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Pablo Medina

Author and literary translator Pablo Medina is the newest mentor in the U's Online Mentoring for Writers program.

Online mentoring program branches out

New poetry mentor specializes in Spanish-English translations

By Megan Rocker

Sept. 25, 2006

For many writers, practicing the art of storytelling begins even before they are able to put pen to paper: "My grandmother...once found me as an infant making pictographic [stories] on the wall of my bedroom with an unusual, but nonetheless effective, medium," recalls the University of Minnesota's Online Mentoring for Writers' newest mentor, Pablo Medina. "Vocations, unlike professions, pick you; you don't pick them. And so it was in my case." The author of several works of poetry and prose, most recently, The Cigar Roller, a novel, and Points of Balance/Puntos de Apoyo, a bilingual collection of poetry, Medina is also a noted literary translator.

For any writer--beginner, intermediate, or advanced--constructive criticism from a seasoned critical reader is a valuable tool. The Online Mentoring program, which falls under the College of Continuing Education's Split Rock Arts series, is designed to provide that critical feedback, and connects writers with outstanding mentors who provide individually tailored, constructive assistance with literary fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction.

Since its inception almost three years ago, the program has served more than 200 writers from all over the country and around the English-speaking world. With the addition of Medina to the staff, Online Mentoring for Writers furthers both its reach and its relevance to the global community. Medina welcomes clients in poetry and fiction, as well as those writing in Spanish or translating poetry from or into Spanish or any other Romance language.

His goal, and a skill he fosters in the writers he mentors, is to create three key elements in a translated piece: urgency, necessity, and balance. "Urgency involves the reader in the work; necessity keeps him reading; balance makes him forget he is reading," says Medina.

Born in Cuba, Medina was 12 when his family moved to the United States in 1960. As a writer, he got his start composing poetry in his native Spanish when he was just a teenager. He then wrote bilingually until he switched to writing in one language only at the urging of a college mentor. "The world that surrounded me at the time was English," Medina says, "so I picked that, writing in [it] primarily until the 1990s, when I decided to defy [my professor's] dictum. It worked."

Now, Medina writes in both languages.

"My 'preferred language' is one that comes at the moment of composition--I use both languages in all my writing." Having said that, he pauses and quotes a bit from an old Scottish poem, "I was born into Spanish and 'I fain would lie doon' to die speaking Spanish...even if I speak to the wall or heart monitor."

Medina has translation experience in most literary genres, and, like many authors, believes that literary translation is an art form unto itself.

"We live in a translated culture," he says. "The basic texts of our civilization--Hammurabi's code, the Old and New Testaments, Greek tragedy and philosophy, and the Roman poets--have to come to us for the most part as translated works. You can put down the importance of translation and translators, but you do so at the risk of falling prey to poverty of thought and narrowness of mind. How many people in this country have read Madame Bovary in the original French or Anna Karenina in the original Russian?"

Constructive critics

The initial cost of joining the U's Online Mentoring for Writers program is $150. You choose your mentor, or request to be matched with the right mentor, then you submit up to ten pages of your writing, a one-page autobiography, and a statement about your goals for the mentorship. Your mentor will send you a personal reply, commenting on your writing and suggesting how you might work together most productively.

In addition to author and literary translator Pablo Medina, the other mentors are Judith Barrington (memoir and poetry), Marion Dane Bauer (children's and young adult fiction), Sharon Doubiago (poetry and memoir), Carolyn Forch? (poetry), Linda Hasselstrom (nonfiction), Susan Hubbard (fiction), Valerie Miner (fiction), Jim Moore (poetry), Sylvia Watanabe (fiction and memoir), Catherine Watson (travel and memoir).

His goal, and a skill he fosters in the writers he mentors, is to create three key elements in a translated piece: urgency, necessity, and balance.

"Urgency involves the reader in the work; necessity keeps him reading; balance makes him forget he is reading," says Medina. But there is also, Medina cautions, another element--an almost intangible force--that must be captured to fully represent the "emotional truth" of a piece. "Garc?a Lorca borrowed a term from flamenco music and called it duende," explains Medina. "So let's call it that. Without duende there is nothing. But there is neither map nor exercise that can reach it, except for the writer's willingness to abandon him or herself to the work."

This is Medina's first tenure as an online mentor--and a new chapter in his life he is eager to begin.

"Mentor is the name of Telemachus's teacher in the Odyssey," he says. "He stands as the prototype of all teachers--supportive but demanding, nurturing but rigorous. A mentor must function as a supporter and, simultaneously, as a mirror who refuses to answer the question, 'Who's the fairest one of all?' I am intrigued by the online experience and look forward to it."

To learn more about the program, see Online Mentoring for Writers or call 612-624-4375.