JD Pluecker, an online Master of Fine Arts lecturer in the Department of Creative Writing at The University of Texas at El Paso recently received a $12,500 Literature Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) | Photos courtesy UTEP

UTEP Lecturer earns NEA Translation Fellowship

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently awarded a $12,500 Literature Translation Fellowship to The University of Texas at El Paso’s JD Pluecker, an online Master of Fine Arts lecturer in the Department of Creative Writing.

Pluecker will use the money to translate into English “Basura,” a novel by Sylvia Aguilar-Zéleny, assistant professor of instruction and director of UTEP’s online creative writing MFA program. The NEA asked the lecturer to complete the project by May 2021.

“Basura,” or “Trash,” is a story about three unique women whose lives intersect in a garbage dump in Juárez, Mexico. The women – an abandoned teenager, a research scientist and the leader of a group of sex workers – provide a singular narrative about joy, love, violence and survival on a U.S.-Mexico border town. Nitro press published the novel in 2018.

Pluecker is one of the NEA’s 24 Literature Translation Fellows in 2021. In all, the NEA awarded $325,000 to translate 16 different works into English.

“Literary translation is an art form,” Pluecker said. “Just like a musician who plays a composer’s composition, I play my instrument – the English language – following the original notes of the Spanish book. The translation becomes a new entity, a new version of a work previously written in another language.”

Aguilar-Zéleny said she was excited to have her novel translated into English to bring attention to the complexities of the U.S.-Mexico border. She added that she was happy that her colleague got the assignment because she respected Pluecker as a writer, translator and activist.

“We have had long phone conversations about the decisions I made in terms of language and form in the construction of each character, especially because this novel is all about voice,” Aguilar-Zéleny said.

Amy Stolls, the NEA’s director of literary arts, said the arts endowment is proud to continue its long history of supporting the art of translation through these 24 fellowships.

“Supporting literary translation not only means that many of the world’s talented writers reach a new audience, but also new and different perspectives and experiences are made available to readers in this country,” Stolls said.

Pluecker is a native of Houston, Texas, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and returned to Houston about 20 years ago. The UTEP lecturer earned a master’s degree in Spanish from the University of Houston in 2005, and an MFA in writing from the University of California San Diego six years later. Since the spring 2020 semester, Pluecker has taught classes at UTEP on poetry and how writing expands off the page and into diverse media such as visual arts and performance.

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications