish audiences with a version/tribute of an old popular song (a flamenco rumba), sung by the classical gypsy band Los Chunguitos, and turned into a symphonic prodigy. She sang it for the first time during the Goya Film Awards ceremony (the Spanish Oscars) in January 2019. She really impressed me.

If you had one piece of advice to give to new Translation Studies students, what would it be?

The same piece of advice that I usually give my own students: develop a sound love for reading, watching, hearing, studying, thinking, etc., i.e., for LEARNING. These are really hard times for this.