Archive for August 2014

PEN Center USA 2014 Translation Award Announced

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.50.54 AMPEN Center USA – the somewhat smaller West Coast counterpart of the NYC-based PEN American Center – gives out a number of literary awards each year, including one for translation, which comes with a $1000 purse. This year’s awards have just been announced. And the translation prize has gone to Wayne A. Rebhorn, translator of The Decameron (Norton). The finalists for this year’s prize, judged by Boris Drayluk, Phillip Boehm and Anna Rosenwong, are Robert Alter for Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation with Commentary (Norton), John Nathan, Light and Dark (Columbia UP) and Katherine Silver, The End of Love (McSweeney’s). The award will be presented at PEN USA’s annual fundraising gala. Congratulations to Rebhorn and the runners-up!

Gulf Coast Translation Prize Deadline Aug. 31

74This translation prize almost slipped by me, but then I read about it in Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren’s exceedingly useful “The Week in Translation” column on Words Without Borders. Thanks, Rachel! And listen up, poet[try translator]s, you have very little time to get your submission in order if you’re just learning about this now. The journal Gulf Coast is offering a new prize in translation this year, and I’m guessing they’re planning to alternate genres, since this year is explicitly a prize for poetry translation only. The prize comes with a handsome purse ($1000) as well as publication in the magazine. The award will be judged by Jen Hofer (yay). Here are the submission guidelines:

Send up to 5 pages of poetry translated into English. Preference will be given to contemporary work published within the last fifty years. As part of your submission, include the text in its original language, provide a brief synopsis (no more than 200 words) of the author you are translating, and indicate whether you have, and can grant us, permission to publish the original work and the translation. If you have rights to reprint the original text in the U.S., please let us know that as well.

I think the magazine is a bit confused about how permissions work – that reminds me that I’m supposed to write up a blog entry about this. Translation rights cannot legally be granted to an individual, they can be granted only to the journal or publisher that will print the work. So if you don’t happen to know the poet you’re translating personally, really your job is to confirm that the translation rights are available (the publisher of the original should be able to send you an email to that effect); obviously you’ll need to get on that ASAP to make the Aug. 31 deadline.

Here’s hoping the contest goes well, elicits some interesting work, and gets repeated. I’ll do my best to get the word out earlier next year. More details on the Gulf Coast website.

Translation on Tap in NYC September 1 – 15, 2014

F_coverSlowly but surely this lovely August is winding down and giving way to a September that I hope will be just as pretty. I’m sad to see summer depart, but I’m glad that the advent of fall means some exciting new translation programming. Here’s what I’ve heard about thus far:

Wednesday, Sept. 3:

The great translator from the Spanish Edith Grossman will be participating in a roundtable on the “anti-poetry” of Nicanor Parra, about whom she once wrote a book (excerpt here). The panel celebrates the opening of an exhibition about Parra’s work. Grossman will be joined by curator Marcelo Porta, American lit scholar Marlene Gottlieb and journalist Patricio Lezundi. More information here. Instituto Cervantes, 211-215 East 49th St., 7:00 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 5:

Star German novelist Daniel Kehlmann will be discussing his new novel F, which is just out in an English translation by Carol Brown Janeway, who also published the novel, joined by Eric Banks, Director of the New York Institute for the Humanities. There’s no way this won’t be an interesting evening. By the way, since Kehlmann is published by Knopf, it means that the jacket of his book was designed by Peter Mendelsund, of whom I couldn’t be a bigger fan, especially after reading both the new books he published Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 9.14.21 PMthis summer, What We See When We Read and Cover. The latter contains images of cover designs Mendelsund devised that didn’t wind up on the finished books (but are nonetheless generally fascinating, as are his thoughts on how he distills a book into an image). I haven’t seen Kehlmann’s book yet, but I assume it’ll have a lot more to recommend it beyond the cover. Deutsches Haus at NYU, 42 Washington Mews, 6:30 p.m., RSVP and early arrival strongly recommended.

Tuesday, Sept. 9:

Novelist Xiaolu Guo, who’s written a book about a translator, in conversation with singer-songwriter Nellie McKay and Sasha Frere-Jones. I’ve already written about this event in more detail; see that blog post for information on ordering discounted tickets. Liberty Hall at Ace Hotel, 20 W. 29th St., doors open at 7:30 p.m., program starts at 8:00 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 12:

1509_lgOn the Columbia University campus: Awards Ceremony and Reception for the 2013-2014 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature. This year’s prize is being awarded to Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson, translated by W.S. Merwin and Takako Lento (Copper Canyon Press). The awards ceremony is open to the public and will be held in the beautiful C.V. Starr East Asian Library on the first floor of Kent Hall,  5:30 p.m. More information here, RSVP requested.

Friday, Sept. 12 and Saturday, Sept. 13:

POETICA is a mix of poetry, jazz and translation (Catalan and English) featuring poets Melcion Mateu and Rowan Ricardo Phillips (who translates MM), fronting a band led by Alexis Cuadrado, with Miles Okazaki on guitar, Andy Milne on piano and keys and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Translation + music, what’s not to like? The Jazz Gallery, 1160 Broadway, 5th Fl., with sets at 8:00 p.m. and 10 p.m. both days. Tickets here.

Monday, Sept. 15:

The Saint Ann’s Review Presents an Evening of and on Translation. Translators Harry Morales, Rika Lesser, and Alexandra Zelman-Doring read from their work, more information here. Saint Ann’s School, 122 Pierrepoint, Parlor Floor, 7:00 p.m.

And remember, Sept. 10 is the deadline to RSVP for the Sept. 19 symposium at the Nida School of Translation.

Sept. 19 Symposium at the Nida School of Translation Studies

logo_180x60Readers of this blog are used to hearing me grouse about the Nida School because every year in recent history it’s put on a really interesting one-day symposium and charged such high admission that students and working translators probably wouldn’t have been able to go. But this year, mirabile dictu, the symposium comes with a very reasonable price tag ($25 regular admission, free for graduate students) and a really interesting program. The first of the two main speakers will be literature and Bible scholar and translator Robert Alter, whose work I find truly fascinating. Listen to how the Bible begins when he’s the one writing it: “When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath was hovering over the waters, God said, ‘Let there be light.'” Isn’t that gorgeous? “Welter and waste and darkness over the deep.” It turns out the Bible was beautifully written all along, we just never knew it. So Alter will be giving a talk entitled “Translating Biblical Poetry: Ancient Hebrew Verse and the Constraints of English,” followed by a discussion with respondent Bible scholar Adriane Leveen. And then David Damrosch, a well known Comparative Literature and Translation Studies scholar, will speak on “World Literature, National Markets,” with respondent Lydia Liu, a [translation] scholar who teaches at Columbia.”World Literature” is code (= English) for Weltliteratur, a term that comes to us from Goethe, and which I’ll explain as follows: When I told German author Jenny Erpenbeck that an excerpt from her new novel The End of Days was going to be pre-published this fall in right-top_corner_june-2014the magazine World Literature Today, she replied: “Wait a minute, does that mean I’m world literature now?” She asked this because the equivalent German expression implies “literature of world-historical import.” Which I think her work is. For Goethe, in any case, the term signified literature created out of a cosmopolitan spirit that transcends national boundaries, making it grander than just plain “literature.” And now the Nida School is transcending financial boundaries, putting this really interesting half-day-long program (lunch and socializing with the other participants included in the price of admission) in the reach of virtually everyone who might want to attend. I’ll be sorry to miss it (because of this though.) Highly recommended. Thank you, Nida School! Your generosity is at least cosmopolitan if not Biblical. But note that if you wish to attend you must register, and the deadline for that is rapidly approaching: September 10. The symposium itself will be held on September 19, 2014 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. For more information and registration instructions, see the Nida School’s website.

The Translator as Heroine (Xiaolu Guo in NYC)

Xiaolu GuoEveryone knows that literary translators are heroic, so why aren’t there more books written about them? I want to see them portrayed not as weird, Kinbote-y dry-as-dusts, but as bold creative masterminds who bridge languages, cultures, worlds, people. I want to see someone endow a prize for the best work of fiction celebrating translators and the art of translation. If that prize already existed, I would definitely consider nominating Xiaolu Guo, a Chinese writer turned British writer whose first novel (written in Chinese), Village of Stone, was a contender for the Independent Best Foreign Fiction Prize and an International Dublin IMPAC Award. She followed this up with a book written in English, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary, that made quite a splash when it appeared in 2007 and earned her a spot on the list of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. And now she’s got a new one out: I am China, and its protagonist is – you guessed it – a translator. I need to get my hands on a copy.

Check out the plot summary from Claire Hazelton’s review in The Guardian:

Iona, a London-based translator, pieces together the complex and tragic past of separated Chinese couple Jian (an exiled, rebel punk musician drifting through Europe) and Mu (a slam-poet). The concept of truth, throughout, is unstable; with no definitive means of interpreting certain Chinese characters and their tenses, Iona’s translations often rely on assumption. As Iona traverses through the fragments of diary entries and correspondence, the couple’s story becomes a life-source for her own existence, to the extent that she takes it upon herself to reunite Jian and Mu. Consequently, her interpretations cease to simply be demonstrations of the subjectivity and instability of translation and become, instead, instrumental and crucial to the fate of all three characters.

If you’ve had a chance to read it, please let me know what you think!

And if you’d like to see and hear Xiaolu Guo in person, she’ll be appearing soon on an exciting-sounding program right here in New York: a conversation with the amazing singer/songwriter Nellie McKay in a program entitled “What Can’t Be Sung” moderated by New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones. Given the translation-y slant the conversation is likely to take, the organizers at PEN are offering Translationista readers a 20% discount off the $25 admission, bringing the ticket price to $20. To reserve yours, click here and use the discount code “diy.” You’ll find more information on the event here. The basics are: Tuesday, Sept. 9, Liberty Hall at Ace Hotel, 20 W. 29th St., doors open at 7:30 p.m., program starts at 8:00 p.m.

Win a Kafka Audiobook

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 3.27.51 PMWhen I heard that my publisher was arranging to have an audiobook made of my translation of Franz Kafka’s classic tale of transformation The Metamorphosis, I was thrilled. The thrill was only compounded when I found out that they were hiring Edoardo Ballerini to record the book. Besides being a wonderful actor for stage and screen, Edoardo happens to be an old friend of mine. And just a day or two later, we sat down together to talk through our ideas about Kafka’s novella. How funny is it? Why and how? How ironic? How tragic? It was fascinating to hear the characters analyzed from the point of view of an actor who was about to literally give voice to them. I’d done that myself nearly two years before, deciding that I wanted to underscore the faint note of hysteria I detected in Gregor’s reveries, the subservience of his mother, his father’s bullying.

And now Edoardo has completed his work, and the audiobook is out and available for purchase and download. And it’s really gorgeous Just as I hoped he would do, Edoardo uses a deadpan delivery with just a hint of a wink behind it to play up the book’s often understated humor. I think the voice he picked for the narration is just right: it sounds almost British, but without actually using a British accent, recreating the sense of cultural ambiguity I was aiming for in the translation (I wanted it to sound neither British nor American but cast in a vaguely dislocated idiom that I hoped would go well with the Mitteleuropean atmosphere I was trying to create). And Edoardo does the characters really well – each one has a distinct way of speaking, but they all sound like they belong together. It’s a beautiful thing.

And since the publisher has given me a few extra copies to dispose of as I please, I thought: why not a raffle? But instead of buying a ticket, all you have to do to enter is send an email using this link (blank is fine) from whatever email address you’d like to have the download information sent to if you win. [The link has  been deactivated since the contest is now closed.] I’ve got two copies to raffle off, and will use the random generator at to select the lucky winners. That’s all there is to it.

Unless you’d like to double your odds. If so, read on. You may have noticed something called the “ice bucket challenge” floating around your Facebook feed. Yes, it’s silly, and I’m not going to ask you to dump cold water on your head, but the point of the buckets is to draw attention to the neurodegenerative disease ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). ALS is truly dire: it causes your brain cells to gradually lose the ability to control your muscles, making it at first impossible to do things like walk, and eventually also to do things like eat, speak or even breathe. There aren’t currently good treatments for ALS, in large part because the disease is rare enough (with “only” an estimated 5600 newly diagnosed cases each year in the U.S.) that doing all the research needed for drug development isn’t a good financial investment for pharmaceutical companies. So what research there is has all been funded by government agencies and private foundations that support ALS research. I would like to ask you to consider donating an amount of your choice to one of these organizations (list below). If you do, when you enter the raffle for the audiobook, write the words “I donated” in your email (honor system) and tell me the name of the organization you picked, and I’ll enter your name twice. Otherwise, a strict one-entry-per-person rule applies.

The fight against ALS is personal for me. A colleague of mine at Bard College, Frederic Grab, died of ALS during my time there, and a musician friend is currently ill with it. I also think Kafka would approve of asking for donations for this cause. A little-known fact about him is that in his position in the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute he really stood up for public health issues and, for example, used financial incentives to encourage factories to raise their safety standards by putting high price tags on lost fingers and limbs. It worked. And he himself, given his long struggle with the tuberculosis that eventually killed him, must have been all too aware of what it’s like to have your body turn against you. Certainly there’s nothing like a debilitating illness to make you feel estranged from your own body, as the antihero of The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, is as well.

One more thing you should know: the audiobook was produced and distributed by, so you have to have an Amazon account to be able to download it. I wish there were a way around this, but I think there isn’t.

Here is a short list of ALS organizations I think merit your support (and check out their high CharityNavigator ratings):

Project ALS

The Les Turner ALS Foundation

The ALS Therapy Development Institute

University of Pittsburgh Center for ALS Research

The ALS Association

Please be generous, and I hope you’ll soon have Edoardo/Gregor whispering in your ears. If you enter the raffle and do not win, you can always get your own copy of the audiobook here.The raffle ends on Monday night (Aug. 25) at midnight, and the winners will be notified on Tuesday.  [Congratulations to “pdm” and M. Lynx Qualey, who were selected in the Randompicker drawing as the winners of this raffle; download instructions are on their way to you.]

2014 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants Announced

HMHAfter announcing the winners of its big translation prizes last month, the PEN American Center has just announced the names of those selected for PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants this year. Here’s the list of winning translators and projects:

Kurt Beals for his translation of The Country Road, by Regina Ullmann. (New Directions)

Eric Becker for his translation of Selected Stories by Mozambican Mia Coutu. (Available for publication.)

David Burnett for his translation of American Stories by Johannes Urzidil. (Available for publication)

Paul Hoover, for his translation of Nightmare Running on a Meadow of Absolute Light, by María Baranda. (Available for publication)

Janet Hong for her translation of  Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairytale. (Available for publication)

Andrea G. Labinger for her translation of Gesell Dome, by Guillermo Saccomanno. (Available for publication)

Sergei Levchin for Commentaries by Chris Marker. (Available for publication)

J. Bret Maney for his translation of Manhattan Tropics by Guillermo Cotto-Thorner. (Available for publication)

Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev for I Burned at the Feast byArseny Tarkovsky. (Cleveland State Poetry Center)

Sayuri Okamoto for Monster: the Naked Poetry of Gozo Yoshimasu. (Available for publication)

Benjamin Paloff for The Game for Real by Richard Weiner. (Two Lines Press)

Miranda Richmond Mouillot for The Kites, by Romain Gary. (Available for publication)

Zachary Rockwell Ludington for Pixel Flesh (Carne de Pixel) by Agustin Fernandez Mallo. (Available for publication).

Thom Satterlee for New and Selected Poetry of Per Aage Brandt. (Available for publication)

Sholeh Wolpé for The Conference of Birds (Man-tiq ut-tayr) by Farid ud-Din Attar. (Available for publication).

More detail about each of these projects, including excerpts, can be found on the PEN website.

The Advisory Board for the PEN/Heim Translation Fund also nominates projects for New York State Council on the Arts translation grants. The two nominees whose projects are being supported by NYSCA in 2014 are:

Edna McCown, for Shanghai, far from where, by German author Ursula Krechel. (Available for publication)

Yvette Siegert for Diana’s Tree, by Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik. (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Congratulations to all this year’s grant recipients! And another lamentably belated thank you to Michael Henry Heim, whose generosity (as well as that of his wife, Priscilla Heim) has made these grants possible for eleven years now. The Man Between, a collection of essays about his life and work, will be published by Open Letter this coming October.


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