In 1999, C.M. Mayo founded Tameme, the annual bilingual
journal of new writing from North America, Canada, the U.S.,
and Mexico. One of the journals goals, she explains, is
to serve as a way to make people aware of the art of English
to Spanish literary translation, "of the painstaking effort
to get every word just right, of finding the elegance, the rhythm,
and the charm, if you will, of the original." In bringing artists of
the Americas together under one cover, Mayo hopes readers and
writers alike will use Tameme as a cultural, as well as
literary, forum. The following outlines her efforts to make this
vision a reality.
When and whydid
you first get the idea to publish a bilingual literary magazine
It was after
the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) had been passed, when
I was living in Mexico City and beginning to look around at what
was being translated, both from English-into-Spanish and Spanish-into-English.
I knew there was a lot of amazing work out there, and I was quite
surprised to find how little of it was being translated. I was
also surprised by the conservatism of many translators - picking
the tried-and-true over newer, and perhaps riskier, writers.
For example, I was seeing translations of the short stories of
Ernest Hemingway and Eudora Welty, but none of, say, A. Manette
Ansay or Sherman Alexie, two of the writers I think are among
the best of their generation. This isnt necessarily a criticism.
After all, a wonderful writer is wonderful to translate, whether
theyve been dead for 500 years or whether they happen to
be living and breathing next door. Nonetheless, I wanted to encourage
more translations of the many superb but relatively less-known
contemporary English- and Spanish-language writers.
your goals for Tameme?
One goal for
Tameme is to bring out literary translations and to let
the magazine serve as a forum for the art of translation. Thus,
Tameme includes biographies of the translators and extensive
translators notes. There is a space reserved at the back
where translators may write about whatever they want, from the
specific technical issues that came up in the translation, to
their general philosophy of translation, or even just anecdotes
about how they happened to begin translating.
translation is so important. There is such an ocean of ignorance.
Ive had many people tell me, "Oh, why dont you
save money and instead of hiring a translator, just run the story
through a computer program?" It curls my toes!
is to put the writers and readers of North America together.
By "North America," I mean anyone who is from and/or
lives in Canada, the U.S., or Mexico. Whatever one may think
of NAFTA, the fact is that economic and financial ties among
Canada, the U.S., and Mexico are becoming stronger. Its
a wonderful thing to get to know more about each others
cultures and languages. I like to think of, say, a Canadian reader
coming across Margaret Atwood in the same issue of Tameme
as Alberto Blanco, a Mexican poet he might not have heard
of before. Or, similarly, perhaps a Mexican reader might find
Edwidge Danticat or Charles Simic next to a favorite, such as
Juan Villoro or Coral Bracho.
How did you
choose the name, Tameme, and what is its significance?
Tameme (pronounced "ta-meh-meh")
is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word meaning "messenger" or "porter."
Who is your
Anyone who enjoys
reading literature, and also English to Spanish and Spanish to
English translators. Translators have been the biggest supporters
of Tameme, both as contributors and as readers. Nonetheless,
because Tameme publishes the translations side-by-side
with the originals, it can be read by someone who only reads
Spanish as well as by someone who only reads English.
you go about turning a dream into reality (recruiting contributors,
advertisers, etc.)? Do you have some good anecdotes?
my dad, who has more than 25 years of experience in the printing
and graphics business, was a big help from the beginning. He
gave Tameme space in his office in Los Altos, California,
and also helped set up Tameme, Inc. as a California-based nonprofit,
which was a very sticky wicket of paperwork!
For the first
issue, I asked for work from writers and translators I knew,
as well as from members of the editorial advisory board. I also
just straight out asked for the work I wanted. That was the case
with Margaret Atwood. I found her essay "The Grunge Look"
in a PEN Canadian anthology, and wrote to her care of the publisher.
She wrote back very kindly granting us permission, and we went
ahead and commissioned the translation. That essay is in our
For the second
issue, we cast the net very wide with calls for submissions in
Poets & Writers, the Writers Carousel, and
all over the Internet. We also sent flyers to around 200 universities.
Some of the pieces we received were complete surprises, such
as Silvia Tandeciarzs translations of the poetry of Juana
I also attended
Literary Translators Association (ALTA) conferences and queried several of the
Spanish-language translators. It was at an ALTA conference that
I met Cola Franzen, Claire Joysmith, Elizabeth Gamble Miller,
and Mark Schafer for the first time. Right there, four amazing
As for advertisers,
most of our ads are "exchanges." That is, we provide
a free ad to other literary journals and, in turn, they each
give Tameme a free ad. Its an efficient way for
a nonprofit "litmag" to get the advertising that our
budget would not otherwise permit. I also hope our readers benefit
from learning about other journals and translation programs.
When did your
first issue come out?
1999. As I mentioned
before, this is the one that contained Margaret Atwoods
"The Grunge Look," a hilarious account of her travels
in 1960s Europe and how she was always being mistaken for an
American. In addition, there was an essay by Mexican Juan Villoro
about his eccentric grandmother, and stories by A. Manette Ansay
and Edwidge Danticat, and Mexicans Fabio Morabito and Daniel
What was the
reaction to this first issue?
was, on the one hand, indifference, and on the other, this amazing
sort of jump-up-and-down enthusiasm. The indifference mostly
came from people who seemed to think that if they dont
read Spanish or have any interest in learning Spanish, its
not for them. The enthusiasm came from people who love Spanish,
have lived in Mexico or Central or South America, and from many
people who write in Spanish. They were genuinely excited to see
Spanish-language work getting a broader diffusion. Many people
wrote us heartfelt letters. I even had a few phone calls from
people I didnt know, just to tell us how much they liked
it. So that was really a thrill. We got a very generous review
in The Bloomsbury Review and another, for the second issue
of Tameme, in the Literary Magazine Review. Several
other literary journal editors (including Jack Grapes of ONTHEBUS
and Howard Junker of Zyzzyva) sent blurbs. Best of all,
the Fund for U.S.-Mexico Culture gave Tameme a generous
grant to do the second and third issues.
What was the
theme of the second issue?
Issue #2 was entitled
"Sun and Moon/Sol y Luna." It featured poems by W.D. Snodgrass,
"The Capture of Mr. Sun" and "The Capture of Mr.
Moon," together with their illustrations as the cover art,
two gorgeous collage-like paintings of the same titles by DeLoss
McGraw. The title for the issue, "Sun and Moon," came
naturally after the material had been assembled. This issue opens
with a very strange and darkly funny essay by Jeff Taylor about
working in a meat packing plant. It also includes stories by
Lex Williford (winner of the Iowa Prize), Luis Arturo Ramos (one
of Mexicos most outstanding writers), and includes poems
by Alberto Blanco, Alvaro Mutis, P.K. Page, Gabriel Zaid, and
As you published
additional issues, what were some "lessons learned"
from the process?
Getting the text
in Spanish to line up with the English side-by-side was much
trickier than it looked at first. We had lines jumping and accents
that wouldnt print. Formatting that first issue was a nightmare.
With all the snafus, it took us almost six months. Finally, our
designer (bless her heart!) got the template down clean. For
the second issue, I learned how to use Pagemaker so I could do
provide assistance during the editing process?
We have a couple
of readers who help with the unsolicted material, and also an
editorial advisory board of writers, translators, and readers
who often make suggestions and send work. Once the issue has
been assembled, I do very little editing; basically copyediting.
For the Spanish-language copyediting, I rely on Bertha Ruiz de
la Concha, a really splendid Mexican translator and editor.
Tell us about
the third issue.
The third issue,
"Reconquest/Reconquista," has been made possible by the grant
from the Fund for U.S.-Mexico Culture, and I am really excited
about it. The theme of "reconquest" runs throughout
the issue, and is widely interpreted. For instance, we will feature
a poem by Juana Goergen, "Reconquista," and an elegant
and very thoughtful essay by Philip Garrison, "The Reconquista
of the Inland Empire." One poem, "Arlington House,"
by Washington, DC-area poet M.A. Schaffner, is about the mansion
of Robert E. Lee that now sits in the middle of Arlington Cemetery
surrounded by the graves of Union dead. The issue also includes
work by Colette Inez, Alberto Blanco, and Eduardo Gonzalez-Viana,
a wonderful novelist and short story writer from Peru who lives
in Oregon. He is definitely a writer to watch. Weve also
got a beautiful short story by José Skinner, who, by the
way, is an accomplished Spanish translator himself.
about your own background and writing/translating experience.
I moved to Mexico
City in 1986 when I got married. I had never studied Spanish,
only French and German, so I went to the Monterey Institute in
Monterey, California, for an intensive four-week Spanish immersion
course. Once in Mexico City, I took more Spanish classes and
began working in an international investment bank. By 1988, I
was able to teach finance and economics in Spanish. My academic
background is in economics (B.A. and M.A., University of Chicago),
but ever since I was small I had always written stories. In 1990,
I began taking my literary writing seriously and signed up for
some summer writers conferences. By 1992, I was publishing stories
and poems and had begun to translate Mexican poetry.
As for my current
work, I have a book coming out this fall, Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles Through
Baja California, the Other Mexico (University of Utah Press), and a book
of short stories, Sky Over El Nido (University of Georgia
Press), which won the Flannery OConnor Award. Ive
been publishing in literary journals, most recently essays in
Fourth Genre and Southwest Review, stories in Natural
Bridge and Turnrow, and poetry in West Branch.
Right now, I am working on a novel set in Mexico City.
In recent years,
my translating of Mexican poems has taken a back seat to editing
Tameme, though I do have some translations of poems by
Tedi Lopez Mills in the anthology edited by Monica de la Torre
and Michael Wiegers, Reversible Monuments (Copper Canyon,
What has been
the most "fun" aspect of publishing Tameme?
The fun part
is finding something I feel really thrilled about bringing to
a translator and to new readers. Ive also enjoyed choosing
the cover art. I like to have something kind of strange, powerful,
and crazy-bright with colors. The translators notes, when
they come in, are always a treat to read.
What has been
the most challenging aspect?
parts of editing Tameme are: 1) the paperwork (just crushing
at times), and 2) having to say "no" to so many of
the submissions we receive. Its never easy to say "no,"
but, alas, there are only so many pages we can print. If we had
no monetary limitations, we could come out more frequently. As
it is, we can manage "once a year-ish."
Do you have
any suggestions about how to get literary translations published?
I really encourage
anyone who is interested in trying to publish some literary translations
to go ahead, try it! I think its easier to start with something
relatively small, say, a poem you really like. Have a go at it,
and then if you dont have an address for the writer, simply
write to him or her care of the publisher. Ninety-nine times
out of a hundred, writers are thrilled to have a translator take
an interest in their work.A literary journal is the best place
to send a literary translation. But I think the first thing to
have clear is that literary journals, and I mean both the specialized
translation journals such as Tameme, Beacons, and Two
Lines, and the wide range of U.S. and Canadian literary journals
that also consider translations, are open to unsolicited work.
That means you dont have to know the editor. Just check
out the submission guidelines and then send in your work.
It is crucial
to understand that "litmags" are nonprofit. None of
them, however fancy their covers may appear, make a profit. Few
have paid staff, and those few that do have very small staffs.
In short, for the editors, its a labor of love. (That also
means that your "payment" will most likely be two copies
of the journal. There are exceptions, but generally speaking,
literary translation for literary journals is not a way to make
money.) Thus, it is important to include a self-addressed, stamped
envelope for a reply, and to respect the editors time by
having your permissions all lined up before you start sending
translations out. A brief and business-like cover letter is fine.
It should include: 1) your name, address, telephone number, and
e-mail address; 2) the basic information of what you are offering;
3) a copy of a letter from the poet or writer granting permission
to publish the translations; and 4) a brief biographical note
about yourself. More than a page of information, I think, is
clutter. It also helps to keep in mind that literary journals
receive mountains of unsolicited work, so even excellent work
can receive a rejection slip. No need to get discouraged. Its
just a question of being persistent and to keep sending, sending,
sending. One writer compared sending work out to throwing spaghetti
noodles against the wall; you never know which one will stick!
On my website
(www.cmmayo.com) I have a workshop page with an
essay containing more detail about submitting work to literary
is meant for my writing students, but most of the advice also
applies to submitting translations. Publishing in a literary
journal can be very encouraging, both for the translator and
for the writer or poet. I cant recommend it enough.
one find journals to submit literary translations?
One place to
start is in your local bookstore, though not all carry literary
journals, and even the best-stocked stores do not carry all of
the many wonderful journals that are out there. Public and university
libraries often have excellent collections. And, there are directories
of listings of journals with brief descriptions, addresses, and
so on in The Writers Market. On the web, a superb source
of information is the website of the Council of Literary Magazines
and Small Presses (www.clmp.org), which has links to
many of its members. Last June, I attended the New York City
Literary Magazine Festival where there were 105 "litmags"
represented. There is certainly no shortage of places to send
work! In fact, several editors told me they were very eager for
more submissions of translations.
You are wearing
two different hats simultaneously litmag editor and creative
writer. Any advice for others?
Writers are often
interested in starting litmags because they want to publish their
own writing. I think thats something to be very cautious
about, because when motives are mixed, the quality can get muddy.
Its challenging to remain objective about ones own
writing. How can one be objective about ones own child?
So, for me, Tameme is about translating and editing, and
my own writing I send elsewhere. There are, of course, many cases
of editors including their own writing in their journal. I am
thinking of Harry Smiths deliciously puckish essays that
he published in The Smith. The one rule of the literary
life is there are no rules.
You have a
home in both the U.S. and Mexico. What insights into the culture
of Mexico has the literature of that country given you?
Much of the literature
of Mexico comes out of Mexico City, which is not any more representative
of the country than, say, Manhattan is of the vast spaces between
Seattle and Miami. With that caveat, the literature has shown
me a Mexico that is the cliché of cacti and campesinos,
but also very cosmopolitan¾ interested in the Rolling
Stones and Bach, Madonna, Princess Di, and shopping trips to
Houston. At the same time, it is a country with a connection
to its past that extends to the remote provinces. So I would
have to say a sense of the overwhelming importance of Mexico
City. In terms of its cultural, financial and political importance,
its like a Washington DC, New York City and Los Angeles
rolled into one. On the other hand, not all of Mexicos
literature is coming out of Mexico City, nor is it necessarily
in Spanish. Monica de la Torre and Michael Wiegers new
anthology of Mexican poetry, Reversible Monuments, includes
poems in several indigenous languages and their style and
content were, for me, something entirely new.
But what is the
definition of "the literature of the country?" I like
to think of it as including the writing of foreigners about Mexico.
There is Calderon de la Barcas unparalleled Life
Goochs Among the Mexicans, Crosbys Last
of the Californios, Flandreaus Viva Mexico,
and Steinbecks The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
More recently, a whole new Mexico was opened to me through
reading the American journalist San Quinones True Tales From Another Mexico. And
then there is Alma Guillermoprieto, a Mexican journalist who
writes in English for The New Yorker.
Currently, Im reading Maximilian von Habsburgs astonishingly
vivid and elegant Memories of My Life. He was an Austrian
archduke, but also the emperor of Mexico. One of the greatest
books ever written was the Spanish conquistador Bernal Diaz del
Casillos memoir The Conquest of Mexico. In short,
narrowing the definition gets complicated.
Do you have
a favorite Mexican writer?
There are so
many Elena Poniatowska, Carlos Fuentes, Juan Villoro, Alberto
Blanco, Coral Bracho, Fabio Morabito
What do you
wish your legacy will be as editor of Tameme?
I hope Tameme
will be remembered as having brought writers to new readers,
and having helped bring the message that literary translation
is an art, and that it matters very much how well it is done.
I would be thrilled if Tameme were remembered as having
come along in the footsteps of some of the earlier international
literary journals that featured translation, such as Botteghe
Oscure, El Corno Emplumado, and Mandorla. I was inspired
by their examples and I hope Tameme, in turn, will inspire
others to start international literary journals, and especially
journals that feature translation.