About Andrea G. Labinger


The story of my love for the Spanish language and my journey to bilingualism is rooted in my childhood, as are so many of our adult passions. I’m a native of New York City, born in the Bronx and raised in Yonkers, New York. For years my grandparents had a small store – popularly known as a “candy store,” although this peculiarly urban type of establishment has absolutely nothing to do with See’s or Whitman’s chocolates, as any New Yorker of a certain vintage can tell you – in a predominantly Puerto Rican and Dominican section of Harlem, between Upper Broadway and Riverside Drive. Think West Side Story, and you’ll have some idea of the ambience in which I grew up. It was there, nearly every weekend of my formative years, that I first heard and fell in love with spoken Spanish, in this case the rapid-fire, staccato, Caribbean variety spoken by my grandparents’ neighbors. Everything that emanated from those neighbors’ apartments still pervades my memory: the pungent aroma of sofrito, the cadences of salsas, plenas, and boleros, the panorama of people in the streets, speaking words I couldn’t understand.

Whether or not there’s a direct connection between that first, preliminary exposure to Latino culture and my current work as a translator I can’t honestly say. I began studying Spanish formally at the age of eleven and eventually went on to earn a Ph.D. in Latin American literature from Harvard – worlds away from the little candy store on West 135th Street. I became a professor of Spanish and have had many glorious opportunities to travel throughout Latin America and Spain. I’ve met and befriended most of the prominent writers whose work I am privileged to translate. But the kid who sat on a milk crate behind the counter, ruining her teeth with candy, reading piles of comics and eavesdropping on her grandparents’ customers still lurks behind every translation I do. For what is translation after all but a kind of eavesdropping, a surreptitious slippage into someone else’s skin, into other people’s lives? We translators always have our ears wide open, and we zealously aspire to share what we’ve learned with our readers, who might otherwise have no access to the many worlds we inhabit. Today, with twelve published book-length translations and numerous short-story translations in journals and anthologies to my credit, I’m still listening.

Andrea G. Labinger’s Education

Ph.D. in Spanish and Latin American Literature, Harvard University

M.A. in Spanish, Harvard University

B.A. in Spanish, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Hunter College