Alumni Profiles Series: Nichole Theresa Gleisner
Tell us about yourself:
Nichole Theresa Gleisner
PhD, Romance Studies, Duke University, 2011
BA, Comparative Literature, Boston University, 2003
Current City: New Haven, CT
Current Job: Freelance translator; Poetry Editor for New Haven Review; adjunct instructor in French, World Languages and Literatures Department, Southern Connecticut State University
Husband: Tadhg Dooley
Children: Josephine, 5; Conall, 2; Finnian, 5 months
What professional or career plans did you have in mind as you were completing your degree?
Before I started my PhD I thought I wanted to pursue a career in journalism. When I was a student at Boston University I interned at the Partisan Review and The Atlantic Monthly. When I graduated from BU, I started working for the Boston Herald. It was really fun. I started as an editorial assistant. I wrote obituaries and worked my way up eventually to be an assistant to these ladies who ran the gossip and entertainment columns.
Working at the newspaper was a wonderful experience, because when I got into graduate school I didn’t have a problem writing on deadline, and I was used to seeing things I had written getting thrown out the next day. I was more comfortable getting started on the writing process.
At a certain point, I thought: I love writing, I would love to go to graduate school, to have time to read and write. I considered going for English or comparative literature. But I met with Rosanna Warren, my undergraduate advisor, and she suggested that one of the best things you can do with your time is to truly learn another language. No matter what you end up doing, it will inform your writing and make you a more perceptive writer and reader. It was useful advice. So I started graduate school [in Romance Studies] at Duke in 2006.
I knew I was not a traditional student. I was not looking for the traditional career path [of a tenure-track job]. I knew that kind of job was really hard to get and I thought it might not be the best fit for me. When I was at Duke I explored many different paths. One summer, I wanted to see if I would like to teach younger students and I taught at the Talent Identification Program [TIP]. We took students to Paris for two weeks. It was great working with curious, talented students of high school age.
I also worked in the Duke study abroad office in Paris for a semester. I helped students navigate their first time living and studying in a foreign country. The program director was a professor, but the other people in the office were not involved in the academic side and it was useful to be in an office setting, learning a whole new set of [office-related French] vocabulary. It was refreshing to have a real-world experience. If you’ve only been a student, sometimes it’s hard to adapt to a normal working schedule. You have so much time in graduate school that it can be daunting to get your work done.
I defended my dissertation while I was pregnant with my second child. People say they can’t believe I finished my dissertation on time when I had kids. Becoming a parent while being a graduate student meant that I had to become more disciplined about time management. I was not going to procrastinate.
What has your career path looked like since you graduated?
When I graduated, I’d just had my second child and my family had settled in New Haven, so I knew I did not want to apply for tenure-track jobs all around the country. I applied to a few that were near New Haven, had one interview, and didn’t get it. All along I was also thinking about other things I could do with my PhD.
As an undergraduate I was interested in translation. For my undergraduate thesis I translated a collection of poetry by a Francophone Lebanese woman, Nadia Tuéni. The book is titled La Terre Arrêtée [The Earth Stopped].
I thought translation would be a great fit for me. I love to read and to write. I thought it was a great way to work with literature and also to use my editorial skills. So that was always in the back of my mind. My advisor at Duke, Alice Kaplan, was always wonderfully encouraging of my writerly aspirations and she encouraged me to explore translation.
She put me in touch with someone looking for a translator for the memoirs of the French writer and feminist Benoîte Groult. This great press in New York, called Other Press, had recently acquired Groult’s memoir. She is a fascinating person, now in her 90s, and her memoir looks back at her life in literature and some of her life experiences such as growing up in occupied Paris during World War II. There were things she wanted to do as a woman that were much harder because of her gender, and the notion of being a feminist was not as widespread. She struggled to balance her ambition to write with having three children. Being a working mom, I have so much respect for her. She doesn’t downplay the fact that she had to wash a lot of diapers in addition to all of the other amazing things that she did and accomplished.
I spent a little under a year on that book, translating it. It came out in 2012. The author [Groult] went through some of the drafts and she would send letters with her comments. It was really fun to work with her. I think every author wants a sense of their voice coming through – whatever that magic is that happens when they’re speaking on the page. Groult wanted to make sure her wit was there. Going back and forth collaborating is a wonderful thing to do with any kind of writing. It was really exciting when the book came out.
I am also a poetry editor at New Haven Review. This is a wonderful journal of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. It’s excellent to be a part of a local literary force that is publishing compelling work from nationally known writers as well as people from the community.
Tell us more about your current job. What is your favorite thing about what you do? What has been surprising about it?
I love doing translation work even though it’s hard to be a translator in the U.S. Books in translation make up 3 percent of all books published. It’s a huge cultural deficit. We’re missing out on a lot of literature that’s going untranslated. I feel strongly about that. ALTA (American Literary Translators Association) is a good resource for anyone interested in translation work. I’m also glad I’m able to teach. I do love teaching and I missed being in the classroom. If you want to keep up your knowledge of another language, you have to exercise that muscle. It’s good to be doing that on several different levels.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
One of the best pieces of advice I received is do what you love. Otherwise why would you waste your time? This dovetails with another piece of advice – don’t try to be something you’re not. Say there’s a tenure track job that’s not in your field, but in some other subject you pretend could be you because you took a class on it. Picture yourself doing that job. That’s not really where your heart is.
To stay true to what your passion is, is what you want to spend time doing. If you try to do what’s popular, to make the right calculations to get a job, it might not lead to happiness. People can tell when you’re fired up about something or trying to do something because you think it’s the right strategy.
Do you have any interesting projects or professional plans in the works?
My dissertation (Toward a Poetics of Witness: Apollinaire, Cendrars and the French Poets of the First World War) examined poetry from the trenches of World War I. Some of the research I did led me to look at lesser known writers of that period. I’ve been working on an anthology of translations of French poetry from the war.
Any advice you’d like to share with current graduate students at Duke?
I always looked at graduate school as a wonderful gift. Do it for yourself and for the things you love. In the end you might have to refashion it and it will still be something you love.
Also, the more writing you do, the better it is for writing your dissertation [even if the writing is not “academic” or writing that is related to your field.] It’s like ripping the band-aid off just a little bit every day. Eventually the sting goes away.
What is one of your favorite memories of Duke?
I met some brilliant and fascinating people. There are so many interesting conversations happening. That’s one of the wonderful things about being in graduate school. I also love being in libraries. I loved being able to spend so much time at the beautiful Bostock Library. When I was there working I could hear the [5pm] bell carillon [at Duke Chapel]. I would think, I’m in such a magical place…They’ll even let you check out books for a whole year!
Anna Kivlan, Ph.D.
Recent Ph.D. Graduate