Adrian Althoff (view alumni profile)
San José, Calif.
Place of Birth
Redwood City, Calif.
B.A., Amherst College, '04
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
A friend of my mother's is an alumnus and used to rave about Amherst to me. His stepson was also a student at Amherst while I was in high school, and I was fortunate enough to visit him and see the campus before I applied. I liked the vibe and the people I met, and I was struck by the beauty of the town and the surrounding area. So after that visit, Amherst was on my short list of schools. And after I was admitted, the financial aid offer I received made Amherst the most attractive option available to me.
Amherst College Major
Awards and Prizes
At Amherst, I received the Alfred J. Havighurst Prize in History and was awarded the Alpha Delta Phi Fund and the Curtis Heaney Memorial Fund to conduct research in Bolivia for my senior thesis.
Favorite Amherst Class
No single class stands above the rest in my mind. However, I owe a special debt to the independent study opportunities available to me at Amherst. I took three different Special Topics courses, each of which was a transformative experience for me. For example, the Special Topics I took during the spring of my senior year with Ilan Stavans led directly to my work translating Juan de Recacoechea's novels. Also, I was extremely fortunate to receive the necessary financial and academic support to conduct research for my senior history thesis in Bolivia. Overall, I think I benefited a lot from the kind of academic freedom that Amherst offers, as well as from its generous support of student research.
Favorite Amherst Professor
Rick Lopez, Javier Corrales and Ilan Stavans were enormously supportive of my writing and research interests and have continued to be so in the years since I graduated.
Miguel de Cervantes, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Dashiell Hammett, Jack Kerouac, Roberto Bolaño, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Juan de Recacoechea.
Tips for aspiring writers/translators
Identify friends with whom you can regularly share drafts of your work. Get to know as many other writers as possible. Work on a project that inspires you, and develop a plan for marketing it to publishers early on. Tailor your pitches to houses that regularly publish books within your genre or area of interest. Take a close look at independent publishers, which sometimes offer better terms than larger publishers, especially to first-time authors.
For prospective translators, I think there is both good news and bad news. The good news is that a number of talented writers from Latin America and from other regions have yet to be translated into English. The bad news is that the market for translations in the U.S. is very small, as summarized in this table from a recent edition of the New York Times Book Review.
Tell us a bit about how you became a writer
I began writing stories soon after learning how to read. Yet, it wasn't until well into my career at Amherst that I started taking writing seriously, motivated by my interest in literature and my increasing Spanish fluency. Growing up I did not speak Spanish much, even though both my parents are native Spanish speakers. But when I was 15, I convinced my father to arrange for me to attend a six-week Spanish language institute in Mexico. That experience paid off, leading me to take my interest in Spanish and in Latin America to the next level once I got to Amherst.
At Amherst, I took courses in literature, history and political science with a focus on Latin America, studied abroad my junior year in Spain, and made two trips to Bolivia to conduct research for my senior history thesis. As a result, Spanish-English translation became natural for me, a part of my normal thought process. At the same time, I felt a growing desire to reconcile these experiences with my non-Spanish life at Amherst. I think this confluence of factors spawned a kind of restlessness which led to my decision to pursue a translation project after graduation.
After consulting with Professor Stavans, I decided to attempt a translation of Juan de Recacoechea's American Visa. Inspired by the dynamism of his prose, as well as his portrayal of universal themes like immigration, I felt convinced that it was an important book for people in the U.S. to read. The project seemed like a long shot at first, but I was fortunate enough to get to know Juan personally through regular phone calls, gradually earning his trust despite the considerable age difference between us and my own inexperience. I have learned a lot about writing through these conversations, and I think the working relationship we developed was a great benefit to my translations of both American Visa and Andean Express.
I am in the early stages of my development as a writer and can only aspire to become a practitioner of Juan's caliber someday, and it is humbling to have had the opportunity to make a contribution to the diffusion and understanding of his work. Undertaking this adventure has been a great privilege, an experience from which I believe I will continue to draw important lessons for the rest of my life.