Tips for Submitting a Strong ALTA Session Proposal

Tips for Submitting a Strong ALTA Session Proposal

ALTA Sessions are All About the Conversation

A proposal that’s all about getting interesting people with interesting ideas together in a room, talking with each other and letting the discussion evolve organically, will be more successful than a proposal that sets itself forward as a chance for panelists to share about their own research or projects. ALTA sessions are meant to spark thoughtful, lively discussion.

Not a Paper Conference

ALTA is not a paper conference, which is why participants are asked not to read papers during their session, but instead to encourage a wider discussion format between panelists (and audience). Referencing prepared bullet points or notes is allowed, and even encouraged. This isn’t to say that sessions cannot discuss topics pertinent to the academy—rather, it’s not the place to share a prepared paper. ALTA values sessions involving audience interaction, so plan on devoting a significant portion, or at least 15 minutes, of the 75-minute block to Q&A. 

Session Type

Know whether the session you are proposing is a Panel, Roundtable, Workshop, or Reading. If your proposal description explains why your session fits the category you’ve selected, so much the better! (See examples at the end of this document.)

  • Panel. Panels include 2 to 6 speakers (total, including moderator(s)) who share their individual perspectives on a theme, issue, genre, etc. within literary translation. The panel moderator may also be one of the panel members, though it may work best to have a moderator who can concentrate on managing the timing and the turn-taking in discussion. Generally, on a panel, speakers have knowledge or experience they are sharing with the audience.
  • Roundtable. Roundtables include 2 to 6 participants (total, including moderator(s)) who engage each other in dialogue. In order to explore a topic together, they may: involve speakers answering question/s on a given theme posed to them by a moderator, be largely devoted to Q&A, or involve a combination of brief presentations and conversation between participants. Roundtables should always conclude with an opportunity for the audience to participate.
  • Workshop. Workshops involve direct engagement between workshop leader(s) and participants (2 to 6 total, including moderator(s)), often with a particular text that is usually either provided by the workshop leader(s) to interested attendees ahead of the conference, or provided by said attendees to be workshopped by the whole group.
  • Reading. Group readings of up to 6 readers may be proposed through the conference session proposal form. Individual Bilingual Reading applications are submitted through a separate form.
Session Tracks

In order to better serve our diverse audiences, we think of our programming as aligned with different tracks. Choose the track that most closely fits your session. (This information is not used as selection criteria; rather, it helps us understand how you conceive of your session, and avoid scheduling conflicts with similar sessions down the line.)

  • Practice. These sessions are about the craft, art, theory, and practice of literary translation. These might include sessions on translating humor, punctuation, specific language concerns, translating in specific genres, etc.
  • The Academy. These sessions are about literary translation in the Academy, and may treat such topics as: how translation functions in terms of teaching/pedagogy, curriculum, research, promotion/tenure. 
  • Industry. These sessions are about the professional aspects of literary translation, including sessions on marketing, writing queries, copyright, grants, editing and publishing, and contract negotiations.
  • Community. These sessions are about structures in the translation community and the issues it is facing, or how translation moves through the world. They might include sessions on collectives or collaborative models, or those that address power dynamics in our field.
  • Other. If your session does not fit the above tracks, please describe its focus.
What’s in a Theme?

The ALTA Conference Committee develops conference themes in order to respond to overarching topics that emerged at the previous conference, or to make space for ideas they feel should be explored more deeply. However, there is no imperative that session descriptions fit the theme or call out to it in the session title. Your proposal will not be given greater consideration for fitting the theme. Every year, most sessions that the Conference Committee accepts do not directly speak to the current year’s theme, but are still relevant to the possibilities and concerns of literary translation in general.


Panels most likely to be accepted are those that are broad enough to include a diverse range of voices and experiences. To that end, sessions that are single-language specific, or which create a platform for presenters to share very specific research, tend not to be as useful. A slightly more general description makes room for the conversation to happen organically—there’s no need to overstate the case!

Examples of Accepted Sessions

As you prepare to submit a session proposal, please read through the following examples of session descriptions (with session track) accepted for past ALTA conferences. You can also see full programs with session descriptions in ALTA’s online archive.

  • Panel. “Natural Selection: What Translation Editors Look For:  What factors, conscious or unconscious, influence an editor's choice of one translation over another? What criteria should be used when considering the quality of a translation? If it's survival of the fittest, the strongest translation in terms of language, image and metaphor should rise to the top. On the other hand, a “weaker" manuscript may tickle a translation editor's fancy because it strikes a chord in terms of theme/time period/language/voice/culture. In the end, there's no accounting for personal taste. Panelists are experienced book and journal editors who publish translations.” (Session track: Industry)
  • Roundtable. “A Collective of Collectives: Many literary translation collectives have sprung up in recent years. To explore this relatively new phenomenon, a roundtable of representatives from collectives across the USA and farther afield will discuss their origins, mission, specific initiatives, engagement with local and larger communities, successes and challenges they’ve faced while growing, and other adventures of collective engagement. Significant Q&A time will be given to address how attendees could consider starting their own collectives, and other models of co-operative practice.” (Session track: Community)
  • Workshop. "Difficult Passages: An Interactive Workshop: We all know those times: despite our best efforts, the passage stares up at us from the page, obstinate, defiant, bitterly resisting our efforts to render it into the target language. We do translate it, in the end, somehow, because we must—but how? Bring to this workshop a stubborn, thorny, “untranslatable” short passage (a word, a phrase, a sentence, a bit of dialogue, a couplet…) and share it with a roomful of translators who have struggled in the same situation. We will discuss possible solutions to each dilemma (including yours) and also share general approaches to “untranslatable” passages. Please bring a dozen or so copies of your passage (strips of paper rather than whole pages will save trees) labeled with your name and the name of the original author and work." (Session track: Practice)
  • Reading. “Nordic Language Spotlight: A bilingual reading session organized around the Nordic languages, which persist as vibrant literary languages in spite of having relatively few speakers—upwards of 10 million in the case of Swedish, down to around 350,000 in the case of Icelandic. Our panel of translators will read from recently translated or works-in-progress from Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish.” (Session track: Other)

Drafted by the ALTA42 Conference Committee, May 2019