The Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize, named for the legendary émigré publishers, is one of the highest honors that can be accorded a translator from the German. A translator can receive it only once in her/his lifetime, and the list of previous recipients looks like a who’s who of German translators.
The Goethe Institut, which awards the Wolff Prize, has just announced that this year’s prize will go to translator Shelley Frisch to honor her translation of Rainer Schach’s Kafka: Die Jahre der Erkenntnis (Kafka: The Years of Insight, published by Princeton University Press in 2013).
Here’s what the jury had to say about her translation:
Reiner Stach’s biography of Franz Kafka deserves the adjective “monumental” in two senses, by virtue of its sheer length and detail, but more importantly by virtue of a lively, readable style that will make it the standard account of Kafka’s life for the foreseeable future. Following her translation of Kafka: The Decisive Years, Shelley Frisch’s completion of Kafka: The Years of Insight, covering the last decade of the writer’s too brief life, makes this marvelous biography not just available, but accessible and inviting for English-speaking readers. Frisch sustains Stach’s voice over hundreds of pages, finding fresh, compelling, and often witty ways to render his German into English. Not only that, but given the lack of a standard complete edition of Kafka’s work in English, Shelley Frisch made the risky and courageous decision to provide her own translations of all the biography’s quotations from Kafka’s works, letters, and diaries, and the results more than justify her choice. Together with Reiner Stach, Shelley Frisch has given us a Franz Kafka whom we will read with new insight, wonder, disquiet, and yes – even laughter. Because Kurt Wolff early recognized Kafka’s genius and published him in German, it is especially fitting that this skillful rendering of Stach’s biography into English receive the Helen and Kurt Wolff prize for translation.
The formal presentation of the prize by the Consul General of Germany, Dr. Christian Brecht, will take place in Chicago on June 16.