Archive for February 2013

Daniel Kehlmann Praises His Translator

The Festival Neue Literatur finished up Sunday evening after a heady three days of solid literature. I’m ready to sleep for a week. But also delighted at how well things went this year. All the authors we invited proved congenial and interesting, and they let themselves be drawn into substantive conversations during our panel discussions. Really good books this year too. You can find English-language summaries and sample translations from each of the six books on the Festival website, but these books may not come out in English any time soon unless you take it upon yourself to convince your friendly neighborhood publishing house to take on one of these wonderful books as a project. One will definitely come out though: Clemens Setz’s new novel Indigo has just been picked up by Norton and should appear in 2014 (my guesstimation). It’ll be translated by Ross Benjamin, who’s been following and championing Setz’s work for years. And I just learned during the festival that Peter Constantine has received a fellowship to support his working on a book of Setz’s poetry, so at least one of our authors will be well-deservedly and properly available in English in the not-too-far-off future. Meanwhile we still need publishers for Silke Scheuermann, Leif Randt, Ulrike Ulrich, Tim Krohn and Cornelia Travnicek. Please check them out on the website and see whether you can’t find a book to support. Oh, and here’s a nice write-up of the festival by Andrea Scrima.

Meanwhile translator and editor/publisher Carol Brown Janeway has just become the first recipient of the Friedrich Ulfers Prize for the Promotion of German-language Literature in the United States. She is known for selecting one book a year to translate, which she does during her summer vacations. And one of the authors whose work she helped boost to bestsellerdom feels so grateful to her for her efforts on his behalf that he agreed to take a plane from Berlin to NYC just to be able to sing her praises at the prize ceremony. And sing he did. I was sitting next to Daniel Kehlmann before the ceremony got started, and he confided to me that this speech is the first thing he’s ever written in English (besides thousands of emails, I’m assuming). Unsurprisingly, he writes excellent English, and his speech in Janeway’s praise (which you can read in its entirety here) shows great insight into and appreciation for the translation process. Thank you for noticing, Daniel! And in the process of discussing Carol’s work on his books, he speaks insightfully about what literary translation can and should be. For example:

When Carol is working on a translation she is actually a writer, who invents her own sentences alongside the writer’s sentences, and sometimes I happened to wish I would have been able to invent some of the phrases she invented for me, or at least something as funny and sharp and elegant.

Thank you to everyone who came out in support of our wonderful authors during this year’s Festival Neue Literatur.

Festival Neue Literatur 2013

This year’s Festival Neue Literatur kicked off last night with a private opening reception at the Goethe Institut. Part of this year’s Festival was the presentation of a new award, the Friedrich Ulfers Prize for Exemplary Work in the Promotion of German-language Literature in the U.S. The recipient of the prize in its inaugural year was Carol Brown Janeway, for her contributions in publishing (and often also translating) German-language authors for Alfred A. Knopf Books/Random House. Her discoveries include Bernhard Schlink, Benjamin Lebert and most recently Daniel Kehlmann, who gave a moving speech last night detailing the history of his collaboration with Janeway. He apologized for tormenting her by hiding Goethe quotes in all his novels (she’s not so fond of Goethe), then sang her praises for finding a way to translate the “computer nerd” chapter of his latest novel, Fame, which he described as “translatable into every language except English.”

And today the Festival proper begins. I’m sure readers of this blog know all about the Festival Neue Literatur, since I plug it every year. In case not: this festival is the joint project of half a dozen cultural institutes to invite six previously untranslated Austrian, German and Swiss writers to NYC for a long weekend of readings and conversations with American authors. This is my third year being involved with the festival as a curator (this time around co-curating with journalist Claudia Steinberg). Curating this festival is hard, heady work – it involves reading books by dozens of younger writers and picking just a handful for presentation in New York – authors of books we’d particularly love to see translated into English and made available to an American reading public. It was hard to pick just six, so this is a very select group: Clemens Setz and Cornelia Travnicek from Austria, Silke Scheuermann and Leif Randt of Germany, and Ulrike Ulrich and Tim Krohn of Switzerland. One of our authors (Setz) found an American publisher shortly after being invited to participate in the Festival: Norton will be publishing his novel Indigo. Congratulations, Clemens!

The festival has been growing in popularity each year. This year we got plugged by both The New Yorker and The New York Times!

If you’d like to hear Claudia and me chatting about the authors we chose this year, check out the “curators’ welcome”video that was put together by social media blackbelt Brittany Hazelwood and Grace Moss of the German Book Office:

You can also find detailed information about each of the Festival authors – including English-language excerpts from their books – on the Festival website. Click on an author’s thumbnail for details. You’ll also find a complete listing of events on the site. The entire festival will be held in English (though we’ve asked the authors to read from their books in German for a couple of minutes so you have a chance to hear what their work sounds like in the original.)

Today, Friday Feb. 22, all six Festival authors will be appearing at  Columbia University’s Deutsches Haus (420 West 116th Street) from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Each of them will be briefly interviewed by a graduate student who has read his/her book, so it’ll be a great opportunity to get to know the authors and their books at the same time. This is an event you can easily drop in and out of if you can’t stay for the whole thing. And if you stick around all afternoon, the coffee break and wine reception offer an excellent opportunity to mingle and chat up the authors.

Over the weekend, there will be three more events, including two evening panels, in each of which three Festival authors will converse with an American counterpart:

On Saturday, Feb. 23, fiction writer Justin Taylor will speak with Leif Randt, Silke Scheuermann and Clemens Setz at powerHouse Arena in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn (37 Main Street), beginning at 6:30, on a panel entitled “Closed Circuits: Shrunken Dystopias.” Moderated by moi.

On Sunday at 6:00 p.m. at McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince Street in Manhattan), Joshua Ferris will join Tim Krohn, Cornelia Travnicek and Ulrike Ulrich to discuss “Breaking Away: Contemporary Travelogues.” Moderated by Claudia Steinberg.

And at noon on Sunday there’ll be a Frühschoppen (brunch) event at NYU’s Deutsches Haus featuring readings from all six books: the authors will read in German, and actors Jocelyn Kuritsky and Andrew Garman will read the English translations. This event requires an RSVP, and last night I heard that the list was now full, but there may still be room on the waiting list. The other good news is that there are several other opportunities to see our authors in action, so I hope you’ll take advantage of them. It’s a great crew.

Have a wonderful Festival, everyone!

Japanese Bridge!

Last time the Bridge Series went Japanese it was a great hit, so I’m glad to see them return to the wonderful world of Japanese literature. This new Bridge, coming up on Thursday, Feb. 21, will feature Stephen Snyder and Allison Markin Powell reading and discussing their translations of Yoko Ogawa and Hiromi Kawakami.

Here’s the info from the official announcement:

Stephen Snyder is Kawashima Professor of Japanese Studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. His most recent translation is Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales (Picador, January 2013). He has translated works by Ogawa, Kenzaburo Oe, Ryu Murakami, and Miri Yu, among others. His translation of Kunio Tsuji’s Azuchi Okanki (The Signore) won the 1990 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission translation prize. His translation of Natsuo Kirino’s Out was a finalist for the Edgar Award for best mystery novel in 2004. His translation of Yoko Ogawa’s Hotel Iris was short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011. He is the author of Fictions of Desire: Narrative Form in the Novels of Nagai Kafu and co-editor of Oe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan, and he is currently working on a study of publishing practices in Japan and the United States and their effects on the globalization of Japanese literature.

Allison Markin Powell is a literary translator and editor. She has translated works by Motoyuki Shibata, Osamu Dazai (Schoolgirl, One Peace Books, 2011), and Hiromi Kawakami, among others, and was the guest editor for Words Without Borders’ first Japan issue. Her translation of Kawakami’s novel The Briefcase (Counterpoint, 2012) has been shortlisted for the 2012 Man Asian Prize.

 Same place as usual: McNally Jackson Books at 52 Prince Street. Thursday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m.

Oh, Banff!

It’s Banff time again. If you’re a literary translator and haven’t been yet, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. It’s one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen, and the workshops run there every summer are truly wonderful and inspiring. Sometimes they’ll even convince your author to meet you there. Last year Margaret Atwood showed up. There are guest faculty members too, who’ll read your work and critique it for you as well as participate in regular group workshops. This year’s guests are Lazer Lederhendler, Pedro Serrano and Bill Johnston. And did I mention the prettiest hikes imaginable? I’ve blogged about the translation life in Banff before, so you can read up on the place here. Hugh Hazelton and Katherine Silver are the directors, stipends are available, and this year’s application deadline is Feb. 15. Everything you need to know about applying for the program can be found right here.


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