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Q&A with Julianna Coleman: Shining a light on short stories by Ecuadorian women writers

Jean Andrews | Nov 4, 2015
Julianna Coleman at the Honors Tutorial College, Park Place.
Julianna Coleman at the Honors Tutorial College, Park Place. Photo credit: Jean Andrews/Ohio University.

Ohio University Honors Tutorial College senior Julianna Coleman remembers when she first fell in love with Ecuador. It was during a stint there as a study abroad student her sophomore year, when she immersed herself for four months in the language, writing and culture. A 2015 Student Enhancement Award allowed Coleman to return to Ecuador last summer. This time, she used her Spanish and writing skills to launch a research project that draws attention to the work of contemporary Ecuadorian women writers.

1. What are you researching?

I’m translating into English from Spanish five short stories by Ecuadorian women authors as part of my honors thesis. Each short story will be accompanied by a discussion of my interpretation, notes about my translation method, important cultural background about Ecuador and biographies of the authors. My introduction will provide an overview of Ecuadorian literature with a focus on women’s literature.

2. Why did you choose this topic?

I’ve wanted to focus on Spanish translation for a long time. While in Ecuador during my first visit, I realized that I had never heard of any Ecuadorian literature. In fact, I noticed that many Ecuadorians don’t read books by their own writers. And while looking for a thesis topic, I decided I wanted to combine my interest in women and gender studies to focus on female writers of Ecuador, who as a general rule are overlooked and under-represented in the traditional literary circles. These women are vocal and articulate, but their work remains on the margins. This is due in large part because they struggle against biases that male writers don’t have to contend with.

I chose to emphasize contemporary short stories, both for ready access to the material in Ecuador, as well as a practical consideration to focus on material I could translate within a year’s time. When I returned to Athens, I began to synthesize all the materials I brought back and began writing my thesis.

3. How did you conduct the research?

I spent most of the time in libraries located in the three major cities: Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca. Before I arrived, though, I arranged to meet with several female authors who live there to interview them. While visiting the libraries, I scanned texts that are not available in the States and took notes on other texts—looking particularly for books by women, books on feminist history and short stories written by contemporary women authors. I also visited bookstores and brought back over 55 books related to my topic.

I met with nine authors whose work I’m translating. I interviewed them about their writing style and philosophy, as well as current literary culture in Ecuador. I wanted to learn about what their experiences are as women writers, their process for getting their works published, the culture of reading, networking relationships with other authors, editors and publishers and so on.

4. What have you learned from the project to date?

The people I interviewed were excited to share their work and talk about their stories. They were pleased that someone from another country showed interest in them and were optimistic that at some point their readership would expand beyond Ecuador. That was a pleasant surprise.

Travelling alone for four months to do research in a foreign country is extremely challenging. I spent many days alone working in libraries and in my hotel room. Building a network of foreign literary contacts wasn’t easy; a support network of friends, family and mentors helped. There were moments of loneliness, but at the same time I was open to new opportunities that came along to get to know people. I’ve remained in contact with some of the Ecuadorian people I’ve met.

5. What impact do you hope to make with your work?  

As far as I can tell, there are no published translations with a focus solely on Ecuadorian women’s literature. I’d like to draw attention to and encourage interest in Ecuadorian literature and particularly in the country’s women writers.

6. Did anything surprise you about your research experience?   

I was touched by the enthusiasm the authors showed for my project and their willingness to befriend me. Some of them invited me to their homes. I plan to pursue a career in English translation, and I hope to have these stories be part of my published works.

At Ohio University, Julianna Coleman works under the direction of Betsy Partyka, an associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages.

The Ohio University Student Enhancement Awards support undergraduate, graduate, and medical student research, scholarship, and creative activities. Awards of up to $6,000 support research and travel to attend a professional meeting to present results.

The next submission deadline for the awards is 4 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. The Research Division will host two informational workshops for students on how to submit proposals on Wednesday Nov. 18, 2015, 12-1 p.m. and Thursday Nov. 19, 2015, 4-5 p.m. (repeat session); 301U Alden Library; light refreshments provided. For more information, visit www.ohio.edu/research/funding.cfm .