An Exciting Experience at the 2019 ALTA Annual Conference

12/11/2019 11:06 | Anonymous

Written by Mia Spangenberg, 2019 NOTIS Conference Scholarship Recipient

Mia Spangenberg is a Finnish to English translator with a PhD in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Washington, Seattle.

For the first time, thanks to the help of a NOTIS scholarship, I attended the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) Annual Conference, which was held on November 7-10, 2019, in Rochester, New York. I couldn’t have picked a better year to go because ALTA is growing significantly as an organization, and this year, the Conference had over 500 attendees for the first time.  ALTA is a very friendly and welcoming organization, and there were many opportunities for attendees to mingle and connect. ALTA offered a “wayfinder” program for first-time attendees, which paired newcomers with seasoned ALTA conference attendees. My “wayfinder” introduced me to several people at the conference and also told me about key events I should attend. There were also beverage breaks during the day and readings in the evenings which provided people with opportunities to connect. As I translate from Finnish, I was glad to be able to connect with other Finnish and Nordic language translators. In fact, after meeting and talking to Icelandic translator Larissa Kyzer, we set up a Google group for literary translators working to and from the Nordic languages as a forum to share advice and collaborate. 

The ALTA Conference offered two opportunities to meet with editors: flash sessions and pitch sessions. Flash sessions gave translators fifteen minutes to discuss two pages of a manuscript (submitted in advance) with an editor. It was a wonderful way to get feedback from an experienced editor. The pitch sessions were offered for the first time this year and gave translators the opportunity to pitch a project to a particular press. About ten presses participated in these sessions. This was an exciting and slightly nerve-wracking opportunity. Pitches were limited to five minutes maximum! I’ve never talked so fast in my life as I provided the context for my author and gave a short summary of the plot, plus I submitted my business card and a translation sample. Then the waiting game began. However, I am grateful because this opportunity was yet another way to make connections that could bear fruit in the future.

I also learned about how ALTA works as an organization and how different presses are profiling themselves. I began putting names to the faces of prominent literary translators, and I picked up tips on how to make it as a full-time literary translator and negotiate the best possible contracts. The Authors Guild was even in attendance, and they have started a new division for literary translators and will review contracts for their members for free. 

I feel energized for the coming year and plan to attend the ALTA Annual Conference again next year. The 2020 Conference will be held in Tucson, Arizona from November 11-14. 

If you are interested in going to the ALTA Annual Conference and will be a first-time attendee, feel free to reach out to me. Also, please email me if you would like to join the Google group for literary translators working to and from the Nordic languages. You may contact me, Mia Spangenberg, at:

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