“As a nonfiction reader, I can have a conversation with a text without being its translator. At the same time I can look at it with a translator’s eye.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do when you’re not reading for NER?
I was born, raised, and educated in Germany; my parents are originally from former Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. They left their home country after the brutal crushing of the so-called Prague Spring. By education and profession, I am a translator for English, German, and French. As a university lecturer I taught English in the translation studies program for nine years. Now, I’m working as a freelance translator and writer.
What made you decide to be a reader for NER?
To me, translating is the most intense and intimate way of reading a text. I feel the same way about proofreading translations that students in my classes submitted as their assignments. At one point, I realized that I wanted to use my reading skills for something completely different. I was looking for a new way of being a reader. I learned about the New England Review through the Bread Loaf programs of Middlebury College. Now, as a nonfiction reader, I can have a conversation with a text without being its translator. At the same time, I can look at it with a translator’s eye. In another “Meet the Readers” interview, fiction reader Matthew Harrison said, “I’m exposed to real talent constantly.” That’s right! I really enjoy being exposed to so many powerful writing voices.
Have you ever read a submission that later got selected for publication?
Not yet. I’ve learned to be patient.
What is your reading process like? What do you look for in a submission?
Usually, two or three essays stand out in each batch of submissions. I pick five essays for a reading session in the evening. I don’t write notes right away. I keep coming back to my favorite essays and think about why they would be a very good fit for the NER. I look for essays that a) don’t seek attention, b) give me a sense of “security,” and c) treat a subject with respect. I look for texts that make me want to absorb and discover them with my eyes and my mind, which is what the verb “to read” means!
How has reading for NER influenced your own writing/creative pursuits?
Being a reader has definitely influenced the way I see my own writing. Before I started reading for NER I had a tendency to overexplain. Now it’s easier for me to see things that don’t need to be in my texts. The New England Review publishes a broad range of nonfiction, i.e., travel writing, personal essays, translations, reflections on society, politics, or environment. It keeps my mind open and it keeps me motivated to explore topics that I really care about.
What do you read for pleasure? Is there something you’re reading now that you would recommend?
For pleasure, I like reading historical fiction. Last year, I read Geraldine Brooks’s novel Caleb’s Crossing, which is set in the 17th century. It’s about a young man from Martha’s Vineyard who became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. At the moment, I’m reading her novel People of the Book. It’s 1996 and an expert for rare books has been asked to examine the Sarajevo Haggadah, which was rescued during the Bosnian war.
Our staff readers, all volunteers, play an essential role in our editorial process and in our mission to discover new voices in contemporary literature. A full list of staff readers is available on our masthead.