Earlier today, the PEN American Center announced the winners of the 2011 PEN Translation Fund competition. Out of a field of 130 applicants, 11 projects were selected for funding; each translator will receive a $3000 grant to support his/her work. The Fund was established in 2003 by an anonymous donor eager to support young translators and encourage young writers to try their hand at translation. For the past two years, the Fund has been supplemented by an additional grant from Amazon.com.
As a member of the Advisory Board of the Fund (along with David Bellos, Edwin Frank, Michael F. Moore, Michael Reynolds, Natasha Wimmer, and Jeffrey Yang), I can report that there was a very strong showing of applications this year, in terms not only of numbers but also of quality. I wish we could have funded many more of these projects, but am pleased with the final list, which contains an impressive range of projects. One of these books already has a publisher, and the other ten are still up for grabs. Publishers and editors who wish to express an interest in any of these projects are invited to contact Alena Graedon, Manager of Membership and Literary Awards (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Advisory Board Chair Michael Moore (email@example.com).
Here is the list of this year’s winners along with Michael Moore’s comments on the projects:
Amiri Ayanna for The St. Katharinental Sister Book: Lives of the Sisters of the Dominican Convent at Diessenhofen. A rare glimpse inside a holy community, The St. Katharinental Sister Book offers an intimate blend of biography, mystical poetry, and visionary literature. This masterful translation from Northeastern Swiss dialects of Middle High German is a rich compilation of pious testimonials that illuminate the lives of a medieval sisterhood. (Available for publication.)
Neil Blackadder for The Test (Good Simon Korach), a play by renowned Swiss dramatist and novelist Lukas Bärfus. The shocking results of a paternity test and its moral implications force an agonizing examination into what defines a family. Supple and incisive, The Test is one of Bärfus’ most successful plays, and has been staged at major theaters across Germany. (Available for publication.)
Clarissa Bosford for Sworn Virgin, a novel written in Italian by Albanian writer and filmmaker Elvira Dones. At once sweeping and immediate, Sworn Virgin engages with timely issues of identity, nationality, and sexuality. By rejecting an arranged marriage, Hana, the protagonist, is condemned to life in a double-bind: in the isolation of northern Albania and disguised as a man. Her decision to abandon her homeland for the U.S. coincides with a return to living as a woman that proves anything but simple. (Available for publication.)
Steve Bradbury for Salsa, a collection of poems by the internationally-recognized Taiwanese poet Hsia Yü. Composed during the eight years Hsia lived in France, and regarded by many as her most important work to date, Salsa showcases Hsia’s fascination with sound, movement, and “the erotics of reading.” Bradbury’s translation captures Hsia’s distinct musicality, preserving the liveliness and ingenuity of her verse. (Available for publication.)
Annmarie S. Drury for a collection of poems by Tanzanian poet Euphrase Kezilahabi, an acclaimed Swahili writer whose work is only now becoming more widely available to other readers. Saturated with vivid imagery, Kezilahabi’s poems reinvigorate traditional forms by introducing everyday language and free verse. An active promoter of accessibility, Kezilahabi’s work also offers a subtle social critique of the way language is used by those in power. (Available for publication.)
Diane Nemec Ignashev for Paranoia, a novel by groundbreaking Belarusian author Viktor Martinovich, about a tragic love affair between an idealistic young writer and the captivating mistress of the chief state security officer. Banned in Martinovich’s home country, Paranoia is a wry, dystopian examination of the ruptures between fiction and reality. (To be published by Northwestern University Press.)
Chenxin Jiang for Memories of the Cowshed, a memoir by celebrated Chinese author Ji Xianlin. A rare personal history from China’s devastating Cultural Revolution, Ji’s memoir recounts the painful and deeply disenchanting period he spent in “the cowshed,” an improvised prison for intellectuals and other alleged enemies of the Chinese state. A bestseller in China, Memories of the Cowshed offers an essential window onto this tumultuous moment in history. (Available for publication.)
Hilary B. Kaplan for Rilke Shake by the inventive Brazilian writer Angélica Freitas. Rilke Shake is a milkshake of incisive poetic wordplay and irreverent culture-crossing slang, expertly conveyed by Kaplan’s sharp translation. In this collection, Freitas explores poetic and personal identity formation, influencing a new generation of writers and artists who blend cultures and nationalities. (Available for publication.)
Catherine Schelbert for Flametti, or the Dandyism of the Poor a novel by visionary German writer Hugo Ball. This romp through early 20th-century Swiss low society offers an acerbic picture of class tensions and debasing social conditions. Ball, one of the leading Dadaists, said of Flametti, “It contains my whole philosophy.” Shelbert’s compelling translation—the first into English—is long overdue, and offers readers an essential work in the Ball oeuvre. (Available for publication.)
Joel Streicker for Birds in the Mouth, a collection of short stories by up-and-coming Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin, who was named one of Granta’s 2010 Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists. With Birds in the Mouth, Schweblin stakes a claim on the dark frontier between realism and the fantastic, reanimating everyday experiences often taken for granted. Streicker’s outstanding translation makes this stunning collection—already translated into many other languages—available to English readers for the first time. (Available for publication.)
Sarah L. Thomas for Turnaround, a literary thriller by pioneering Spanish writer Mar Goméz Glez. Published to great acclaim in Spain, Turnaround is set during the environmental crisis following a 2002 oil spill off the Cantabrian coast of Spain. Glez’s suspenseful story tracks the erratic fortunes of Pablo, who is trying to untangle his memories of a traumatic event while searching for his missing girlfriend. Thomas’ translation brings to life a story of how individual and collective destiny can converge and diverge in unexpected ways. (Available for publication.)
Brief excerpts from the prize-winning translations are online here.
Congratulations to this year’s winners!