Books by Latin American authors in translation, including books translated by Esther Allen and Megan McDowell. (Photo: C. Harrison)

Latin American books in translation, including by Esther Allen and Megan McDowell. (Photo: C. Harrison)


LatAm in Focus: Beyond the Boom—Latin American Writing in Translation

By Luisa Leme and Chase Harrison

Translators Megan McDowell and Esther Allen discuss the state of Latin American letters in English and honor the legacy of Edith Grossman. 

Most of us can easily name Latin American authors we love. Whether it’s Gabriel García Márquez, Clarice Lispector, or Valeria Luiselli, authors from the region are beloved across the world. But did you know that it wasn’t until 1890 that the first translation of a Latin American book was completed?

In this episode of Latin America in Focus, we are spotlighting the underappreciated heroes who enable that exchange: translators. In September 2023, Edith Grossman—a renowned Spanish/English translator known for her work with García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and Miguel Cervantes—passed away. Grossman, who received her first translation commission from Americas Society, was a dedicated advocate for her profession, arguing that translators deserved more visibility and acclaim.

Megan McDowell
Megan McDowell

And Grossman’s work is paying off: Surveys show readers are reaching for works in translation more than ever. "I think that in general, across the world, people are more conscious about looking to hear voices that in the past they didn't hear,” explained Megan McDowell, Spanish-language translator based in Chile. “It could be female writers. It could be writers from outside the metropolises that we usually hear from. It could be hearing more LGBTQ+ voices. It's a general movement toward inclusivity, and I think that translation is part of that.”

McDowell, who won the 2022 National Book Award for Translated Literature, works with current writing giants such as Mariana Enríquez, Samanta Schweblin, and Alejandro Zambra. She spoke about why so many English readers are reaching for Latin American authors and how literature can forge mutual understanding across the hemisphere. “I think those experiences of the readers in English are every bit as valuable as the experiences of people reading it and the original language, even though there may be significant differences in their bodies of knowledge going into that reading,” she told AS/COA Online’s Chase Harrison.

Esther Allen
Esther Allen

But it’s not just contemporary Latin American writers who are finding readership. Neglected voices from the past, especially during the Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 1970s, are finally being heard. Esther Allen, a translator and professor who works in both Spanish and French, said “There's been a move back to reclaim writers who were neglected by the Boom, who didn't exhibit the particular kind of Latin Americanness that was sought.” 

For Allen, a co-founder of the PEN World Voices Festival, translators’ ability to help popularize these important but under-read works is part of the reason the profession deserves more respect.

As she told AS/COA Online’s Luisa Leme: "What I hope people are beginning to realize—and what I certainly realize—is that when you invisibilize a given translator, you invisibilize translation itself, and you contribute to all the forces that have stigmatized it, that have led to its neglect, that have made people think that it can simply be automated.”

Below is a list of authors and titles available in English mentioned in this podcast:

  • Why Translation Matters, by Edith Grossman
  • The Silentiary, by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from Spanish by Esther Allen, introduction by Juan José Saer 
  • Zama, by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from Spanish by Esther Allen
  • The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, by Mariana Enríquez, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell
  • The Words That Remain, by Stênio Gardel, translated from Portuguese by Bruna Dantas Lobato; Winner, National Book Awards 2023 for Translated Literature
  • Seven Empty Houses, by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell; Winner, National Book Awards 2022 for Translated Literature
  • Ways of Going Home, by Alejandro Zambra, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell
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This episode was produced by Chase Harrison and Executive Producer Luisa Leme. Carin Zissis is the host. 

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The music in this episode is “Fiesta Manka,” performed by Dario Acosta Teich & Eleanor Dubinsky, "Editus and "Danzón," performed by Ricardo Ramírez and Edín Solís, and "Isla," performed by Pascuala Ilabaca y Fauna 

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Society/Council of the Americas or its members.