Archive for July 2014

2014 PEN Translation Prizes Announced

I trust you’ve had a lovely summer reading your way through the excellent longlists for PEN’s translation prizes that were published in May. If you’ve been on tenterhooks all this time, you’re in luck: the wait is over. PEN announced the winners of the prizes in three categories this morning:

DiariesofExileforwebPEN Award for Poetry in Translation ($3,000): For a book-length translation of poetry into English published in 2013.

Diaries of Exile by Yannis Ritsos (Archipelago), Karen Emmerich & Edmund Keeley

Judge Kimiko Hahn writes:

Yannis Ritsos’ Diaries of Exile spans an era in Greece that was politically dangerous, especially for a radical who would not compromise his art. The three diaries include a peculiar lyric in the form of “a censored postcard”—ten lines or less—that was imposed by prison guards. Ritsos used the compressed form to his advantage. These ten-lined poems, as well as the other “diary entries,” are brilliant stops in time. The individual titles are dates and add social context to his world, as in “January 10”: “You have to tie your own hands. / You tie them. / Night cuts the cords.” Stellar translators Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley take these poems from their limited context and bring out a universal predicament, that is, writing from an existence of harshness and hope. We feel privileged to hold these.

autobiography-of-a-corpse-371PEN Translation Prize ($3,000): For a book-length translation of prose into English published in 2013.

Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (New York Review Books), Joanne Turnbull & Nikolai Formozov

Judges Ann Goldstein, Becka McKay and Katherine Silver write:

Autobiography of a Corpse, by the Russian writer Sigizmund Krzhizanovsky (1887—1950), is a collection of thematically and stylistically linked stories written in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and ‘30s but unpublished until the first decade of this century. Fantastical, hallucinatory, and wildly imaginative, the book is rich in linguistic playfulness—part metafiction, part exploration into the farthest reaches and minutest details of reality. In one story, the narrator falls into his lover’s pupil, only to find there reflections of all her previous lovers; in another, a hermit’s prayers temporarily heal all the cracks and seams in the universe.

Joanne Turnbull, in collaboration with Nikolai Formozov, has produced a compellingly readable translation that is also inventive, that improvises when necessary and consistently insinuates a strangeness and beauty of other worlds, both literary and real. Turnbull remains true to an English voice of her own making, while weaving in bright threads of the unfamiliar to push the boundaries of our language.

Turnbull provides helpful information in her extensive endnotes, which elucidate the text without being didactic, editorializing, or intrusive. With her notes and her translation, she effectively offers us Krzhizanovsky’s genius—unrecognized and suppressed during his lifetime—rather than drawing attention to herself and her own considerable resourcefulness and artistry. This is a rare and welcome conjunction of a literary text that allows the art of translation to shine and a translator who has brilliantly met the challenge.

PEN/Edward and Lily Tuck Award for Paraguayan Literature ($3,000): To a living author of a major work of Paraguayan literature not yet translated into English.


En Tacumbú (El Lector), Raúl Silva Alonso

Judges Idra Novey, Yvette Siegert and Mark Statman write:

The winner of the PEN America/Edward and Lily Tuck award for 2014 is Raúl Silva Alonso for his collection of micro-fictions, En Tacumbú. Like Robert Walser, Alonso’s micro-fictions are unpredictable, vivid, and radically unlike anything else being written in his country. The reality Alonso writes of in this collection is a fatally crowded and tragic one. Tacumbú is the largest prison in Paraguay’s capital city, Asunción. Amid frequent outbreaks of tuberculosis and gang fights, Alonso zeroes in on the sight of a red balloon passing over the prison yard, the curious food preferences of various inmates, and the unlikely friendships that develop between them. En Tacumbú is a book of great humanity and of mysterious moments of grace. We congratulate Raúl Silva Alonso on this exceptional collection of micro-fictions.

As some of you no doubt know, the Tuck Award goes in alternate years to a translator of Paraguayan literature and an author in need of translation. I’m particularly intrigued by the comparison of Raúl Silva Alonso to Robert Walser. I hope his work finds a translator soon. So: congratulations to him, and to the translators of the winning books in the two other categories!

The recipients of the 2014 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants will be announced in August. I’ll let you know when the word is out.

The Temporary Center for Translation at the New Museum

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 6.19.37 PMLast night the New Museum on the Bowery launched its big summer exhibit, “Here and Elsewhere“: a tremendous show of contemporary art from and about the Arab world, with four and a half floors of work by artists from various countries throughout the Middle East (including some who now live and work in other parts of the world). VanLeoIt’s a great show, and also happens to include a high percentage of art that is directly or indirectly translation themed. Armenian-Egyptian photographer Van Leo is represented by a beautiful row of self-portraits in Cindy Shermanesque disguise that predate Cindy Sherman by several decades (they’re from the early 1940s). California-born Egyptian artist Maha Maamoun contributed a video that uses images inspired by Chris Marker’s iconic film-in-stills La Jetée to represent Mahmoud Uthman’s novel The Revolution of 2053. Susan Hefuna translated the skyline of Istanbul into delicate ink-on-paper works. Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 6.35.25 PMAnd Lebanese photographer Akram Zaatari turns everything in his studio into photographic images, even the view out his window. Sometimes I think I’ve been thinking about translation so long that everything I see out in the world (including in museums) looks like a metaphor for it.

But translation is also being presented at the New Museum this summer in non-metaphorical ways as well. For the duration of the current show (that is, until Sept. 28, 2014), the glass-enclosed Resource Center on the fifth floor has been given over to what’s being called The Temporary Center for Translation, a display and documentation area that includes not only a mini-library of books about translation, but also projects addressing various aspects of translation and in particular the limits of translatability. One large vitrine is devoted to the hugely ambitious Vocabulaire européen des philosophies: Dictionnaire des intraduisibles, a massive undertaking directed by Barbara Cassin to catalog words in many languages that are critical for philosophy in one language or another and cannot be translated adequately or completely without impacting the philosophies based on them. An English-language translation of this tome – Dictionary of Untranslatables – appeared earlier this year, and I meant to write something about it months ago; soon. The vitrine includes correspondence between the translators and editors as well as multilingual charts of words (including Arabic) associated with the project.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 11.38.20 PMAcross the room, crueler sorts of translation are in evidence including large binders stuffed with translated documents pertaining to Abu Ghraib and other sites where the U.S. military runs detention and interrogation centers. A film by Mariam Ghani, The Trespassers, addresses the difficult position of translators forced to serve as mediators between captors and captives. Translation in one of these “black sites” is not merely fraught, it can mean the difference between life and death. Beside it, a work by Joshua Craze makes an attempt (in the words of the Temporary Center’s co-curator Omar Berrada) at “writing a grammar of redaction, from a corpus of declassified CIA documents.”

Berrada, co-director of library and residency center Dar al-Ma’mûn in Marrakesh, was invited to co-curate the Temporary Center with the New Museum’s Taraneh Fazeli, Education Associate, and Alicia Ritson, Research Fellow, working with Chaeeun Lee, Education Intern. Berrada explains,

The idea of the Temporary Center for Translation is to open up the work of translation on various levels: aesthetically (by showing the process of translating), politically (by exploring contexts where translation is an intervention), etc.

Various undertakings and events are planned for the next two months, including translation projects involving “art critical texts written in overlooked languages” (Berrada) to be carried out on site and virtually, using the TLHUB network (TLHUB is a partner in the Center).

The show is worth seeing, the Center is worth visiting; go have a look!

Postscript: The Center’s closing date has been extended: it’s now Oct. 19, 2014.

2014 Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize Announced

houseofcardsflagGood morning, everyone. I’d wish you a happy 4th of July if there seemed any sense in celebrating American nationhood at a moment when the powers that be in Washington and Wall St. appear to be warming up to send us back to war in Iraq, where we have no business being and recently have served primarily to cause the deaths of Iraqi civilians as well as contribute to the level of dysfunction in a political system that was already dysfunctional without us. Since the ones pushing for war are the real-world Raymond Tusks, this is a good moment to support any efforts you hear of to reform U.S. campaign finance law with a new constitutional amendment, since current laws (e.g. the disastrous Supreme Court ruling referred to as “Citizens United“) permit large corporations to donate virtually unlimited sums to political candidates, effectively making Wall St. more powerful than the White House. This is why our political representatives keep doing awful things to us and to the rest of the world. We desperately need change. Even the Democrats are apparently working on getting “Citizens United” overturned (possibly just for show, since there are mid-term elections coming up). Common Cause is a good organization to keep an eye on – they’re on the right side of this issue. Then there’s the newly launched MayDay PAC spearheaded by Lawrence Lessing. So that’s been on my mind lately, and I’ve been traveling, and in short I managed to miss the admittedly rather discreet announcement that the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize (which I blogged about in May) was awarded last month at a ceremony in Oxford. And lo, the prize has gone to Susan Wicks for her translation of Valérie Rouzeau’s Talking Vrouz. The judges said:

Talking Vrouz is a wonderfully inventive and yet faithful translation of poems which are already at an oblique angle to their own language (French). Susan Wicks renders a unique poetic voice, with all its eccentricities and privacies, into a matching English.  The translation is exact, inventive and full of life, and offers readers something new and startling in English poetry.

Congratulations to Susan Wicks and to all this year’s finalists!


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