Found in Translation

A Ph.D. candidate in creative writing and literature, Provost Fellow Edward Gauvin has translated more than 60 French novels and is working on an overview of the French fantastique literary genre.
Lauren Evashenk

In the eyes of Provost Fellow Edward Gauvin, translation is a creative activity. A busy translator of French literature for the past five years, he sees the task as more an exercise in adaptation.

“I have to create a context for the French authors so that they are part of the English landscape,” said Gauvin, who pointed out how a talented translator is able to accomplish this seamlessly. “Readers of the English translation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina do not readily think about the fact that the novel was originally written in Russian.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Gauvin had no early plans to get into translation; it all happened quite gradually.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from USC in 1998, he made his way to the University of Iowa to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Through the university, Gauvin secured a teaching assistantship position at the University of Picardy in Amiens, France. He then traveled and studied a number of international authors as a Fulbright scholar based in Brussels.

Lured back to USC to work with author and then-Distinguished Professor T.C. Boyle — now writer-in-residence — Gauvin is currently completing his Ph.D. in creative writing and literature in USC Dornsife. His French-language skills are playing an important role.

Gauvin said he’s always been interested in fantastical writing, and as he delved further into the genre, he found himself reading more and more in French.

“I realized there was a large body of French work that wasn’t well-known,” he said.

Gauvin began to investigate works by postwar authors of the French fantastique literary genre that inspired the Decadent movement, a late 19th-century artistic and literary movement of Western Europe.

Now, under the guidance of faculty adviser Aimee Bender, Gauvin is working on a critical companion that will be an overview of the period. He hopes his work will help fantastical literature be more accessible to a wider readership.

In addition to working on his dissertation and teaching a beginning French language course, Gauvin writes profiles of francophone authors and works for the site Weird Fiction Review. He is also completing an anthology of works by French and Belgian authors from 1940 to the present, which he is editing and translating with the goal of examining how the fantastical genre changed over time and influenced other European literary movements.

Of course, no creative writing dissertation would be complete without a personal creative component. To this end, Gauvin is writing Guises, a collection of short stories, half of which are realist and half nonrealist. Though his dissertation is not yet complete, one of these stories has already been translated into French by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, a celebrated French author whose work Gauvin has previously translated.

In addition to works of literature, Gauvin has translated more than 60 graphic novels. One of these translations, A Game for Swallows by Zeina Abirached, received the Batchelder Award from the American Library Association.

If the constant stream of publications is not evidence enough of his translation prowess, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy recently awarded Gauvin a month-long residency at the Villa Gillet in Lyon, France, where he will be giving a translation workshop during the literary festival Les Assises Internationales du Roman.

As Gauvin adds to his list of accomplishments, he hopes to continue balancing translation work with his own writing.