Archive for May 2011

Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards

To state the obvious: genre fiction of all sorts, regardless of quality, is generally underrepresented if not outright neglected in the world of literary awards, and it’s no different with awards for literary translation. Given that many publishers of genre fiction do what they can to downplay the fact that the books they publish in translation were not written originally in English, translators of these works tend to get very little recognition indeed. So I am very happy to see a new award established specifically to honor translators of science fiction and fantasy. Hey, I grew up on Stanislaw Lem and was thrilled to discover that Michael Kandel, translator of many books I devoured as a teenager, was my colleague on the PEN Translation Committee here in New York. Obviously genre literature and the the “literary mainstream” overlap, sometimes even in the world of prizes, as is clear when you look at the list of finalists in the “long form” (book length) category of the newly-established Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards administered by the recently incorporated Association for the Recognition of Excellence in SF & F Translation based, not surprisingly, in California. One of the finalists for the new award, Edward Gauvin’s translation of A Life on Paper: Stories by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, was also a finalist for the 2011 Best Translated Book Award.

Here are the complete lists of finalists:

Long Form

The Golden Age, Michal Ajvaz, translated by Andrew Oakland (Dalkey Archive Press). Original publication in Czech as Zlatý Věk (2001).

The Ice Company, G.-J. Arnaud [Georges-Camille Arnaud], translated by Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier (Black Coat Press). Original publication in French as La Compagnie des Glaces (1980).

A Life on Paper: Stories, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin (Small Beer Press). Original publication in French (1976 -2005).

Four Stories till the End, Zoran Živković, translated by Alice Copple- Tošić (Kurodahan Press). Original publication in Serbian as Četiri priče do kraja (2004).

Short Form

“Wagtail”, Marketta Niemelä, translated by Liisa Rantalaiho (Usva International 2010, ed. Anne Leinonen). Original publication in Finnish as “Västäräkki” (Usva (The Mist), 2008).

“Elegy for a Young Elk”, Hannu Rajaniemi, translated by Hannu Rajaniemi (Subterranean Online, Spring 2010). Original publication in Finnish (Portti, 2007).

“Bear’s Bride”, Johanna Sinisalo, translated by Liisa Rantalaiho (The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People, eds. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Viking). Original publication in Finnish as “Metsän tutt” (Aikakone (Time Machine), 3/1991).

“Midnight Encounters”, Hirai Tei’ichi, translated by Brian Watson (Kaiki: Uncanny Tales from Japan, Vol. 2, Kurodahan Press). Original publication in Japanese (1960).

It’s curious to see Finland so heavily represented on this list; will the next international bestseller of genre fiction be a Finn? Otherwise the finalists are French, Japanese and Eastern European, i.e. from parts of the world with longstanding international reputations in this area.

The winners will be announced at the 2011 Eurocon in Stockholm the weekend of June 17-19.

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Update: The prizes went to the following works:

(Long Form) A Life on Paper: Stories, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin (Small Beer Press). Original publication in French (1976 -2005).

(Short Form) “Elegy for a Young Elk”, Hannu Rajaniemi, translated by Hannu Rajaniemi (Subterranean Online, Spring 2010). Original publication in Finnish (Portti, 2007).

For honorable mentions, statements about the winning works by members of the jury, and acceptance speeches, see the SFFTA website.

Apply Now for Vermont Studio Center Residency

The Vermont Studio Center has been offering annual residency awards for translators of international literature into English in collaboration with Zoland Poetry since 2009. These four-week competitive residencies include private studio space in the VSC’s Maverick Writing Studios building and the chance to enjoy all the resources of the Center, including the other current fellows in various genres and visiting writers who offer readings, craft talks and individual conferences.

Each fellowship includes:
• a private studio in the new Maverick Writing Studios building,
     including a networked printer and wireless Internet access
• two Visiting Writers per month, each of whom gives a reading and a
     craft talk and offers optional individual conferences
• access to the Mason House Conference Room & Library
• the opportunity to share work at one of three monthly readings
• publication in a forthcoming Zoland Poetry annual

To apply, visit the Vermont Studio Center website. Although the application instructions currently refer only to poetry submissions, the VSC staff assures me that translators working in all genres are eligible and encouraged to apply.

Application deadline: June 15, 2011.

Edith Grossman honored with 2011 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

I blogged about this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize with particular excitement because my translation of Jenny Erpenbeck’s novel Visitation was included on the six-book shortlist, and of course I would have loved to be able to announce that Erpenbeck’s book had taken the gold. But I am almost as pleased to share the actual results of this year’s competition: The prize has gone to the remarkable Edith Grossman‘s translation of Santiago Roncagliolo’s novel Red April. Roncagliolo is the first Peruvian author to win this prize, as well as the youngest prize-winner to date (he’s 36). Grossman, who describes Roncagliolo’s language as “clean and sharp and perceptive,” notes in her remarks on accepting the prize that “the better the writing, the more satisfying the challenge for the translator.” Certainly she has shown herself in her many wonderful books to be a great master of even the most difficult translation challenges. Congratulations, Edie!

Poets Translating Poetry

I’m so far behind with blog postings that I am only now writing up my notes from a translation panel that to my mind was one of the highlights of this year’s PEN World Voices Festival: the inimitable Rosanna Warren moderating a discussion between Jonathan Galassi – president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux and also a translator and poet – and Joachim Sartorius, a prominent German translator-poet who has a diplomatic career behind him and for the past decade has served as director of the huge festival Berliner Festspiele. The panel, held at the New York Public Library, was ostensibly devoted to a discussion of Galassi’s new/old translations of Giacomo Leopardi’s Canti (“new”

                                                                          ©Beowulf Sheehan
because the book came out just last fall; “old” because Galassi says he began translating Leopardi at age 23). But by the end of the panel, the discussion had ranged far beyond the work of any one poet.

Galassi and Sartorius began by making short work of Robert Frost’s infamous dictum about poetry and translation: both believe that the translation of poetry is indeed possible. As Galassi put it, “There may be specific features of poems that cannot be translated, but the poems themselves can.” Sartorius quoted French poet Michel Deguy: “The more a poem is itself, the more it cannot be translated; the more it is linked to a location, the more it cannot be transplanted,” but then he pointed out that the supposed untranslatability of poems has been disproved by a thousand translators over the years. The successful translation, he said, is based on a universal dimension contained in all poetry that becomes “a wire on which we perform the high-wire act of translation” – a universal idiom of sound and feeling. Translation, he said, is an x-ray image of the original.
There is a tradition of translator-poets infusing the works they translate with their own sensibility; I wrote at length about this phenomenon in my book Foreign Words. Sartorius cited Ingeborg Bachmann’s translations of Montale, and Paul Celan’s translations of Osip Mandelstam, which tended to come out 50% Mandelstam, 50% Celan. Ted Hughes, on the other hand, who published translations from several languages, said that introducing anything from the translator’s medicine bag was out of the question. I wonder how he managed to avoid doing so.
Sartorius then elaborated on the notion of difficulty in poetry translation by talking about translating Wallace Stevens, whom he considers the hardest poet he’s ever worked on. As he sees it, there are 4 levels to a Stevens poem:

– the level of thought/thinking and philosophy
– music
– organization/form/syntax
– cultural context

If you’re lucky, Sartorius says, you can capture 2 or maybe 3 of these 4 levels in any given translation of Stevens’ work.

Sartorius has also translated two books by John Ashbery (one in collaboration with Christa Cooper). Ashbery being himself a translator from the French, Sartorius tried to ask him questions about his poems, but the responses were never much help. Their conversations would go like this:
JS: What did you mean when you wrote X?
JA: I can’t remember.

But in the end, Ashbery – who doesn’t know German – did wind up participating in the translation of his poems. Sartorius would read him the lines of the German translation, and the two would discuss the musical properties of the lines. For Galassi, this process recalls what he refers to as “rhythmic equivalence” in poetry translation: “You can replicate the movement of the sentences” he says, since poetry has a “rhythmic subtext that is translatable.” This subtext, he believes, “provides the baseline for a successful translation.” For Rosanna Warren the baseline is even more basic: she describes poetry translation as “an exercise in recombinant DNA.”

In the Q&A, both Galassi and Sartorius reported that their own development as poets was influenced by their translation activity. In Galassi’s case, Leopardi entered his writing life when he was still quite young. He says he always did translations as a way of “doing poetry,” and was always conscious of the need to create poems that worked as objects in their own right in English – “faithful, but not too faithful.” For Sartorius, too, translating a poem always meant writing a poem, but he cited a much more specific influence that translating Ashbery’s work had on him: it helped him move from abstract formalism to what he describes as a more “relaxed” mode of writing related to parlando that made him “more narrative and easy-going” in his work. As for the rest, he declared that translation is the best training a poet can have. And this is something I tell my students all the time.

For a complete audio recording of the panel, visit the website of the PEN American Center.

New Russian Poetry Translation Contest

Usually when translators apply for prizes and awards, they do so by submitting excerpts from their works-in-progress, i.e. bits of whatever they happen to be translating at the moment. This means that the jury members reading submissions for such prizes constantly wind up comparing oranges and apples, and generally judges are asked to take into account the quality not only of the translation itself but also the selected work. But I’m fascinated by prizes that have everyone translating the same text. This is a completely different approach to the competitive or sportive side of translation and allows the most skilled translators to show off their chops while also highlighting the power that any one translator’s personal style and interpretative panache have to shape a text. You can see these principles at work both in the on-line translation slams I curate on the PEN American Center website and the live slams that have become a staple of the yearly PEN World Voices Festival. The new Gutekunst Prize for young translators from the German assigns a single passage to every translator wishing to participate in the competition. And now a new prize for Russian poetry translation is using a variation on this approach. Applicants for the new annual Compass Award for Russian poetry in English are required to submit work by a single poet. In its inaugural year, the competition will center on the work of poet Nikolay Gumilyov, born 125 years ago. Gumilyov was married as a young man to the great Anna Akhmatova (they later divorced) and was known for poetry inspired by the literature of childhood and the flora and fauna of Africa while also preserving a strong focus on literary craft. Gumilyov co-founded the Acmeist school of poetry, and in 1921 was executed by forces of the new Bolshevist state on allegations of monarchist conspiracy.
To compete for the 2011 Compass Award, follow the instructions on the website of the journal Cardinal Points which is sponsoring the award. All entries must be received by July 15, 2011.

Translation Extravaganza Tonight

For those of you in NYC who can make it out to the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute, which is housed in a beautiful mansion at 684 Park Avenue, don’t miss this evening of great readings to celebrate the publication of the Hudson Review’s Spanish issue, which is about to be released. Just look at the list of featured readers:

Novelist and memoirist Antonio Muñoz Molina reading from A Double Education, a tale of coming of age as a writer as Spain itself emerged in the post-Franco years;

Edith Grossman, translator of “The Solitudes,” a 17th-century lyric poem by Luis de Góngora;

Esther Allen, translator of Jorge Luis Borges’ “Course in English Literature,” in which Borges tells us about how the Norman Conquest made Britain a world power;

and Jonathan Cohen reading newly-discovered translations of Spanish poems by William Carlos Williams, which will appear in the compilation of Williams’s work Cohen is editing for New Directions, By Word of Mouth: Poems from the Spanish, 1916-1959 (forthcoming fall 2011).

The event will be moderated by Tess Lewis. If you can make it, RSVP on the Queen Sofia Institute’s website.

Favorite Authors or Favorite Translators?

Overheard on the Volume 1 Brooklyn website (with thanks to Edna McCown for the heads-up): What does your literary tote bag say about you? Here’s a mildly snarky analysis by Jason Diamond and Tobias Carroll. If you carry a Strand Bookstore tote, what does it mean? “You probably don’t really live in New York. Either that or you’re a freshman at NYU.” That classy orange and black Penguin bag? “You had a really enjoyable time flirting with the idea of working in the publishing industry. This tote bag is all you have to remember those times by.” But what about the PEN American Center carryall with its iconic fountain pen logo? “You don’t have favorite authors, you have favorite translators.” Thank you, snarky Brooklyn boys, for putting your finger, perhaps inadvertently, on the very point I keep making about PEN and its projects: If you love international literature, you are loving the work of literary translators, and it is impossible to separate out the two. PEN’s single largest membership group is comprised of literary translators, and without their work, nothing PEN does would be possible. Thank you, Brooklyn, for the eloquence with which you drive this point home. Oh, and while you’re at it, please join!