Archive for August 2012

PEN American Center Announces 2012 Translation Awards

The PEN American Center (not to be confused with the PEN Center USA) has just announced its 2012 Literary Awards, including several prizes for translation. Most prestigious among these is the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal, a lifetime achievement award that is presented only once every three years and is voted on by all active members of the PEN Translation Committee. The medal honors “a translator whose career has demonstrated a commitment to excellence through the body of his or her work.” This year’s award goes to Margaret Sayers Peden, known for her translations of Juan Rulfo (Pedro Páramo), Sor Juana, Carlos Fuentes and La Celestina. Gregory Rabassa, who authored the citation honoring Peden, writes:

Her characters speak as they would have had they been born to English and their authors likewise acquire a style in their transformed tongue that is true to what they say or are trying to say, to follow Borges’s admonition to his translator.

The PEN Translation Prize, for an outstanding work of translated prose published the previous year, went to Bill Johnston for Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski, published by Archipelago Books. This year’s prize was judged by Aron Aji, Donald Breckenridge, and Minna Proctor, and the runners-up were Sinan Antoon and Margaret Jull Costa.

The PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, judged this year by Christian Hawkey, went to Jen Hofer for Negro Marfil/Ivory Black by Myriam Moscona (Les Figues Press). Runners-up were Mark Ford and Susanna Nied.

PEN also announced the 2012 recipients of the PEN Translation Fund Grants, which provide stipends of $1000 – $3000 to help translators (particularly those early in their careers) complete and publish book-length works in English. The projects are chosen for the quality both of the translation and the original work. This year’s panel of judges, chaired by Michael Moore as a non-voting member, included Barbara Epler, Edwin Frank, Michael Reynolds, Richard Sieburth, Eliot Weinberger, and Natasha Wimmer as well as me. In other words, I’ve known who the winners were for a couple of months now and am very happy not to have to keep it a secret any longer. 

Here are the prize-winning translations:

•Bernard Adams, A hóhér háza (The Hangman’s House), a novel by Hungarian writer Andrea Tompa (from Hungarian)

•Alexander Booth, in felderlatein (in field latin), a collection of poems by German poet Lutz Seiler (from German)

•Brent Edwards, L’Afrique fantôme (Phantom Africa), an ethnographic study with autobiographic elements by the French writer Michel Leiris (from French)

•Joshua Daniel Edwin, kummerang (gloomerang), the first book by young German poet Dagmara Kraus (from German)

•Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Hoshruba: The Prisoner of Batin, an epic fantasy based on oral tradition by Indian writers Muhammad Husain Jah and Ahmed Husain Qamar (from Urdu)

•Deborah Garfinkle, Worm-Eaten Time: Poems from a Life Under Normalization, a collection of banned poems originally circulated in samizdat copies by Czech poet Pavel Šrut (from Czech)

•Hillary Gulley, El fin de lo mismo (The End of the Same), a novel by Argentine writer Marcelo Cohen (from Spanish)

•Bonnie Huie, Notes of a Crocodile, the groundbreaking queer novel by Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin (from Chinese)

•Jacquelyn Pope, Hungerpots, a collection of poems by Dutch poet Hester Knibbe (from Dutch)

•Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad, Mirages of the Mind, a novel by Pakistani writer Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi (from Urdu)

•Carrie Reed, Youyang zazu (Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang), a compendium from the Tang Dynasty by Duan Chengshi (from Chinese)

•Nathanaël, The Mausoleum of Lovers, French novelist and AIDS activists Hervé Guibert’s posthumously published collection of private journals (from French)

 Each year the judges also select one project to nominate for a New York State Council on the Arts translation grant. Last year’s nominee, Ana Božičević, was awarded a grant in January for her translation of It Was Easy to Set the Snow on Fire by Serbian poet Zvonko Karanović.

Award winners and runners-up will be honored at the 2012 PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, October 23, 2012, at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium, 365 Fifth Ave., at 6:30 p.m.

Burrough’s Turkish Translator on Infinite Trial

Readers of this blog are no doubt already aware that, as I have reported several times now, the Turkish translator (Süha Sertabiboğlu) and publisher (İrfan Sancı) of William S. Burrough’s 1961 novel The Soft Machine (Yumuşak Makine) have been on trial in Istanbul since July 2011. Various phases of the trial were postponed several times over the past year, but now, Sertabiboğlu informs me, a conclusion has been reached. Unfortunately it is an utterly inconclusive one. Acting on a new law recently passed by the Turkish parliament, the court declared that the trial will be considered indefinitely on hold as long as translator and publisher do not repeat their “crime” of publishing “offensive” books. I asked Sertabiboğlu what his plans were, and learned that early next month he will be publishing Lisede Kan ve Yürek, a translation of Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School, which prominently features an incestuous relationship. I’m afraid we probably haven’t heard this last of this trial. Watch this space for updates. And if you wish to protest on behalf of our Turkish colleagues, you’ll find the appropriate addresses here.

Suzanne Jill Levine wins 2012 PEN Center USA’s Translation Award

There must be complicated historical reasons why the PEN American Center (based in NYC) and the PEN Center USA (based in LA) are separate entities. I don’t know that history, but I would guess, based on the dates of their founding – 1922 and 1981 respectively – that the PEN Center USA came about because of a feeling that the PEN American Center was too East-Coast-centric. And from the point of view of someone based in Boston or Baltimore, it no doubt looks NYC-centric. Which in fact it is. This makes sense, since – although like its West-Coast cousin it is a member organization of PEN International – the PEN American Center is not a government agency like the National Endowment for the Arts (whose activities it supplements, at least in the NYC area) and it has a limited budget. In any case, both centers give out literary awards and support translation. The PEN American Center is home to the PEN Translation Fund (which supports 10-12 translation projects a year) as well as several prestigious translation prizes; this year’s prizes will be announced on September 6 and presented at an awards ceremony on October 23. Meanwhile the PEN Center USA, which is on an somewhat earlier schedule, has just announced its 2012 Literary Award Winners. This year’s award recipient in the category Literary Translation is Suzanne Jill Levine, who is being honored for her translation of Chilean author José Donoso’s The Lizard’s Tale. This is a novel Donoso drafted in 1973; it was found among his papers after his death in 1996. Levine, who actually knew Donoso during his lifetime, previously translated two of his other books, A House in the Country and Hell Has No Limits. This year’s award was judged by James Hoggard, Birgit Nielsen and Marian Schwartz. The awards festival will be held on Oct. 22, 2012 in Beverly Hills. Congratulations, Jill!

Translating Pussy Riot

Unless you’ve been living on Mars under one of those rocks that haven’t yet been upturned by the Curiosity Rover, you probably know that three members of an all-girl punk band called Pussy Riot are on trial in Russia this week for having performed a song critical of Russia’s dictator president Vladimir Putin. OK, so they sang their song “Punk Prayer” in a church, while wearing ski masks in high-fashion colors, and they prayed to the Virgin Mary to have Putin removed from office. Well, wonder of wonders, Putin has no sense of humor, or maybe he just has no patience for people going around pointing out the absence of freedoms in Russia. I mean, even in the U.S. these days you can get yourself arrested and held indefinitely without warrant, charge or trial (in case you missed it, our president signed that one quietly into law last winter; a federal judge just declared the provision unconstitutional, but our government may nonetheless be continuing to use it as a basis for arrests). So we should be keeping a sharp eye on Russia, because certain Putin-style unfreedoms are starting to take root here as well. And you have to hand it to Pussy Riot: they really did get their clear, simple message across. What political statement could be more pure than praying to be liberated from an oppressive regime? The group’s three lead singers – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 – are also clearly intelligent political thinkers. Even after having been locked away for months in unreasonable detention, apparently under very poor conditions, all three of them managed to produce coherent, moving, incisive closing statements to be read out during their trial last week. And now you can read these statements on the website of the magazine n+1, which published them yesterday. I strongly encourage you to read them. I found the strength and intelligence of these young women profoundly inspiring. And then I started wondering how it was that we were able to read these statements so quickly, seeing as none of our major news organizations (with all their resources and staff translators) bothered to provide us with translations. And it turns out that this was a volunteer effort of the sort facilitated by the existence of social media. According to Katharine Holt, who was involved in the project as an editor, translator Bela Shayevich put out a call for collaborators to work on the project on Facebook last Thursday around 2:00 p.m.; and by midnight, Holt writes,

she had three translated statements that had been checked against the video of the closing statements and the original Russian copies of the statements (the hand-written statements had been posted by the radio station Ekho Moskvy, along with typed versions). In addition, all three had been edited by several native English speakers.

This is exactly the sort of group effort that made it possible to produce and edit Spanish-language translations of an entire issue of the Occupied Wall Street Journal in under two days last fall. Translators are as busy as everyone, but I am always astonished and heartened to see how quickly groups of us can band together around projects that seem urgent and important. And it was in fact crucial for word about Pussy Riot to get out quickly, since the three lead singers are scheduled to be sentenced this coming Friday. Statements of support have been pouring in from around the world, including from fellow musicians Franz Ferdinand, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Patti Smith, Sting, Madonna and Bjork. Amnesty International is collecting signatures for letters of protest (please add your name!) to be sent to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Yakovlevich Chaika, Moscow Central District Prosecutor Denis Gennadievich Popov, and Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak. Friday will see events held in Pussy Riot’s honor in cities all over the planet. And at least one New York-based group, A New World in Our Hearts, is planning a solidarity rally in front of the Russian General Consulate at 10:00 a.m. on Friday morning, by which time the sentences will already have been read out in Moscow nine time zones away. Meanwhile, I am grateful to the members of the translating and editing collective who made it possible for me to read the statements by these brave young women who are speaking up for democracy so eloquently: the group Chto Delat (which had already published a version of one of the statements that was then edited by the n+1 team), Maria Corrigan, Ainsley Morse, Elena Glazov-Corrigan, Maksim Hanukai, Marijeta Bozovic, Sasha Senderovich, Liora Halperin, Vera Koshkina, Rebecca Pyatkevich, Katharine Holt, and Bela Shayevich. It makes me especially proud that some of these translators are current or recent students at Columbia University, where I will soon be teaching. And many of the translators and editors involved in the project provided thoughtful commentary on the importance of the three closing statements and the reasons why they personally felt moved to translate them. I am grateful to n+1 for publishing these short essays by the translators along with the statements of the imprisoned band members. We should all say our own prayers for their release on Friday.


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