The University of Iowa

In the news: Translating Norwegian classics into English

June 29th, 2020

By Anders Frieberg, Graduate College

University of Iowa graduate scholar David Smith recalls first becoming interested in the Norwegian language as a child when he learned of his family’s heritage. Although they did not speak it, he carried this interest through college and began studying Norwegian independently.

His path to professional translation since has taken him to graduate programs throughout the country and research opportunities across the world.

Smith completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in Humanities at the University of Chicago. He also spent time working as a commercial translator in Bergen, Norway before returning to the United States in 2015. The experience helped him recognize his true calling.

“I decided that what I really wanted to do was to go into literature, because that’s always been my passion,” says Smith. “I had read some great Norwegian authors whose work I wanted to possibly try my hand at translating.”

Smith began attending literary translation conferences and creating contacts within the field. This led him to a translating contract for one of Norwegian author Erling Sandmo’s books, Monstrous: Sea Monsters in Maps and Literature, 1491-1895. He also began to learn more about translation programs at these conferences, including Iowa’s Master of Fine Arts program in Literary Translation.