Tribute to Angela McEwan

Editor’s note: In place of an interview this issue, we are running two tributes to Angela McEwan, a literary translator and long-time member of the American Literary Translation Association. McEwan died in December at the age of the age of 81. She was born in Los Angeles, California, and lived in Spain, Mexico, and Nicaragua, and held an M.A. in Spanish from the University of California, Irvine. In addition to translating, she was also a well-known actress, most recently playing the role of a newspaper editor in Alexander Payne’s film Nebraska (2013). Below are two tributes to her from the poets and translators Lilian Valenzuela and Carlota Caulfield.

Angie McEwan was one of the two most generous people I have ever encountered. She was a great mentor, a unique friend, a recognized actress and an admired translator. Her translations of works by Cristina Gutiérrez Richaud, Jorge Eliécer Pardo and Liliana Valenzuela are highly praised. Fortunately for me, she was also one of my translators. I was very lucky to meet her in the early 90s thanks to the poet Verónica Castagnini (c/o Verónica Miranda), editor at the time of Luz Bilingual Publishing in Los Angeles.

One of the most memorable bilingual readings I did with Angie was at ALTA in October 2012 in Philadelphia. In this event, my fashion musings, a short autobiography narrated via different pairs of shoes, awakened great enthusiasm in the audience not only for tongue-in-cheek quality of the stories, but also thanks to Angie’s sharp rendering of my words. On many occasions over the years we would reminisce about the Philadelphia reading with great relish and joy!

Angie’s enthusiasm for my work had no limits. She was always ready to undertake new projects of mine and our collaborations grew stronger with the years. There is no doubt that since our first meeting we became a good working team. We were companions in many translation adventures that included a collection of letters by Alejandra Pizarnik, many of my poems and my books. We got together in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, New York, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Barcelona and London, to mention some of the cities with memories I hold close. We spoke on the phone almost every week during those years. Our last conversation took place a few days before she passed away. We had a short, but cheerful chat. In this particular occasion, her everlasting enthusiasm for life touched me very deeply.

Those of us who were lucky enough to know Angie in person—as well as the readers who only encountered her in print thanks to her translations, her short stories or her poems and those who admired her as a film actress—are struggling to adjust to the reality that such an extraordinary person is no longer with us.

But the thing everyone knows about Angie—more than her sharp intellect, more than her sense of humor, more than her excellent translations, more than being an accomplished actress—is that she was an incredible friend.

Paraphrasing Marcel Proust, I can say that I am grateful to Angie for being a charming gardener who made my soul blossom.

-Carlota Caulfield

Angela was my senior by more than two decades, but I never asked her age. I truly did not know she was in her late seventies when she restarted her acting career. As a supporting actress she hit it big with the movie Nebraska and made the red-carpet rounds in Hollywood and Cannes. When I found out she was 81 when she died, I was truly shocked. To me, and I’m sure to many others, Angie was ageless.

Ageless was her enthusiasm for life, whether as a court interpreter, a mother, a literary translator, a grandmother, a poet and writer or an actor.

I first met Angie at the ALTA conference in Austin, my first, and she offered to mentor me. She read my translation of one of Sandra Cisneros’ stories, “‘Mericans,” which contained Spanish-English code-switching, and gave me some pointers. We became friends and since then were roommates at ALTA and ATA conferences over the years, and even at the Guadalajara Book Fair in 2004, when Catalonian culture was the guest of honor.

Angie translated my poetry manuscript Codex of Desire, which later became two manuscripts, Codex of Journeys: Bendito camino (Mouthfeel Press 2012) and another larger unpublished manuscript, Codex of Love. She worked on my poems with great care, listening to the rhythms and trying to replicate them in English. She asked questions, lots of them, and we had the best time going over the manuscript once at a hotel in Laguna Beach. Once, we were sitting at a table outside, discussing the nuances in the poems, and people at a nearby table hushed us when they heard some erotic words in both languages waft up from our table. She was forever laughing about that–weren’t you, Angie?

Before the last the ALTA conference in Tucson in 2015, the doctor had told Angie she could no longer fly because she was on medication for seizures, in addition to her cancer. So she decided to take the overnight train from L.A. by herself. She came on her own steam, barely a month before her passing. JoAnne Engelbert and I were delighted to be her roommates, and we lavished care on her, waited for her as she made her way with a cane, talked and laughed into the wee hours.

Angie and I offered a bilingual reading one last time at the Café Passe on North 4th Avenue. The reading was outdoors and the night was cool and getting colder by the minute. We found a table by the wall and enjoyed the bilingual reading. When it was our turn, we made our way to the front, zigzagging through the chairs and tables. The stage had no reading light and there was no way Angie could climb up on that tall stage, so we sat in front of the stage while Alexis Levitin held an iPhone as a flashlight, which we borrowed from someone in the audience. Angie sat on a chair and read from her poem “Age and the Universe,” which I had translated into Spanish. Angie’s poem said it all: “I don’t feel old as compared to/ trees, mountains, clouds./ They were there when I was born and/ don’t seem to have changed.”

The three of us took turns holding the flashlight and pages, and managed to get to the end without fumbling and ending with the pages on the floor. Angie was a marvelous reader. Whether she was acting or just enunciating the words, I never wanted her to stop. She gave just the right inflection, mood, and spirit to each word.

After our turn, we listened to other people’s readings, and Angie sometimes nodded off in that cold October night, her energy waning. Eduardo Aparicio drove us to the hotel and back. We knew that night, that trip was precious. Angie enjoyed every bit of it. “Aging must happen for new life to replace it./ We flow into the universe and become/ one with all that went before.”

-Liliana Valenzuela

Age and the Universe

by Angela McEwan

I look around outdoors
see the beauty hidden
in everyday landscapes.
I don’t feel old as compared to
trees, mountains, clouds.
They were there when I was born and
don’t seem to have changed.
Rationally I know the trees are new growth,
the mountains are eroding, the clouds
move and flow into rain.
I too am changing.
There are more wrinkles, the joints are
occasionally stiff, but the touch of a breeze,
warm sun, vines, flowers, even weeds,
have always surrounded me and grow
more precious as my past days
outnumber the ones to come.
Aging must happen for new life to replace it.
We flow into the universe and become
one with all that went before.

La edad y el universo
por Angela McEwan

Miro afuera a mi alrededor
veo la belleza escondida
en los paisajes cotidianos.
No me siento vieja comparada con
los árboles, las montañas, las nubes.
Estaban aquí cuando yo nací y
parecen no haber cambiado.
Racionalmente sé que los árboles son nuevos retoños,
las montañas se erosionan, las nubes
se mueven y caen fluyendo como lluvia.
Yo también estoy cambiando.
Hay más arrugas, las articulaciones se
ponen tiesas de vez en cuando, pero la caricia de una brisa,
el sol tibio, las enredaderas, incluso la mala hierba,
siempre me han rodeado y se vuelven
cada vez más preciados a medida que mis días pasados
se vuelven más numerosos que los que están por venir.
El envejecimiento debe darse para que la nueva vida pueda reemplazarlo.
Fluimos hacia el universo y nos volvemos
uno con todo lo que ha pasado antes.

Translated by Liliana Valenzuela 8.17.15