Margaret Jull Costa

Presentation address by Dr Matthew Treherne



Edit and revise, edit and revise, and read your work out loud”: this is the advice that Margaret Jull Costa gives to would-be literary translators. It is elegant advice, both simple and profoundly challenging. Margaret has described the way in which, as a translator of Spanish and Portuguese literature, she is always listening to the rhythms and cadences of language, whether travelling in Spain and Portugal, or drafting her own translations, or just chatting to the hairdresser. She is always questioning, too: she says that “doubt is an essential part of [her] working day”.

Questioning, revising, listening with sensitivity: by following these principles, Margaret has achieved extraordinary things. Over her thirty-year career in literary translation, she has won far too many prizes for me to mention here, including the PEN Translation Prize, which the New York Times calls “the Academy Award of Translation”. In 2013 she was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature; and in 2014 she was awarded an OBE for her services to literature.

Margaret has translated the works both of canonical authors such as Eça de Queiroz, José Saramago, Fernando Pessoa, Benito Pérez Galdós, and Leopoldo Alas. But she has also brought into English the works of authors whom she herself had to promote to UK publishers, including now-familiar names such as Javier Marías. Thanks to Margaret’s tireless advocacy for Spanish and Portuguese literature, and her constant vigilance against “the temptation to think, ‘Oh, that will do’”, the English-speaking literary world is far richer, and has access to some of the most compelling voices in world literature. 

Margaret says that the work of a literary translator is solitary, but not lonely. Here at the University of Leeds we have seen her generosity in action, as she has visited us on a number of occasions to carry out workshops with our students, inspiring them by showing what can be achieved through that simple commitment to “edit and revise, and read your work out loud.”

Vice-Chancellor, it is an honour to present to you for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Margaret Jull Costa.