From the PhD at Michigan to a tenure-track position in Massachusetts, Corine Tachtiris crafted her own path to success in academia. In this interview, she shares how her faculty mentors helped her combine activism with her work as a researcher, teacher, and translator.
The challenge of balancing her jobs as a translator with her work as a Graduate student at UofM definitely paid off for Corine Tatchtiris. Now an assistant professor of translation studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, today Corine’s translations actually benefited her academic career. But the path to such a fortunate constellation was never as clear as it may seem retrospective; it had to be discovered by Corine as she moved along, negotiating diverse interests, passions, and agendas.
When asked about what brought her to Complit, Corine jokingly but honestly confesses: “indecisiveness.” Coming from a BA at Earlham College in English, with a minor in biology and a minor in French, Corinne landed in Complit after doing some independent studies in translation, blending literariness with a kind of scientific approach to language. This led her to an MFA in translation at the University of Iowa, where she translated a collection of short stories by Haitian woman author Yanick Lahens, before coming to the Ph.D. program at Michigan. Here, she defended her dissertation about world literature as a framework for giving people a way to interact ethically with any form of difference, or, in Corine’s own words: “giving you the world.”
Starting from an early standardized French education, Corine’s journey suffered a sharp turnabout after a chance encounter with Francophone literature in college. There, a Caribbeanist professor introduced her to texts from sub-Saharan Africa, Vietnam, and Canada. It was then that she first learned about the playful relationship between literature, language, and power that came to define her work in translation and her research in Postcolonial studies. Mentorship from faculty continued to guide Corine during her Ph.D. when she met Prof. Christi Merrill, another alumna from the MFA program at Iowa. Christi was a natural choice for Corine’s committee at Michigan, but they ended up sharing more than just their academic background: as her advisor, Christi understood and supported Corine’s desire to “balance creative work with academic work, breaking the boundaries between the two.” Although Corine often had to prioritize her dissertation, Christi encouraged her to continuously engage with translation at various points throughout the graduate degree. This led to another fruitful relationship with Prof. Frieda Ekotto, whose novel Don’t Whisper Too Much—the first Francophone African novel to feature women loving women in a positive light—Corine ended up translating.
Corine’s work ethic emerged from these experiences. As a translator, she works almost exclusively with women authors, mostly women of color. As a teacher, Corine tries to give her students an ethical framework for engaging differently. Concerned with circulation and canon formation, she seeks to do more than just putting marginalized writers on the syllabus; instead, she wants to have explicit conversations about literature that approaches questions of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Corine wants to “insist on the ways that literature cultivates empathy and makes you think critically about social issues.” She views this focus on comparison and difference as a kind of “slow-burn activism:” “Given the current situation in the U.S., translation studies have something to add to that conversation and critical race studies have something to add to translation studies.” If teachers and translators have any power over “what gets put in anthologies, what gets taught in classrooms,” then they have to be purposeful about it.
After defending her dissertation, Corine went into a one-year postdoc at Hampshire college, followed by work within the Five College Consortium of Massachusetts, which culminated in her current position. Moving between short-term jobs was stressful, but being a translator enabled Corine to support herself and maintain some sense of agency while navigating the academic job market. Articulating the relationship between her work as a translator with teaching and researching was not an easy task. Stil, Complit offered Corine a way in between, an unconventional path through which academia opened up for activism in theory and practice.
This interview was conducted by Shira Schwartz during her term as Graduate Student Diversity Ally for Comparative Literature in the Summer of 2019. Shira’s text was edited by Duygu Ergun and Luiza Duarte Caetano as part of their work as Diversity Allies in the Summer of 2021.