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Residencies In Review: Centre National Du Livre

Residencies in Review highlights international residencies for writers and translators of French by sharing the experiences of past participants. Some of these programs provide literary artists with structure, scheduled workshops, meetings, and excursions, while others provide the time and space to work away from the concerns of day-to-day life and let the writers and translators plan their own work schedules.

In this edition, Alyson Waters shares her experiences at the Centre national du livre (CNL).


Alyson Waters is a literary translator, professor, and lecturer. She has taught in the French Dept of Yale University since 1993, and currently teaches literary translation workshops at NYU and Columbia University. This summer, she will be teaching a workshop on “The Art of Literary Translation” at Columbia University in Paris. Ms. Waters’ research focuses on translingual writers; she has extensively translated authors with a foot in two cultures, such as Albert Cossery and Vassilis Alexakis. A recipient of many awards and grants, her recent translation of Yasmina Khadra’s Cousin K (with Donald Nicholson-Smith) received a French Voices Award and her translation of Eric Chevillard’s Prehistoric Times is a finalist for the 2013 Best Translated Book Award and the 26th Annual French-American Foundation Translation Prize.

Dates of your residencies:  I had two residencies with the CNL, both for three months, and both of which I divided into six-week stays.  The first residency was in 2008 (I think?) and the second in 2012-2013.

Projects you worked on during these residencies:For the first residency, I worked on my translations of Albert Cossery’s novels Un complot de saltimbanque [A Splendid Conspiracy] and Les couleurs de l’infamie [The Colors of Infamy], which were published by New Directions.  For the second, I am working on my translation of Emmanuel Bove’s collection of short stories Henri Duchemin et ses ombres, to be published by New York Review Books in 2014.

Please tell us a bit about your experience (feel free to talk about the structure of the program, community, location, space, benefits, etc). The residencies were a gift from the heavens. There are absolutely no obligations other than to translate, and translate I did.  There is no “community” per se, other than the community I had established with French translators and writers during previous stays in France, or whom I had met in the States. The “location,” is ideal, because you can stay wherever you want. I worked mostly in Paris, where I rented a small studio from a friend, and also in Brittany, where I could work in peace in the Finistère nord in an old farmhouse. I got so much work done, and am looking forward to my next six-week stay in June-July 2013, where, after a very busy academic semester, I will at last have he time to complete my final draft of Bove’s Henri Duchemin et ses ombres.

The grants from the CNL are the best thing in the world for translators who need time and financial help to work on projects they love. My work has benefited immensely from these grants, and I’ve always recommended to the translators I know that they should apply.  

To apply for the CNL Residency Grants, translators must submit projects under contract with a foreign (non-French) publisher with a projected distribution of over 500 copies. For more information, including a list of required documents, consult the CNL guidelines.

All applications must be received by the Book Department of the French Embassy in New York at least three weeks before one of the following deadlines:February 20June 10October 31

Email anne-sophie.hermil@diplomatie.gouv.fr to receive a copy of the application form.

For information about other residency programs, please visit the Residencies in Review homepage.