Jessica is a writer and translator born in Jakarta, Indonesia. She lives in London, graduated with a BA from Bristol University in English and is now studying a Publishing MA at UCL.
Part of the Meet the Translator series.
What made you want to be a translator?
I wanted to be a translator when I realized the importance of building an international audience for a country’s literature.
I often read the translated poems of Rainer Maria Rilke and Fernando Pessoa, completely captivated by their writing and grateful for the fact that they were translated into English for readers like me to enjoy. I thought about the vast sea of literature out there in so many different languages that could make such an impact on people’s lives if only we could read them in the language that we spoke.
Being a bilingual Indonesian, I felt compelled to contribute to the art of translation in order to support and uplift the literary voices from my own country.
How did you get started?
I’m fairly new at translation. I started by doing simple texts for my mother, often times translating emails or legal documents for her, as she was not confident in her English. I volunteered for the Sumatran Orangutan Society for a brief period of time and translated several field reports for them regarding their replanting efforts in the rainforest to be sent to government officials.
I had a much bigger opportunity when my mother was working on a book of her own, Indonesian Textiles at the Crossroads of Culture, and needed someone to translate it to English for a wider release.
Her book gave me the opportunity to work on a full-length text with another translator based in Indonesia. I worked on it remotely while I was in the last term of my degree at the University of Bristol. It gave me the confidence to pursue translation even further. I would love to be involved with more nonfiction, or even literary works in the future.
How long does it take to translate a book, on average?
It took me about four to five months for me when I worked on Indonesian Textiles, bearing in mind that I had another translator on the project and we both worked as co-editors as well. So it depends on the length of the project and on how involved you are in other aspects of the book (editing, for example).
A lot of communication was required between the translators and the author, especially with such a technical book with a lot of specific jargon related to traditional Indonesian textiles.
What are you excited about or working on now?
I am starting my very own webcomic, which is due to be live online in the next month or two. It’s called Rosana! and it’s going to be a sci-fi adventure around the archipelago in Indonesia.
As someone who loves comics and graphic novels, I really wanted to create what was essentially an Indonesian superhero story. I am working with a group of talented Indonesian artists, so that’s very exciting.
How involved are you, in the promotion of the books you translate? Your views on social media?
I like being fairly active in promotion. I love organizing book launches and yes, social media is kind of like a playground for me. It’s the perfect intersection between being fun and professional at the same time. You really can reach a wide audience with social media. I think that the push for diverse voices (which, translation is a huge part of) has really accelerated and amplified through social media, so I really believe in its power as a tool for change in literary developments.
What are you reading right now?
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing.
We’re planning on interviewing translators for the foreseeable future; we’re really excited to share the stories of the wonderful people who give us the opportunity to enjoy stories from other cultures. If you’re a translator (literary or otherwise) and would like to be interviewed, get in touch with us below.
Jess is the creator and editor of Books and Bao. She's passionate about the world, it's literature, food, culture, and people. She enjoys sharing her travel tips with others and capturing those perfect moments.