Johnny Lorenz, a professor in the English Department, was invited to Watchung Booksellers in Montclair to discuss Crooked Plow, an award-winning novel by Itamar Vieira Junior which Lorenz recently translated from Portuguese to English. He discussed the book with Dr. Patricia Matthew, an associate professor in the English Department.
The translation process is a deeply interesting one, and Lorenz is passionate about his work. With his translations, he intends to broaden cultural understanding in our increasingly interconnected world. There is something magical about being multilingual and recognizing, as Lorenz says, the “rhythms of a language.” Lorenz speaks both English and Portuguese, which allows him to look back at English from a distance, appreciate what it does well, and contemplate its limitations. Lorenz emphasizes that everyone should try to learn a second language.
“The world is growing smaller; nothing is more urgent for a university student, it seems to me, than to navigate a world in which borders are becoming more and more porous,” Lorenz says.
When Lorenz takes on a translation project, it’s because the work inspires him in some way. “A few years ago, I was thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement, and I wondered how this urgent cry for social justice might inform my own work as a translator…I am trying to do my part,” he says.
For Lorenz, it’s an honor to be the one to introduce English-speaking readers to Crooked Plow, an astonishing work that was a sensation in Brazil. The novel highlights the cultural practices of rural Bahia, a state in Brazil, and Lorenz believes that a very powerful aspect of this particular book is the way it introduces readers to spirit beings of the African Diaspora. “I try to give a bit of context — but without ‘explaining’ these fundamental mysteries of the sacred,” he says.
The story centers on two girls’ coming-of-age in a community of tenant farmers. A terrible accident occurs when they are children, and the tragedy leaves one of them mute. As the community struggles against the exploitative practices of the landowner, something very magical happens, as an Afro-Brazilian spirit being takes over the narrative. Her name is Santa Rita the Fisherwoman.
Lorenz, son of Brazilian immigrants, received a doctorate in English from the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include Brazilian literature, poetry and translation. He teaches courses including World Literature, Poetry Writing, and Brazilian Literature. His scholarly articles have appeared in such journals as Modern Fiction Studies, Luso-Brazilian Review and Brasil/Brazil. His translation of Clarice Lispector’s A Breath of Life was a finalist for Best Translated Book Award.
The event was held at Watchung Booksellers on Wednesday, July 5, at 7 p.m.
Written by Faith Monesteri, Fulcomer Intern