An Eloquent Vernacular: Robert H. McCormick Jr. on Translating Évelyne Trouillot


Here are just a few excerpts of a fascinating interview (in World Literature Today) of Robert H. McCormick Jr. by Jeremiah Gentle. McCormick speaks about his interest in Caribbean literature and the impetus behind his decision to translate Évelyne Trouillot’s Le Bleu de l’île. Access the full interview in the link below:

In June 2000 a group of soldiers from the Dominican Republic opened fire on, and killed, seven people in a tarp-covered truck they were pursuing in Guayubín. The cadavers of the six Haitians were buried in a common grave, virtually forgotten until a court ruling (albeit nonbinding) twelve years later found the Dominican Republic guilty of massacre (December 10, 2012, “Le Nouvelliste”).

Évelyne Trouillot’s The Blue of the Island brings these spirits back to life. By staging their dialogue underneath the tarp’s camouflage, the play merges past and present. The simple, often blasphemous, interactions of the passengers eloquently express the ordinariness of their lives.

Much like the play in its original French, Robert H. McCormick Jr.’s translation renders the cargo’s simply expressed small talk unforgettable and profound. In so doing, the original French play, and its precise English translation, further merge the past’s bare grief with present eloquence, thus laying bare the horrific events of a night in June for an even-wider audience.

Jeremiah Gentle: What is your background in Caribbean literature? What about the region appeals to you?

Robert H. McCormick Jr.: I came to Caribbean literature later in my literary life. My point of entry was, without doubt, the work of Maryse Condé. I read all her novels assiduously many times. Franklin University’s academic travel program was a second major factor. I organized five two-week academic travels to Cuba for students, as well as one to Venezuela and a couple to the Dominican Republic. Thus, from Guadeloupe, the scope of my interest expanded to include a wider, polylingual Caribbean. To broaden my own understanding, and that of my students, I initiated the Franklin College Caribbean Conference in Lugano, which I organized every two years over a ten-year span. Besides meeting Haitian writers who were our guests, such as Jean-Claude Fignolé, I became familiar with Évelyne Trouillot’s play through the essay of a conference participant that we published in conjunction with the Journal of Haitian Studies.

With respect to what pleases me about the region, literature comes first. I won’t cite too many authors, but the work of J.-S. Alexis, Jacques Roumain, Alejo Carpentier, Edwidge Danticat, Junot Díaz, Louis-Philippe Dalembert, and Maryse Condé have all impressed and influenced me in different ways. I like the weather, of course, but most of all the open sociability of most Caribbeans, a characteristic I associate with their humanity and one that manifests itself in their language.

JG: What inspired you to begin working with translations?

RHM: I came to translation even later. I was, though, in a position to translate what I liked and what I thought interested readers might want to have access to. My first literary translation was an interview I recorded in Guadeloupe with Maryse Condé at her former home there. WLT published that interview (see WLT, Summer 2000, 519–28). Then there was a long break. The idea to translate Le Bleu de l’île came after reading Stéphanie Bérard’s article about the play and learning that it hadn’t yet been translated into English. At that time, it hadn’t even come out in the French edition published by Coulisses (Spring, 2012). Now that I have since translated a novel and started another, my thinking about translation has taken a slightly more philosophical bent. I was disillusioned with various types of literary “studies” and felt I was often being led away from literature, and from its words. It is the sensation of dealing with this fundamental manifestation of literature, its verbal essence, that gives me the greatest pleasure in translating. I also feel I am making more accessible some of the many riches of Haitian literature that may be beyond the reach of those who don’t know French well enough.

For full interview, see

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