Archive for April 2015

2015 French-American Foundation Translation Prize Finalists

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 10.13.58 AMShortlist season is in full swing. Here’s the list of finalists for the 2015 French-American Foundation’s Translation Prize. The winner in each category (fiction and nonfiction) will be awarded at $10,000 prize, funded by the Florence Gould Foundation, at an awards ceremony on June 9, 2015. With no further ado, voila:

Finalists in Fiction:

  • Howard Curtis, for his translation of Invisible Love by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, Europa Editions
  • Ann Jefferson, for her translation of Winter Mythologies and Abbots by Pierre Michon, Yale University Press
  • Tess Lewis, for her translation of Privy Portrait by Jean-Luc Benoziglio, Seagull Books
  • Donald Nicholson-Smith, for his translation of The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette, New York Review Books
  • Edward Ousselin, for his translation of Pleasures and Days and “Memory” by Marcel Proust, Dover Publications

Finalists in Nonfiction:

  • David Ball, for his translation of Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944 by Jean Guéhenno, Oxford University Press
  • Deke Dusinberre, for his translation of The Man Who Thought He Was Napoleon by Laure Murat, University of Chicago Press
  • John Lambert, for his translation of Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Lorna Scott, for her translation of Teresa, My Love by Julia Kristeva, Columbia University Press
  • Mbarek Sryfi & Eric Sellin, for their translation of Arabs and the Art of Storytelling: A Strange Familiarity by Abdelfattah Kilito, Syracuse University Press

Congratulations to all the finalists!


Translation on Tap in NYC, May 1 – 15, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 10.07.31 AMHere’s what’s coming up in Translationland NYC this early May. Let’s hope these are events are accompanied by actual spring-like temperatures!

Friday, May 1:

Translation in Transition: The two-day conference being held at Barnard College kicks off at 2:00 p.m. on Friday and runs through the evening of Saturday, May 2. Full schedule and more information here.

Also Friday, May 1:

Trafika Europe 3 – Latvian Sojourn. Translator Margita Gailītis joins poet Liāna Langa and fiction writer Nora Ikstena to celebrate the double launch of books she’s translated by each of them for Guernica Editions. More information here. Latvian Mission, 333 E. 50th St., 6:30 p.m.

May 4 – May 10:

PEN World Voices Festival. This year’s PWV lineup contains a number of translation-themed events, including one I’m participating in. You’ll find a complete listing of the festival’s translation events here.

Friday, May 8:

Translator, poet and essayist Rosmarie Waldrop will be reading with Charity Coleman and Magnus Williams-Olson at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop, more information here. 126 Front St. in Brooklyn, 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, May 10:

Launch event for Thought Flights by Robert Musil, with translator Genese Grill. She will be joined by author Stephen Callahan. More information here. Zinc Bar, 82 W. 3rd St., 5:00 p.m.


Remembering Benjamin Harshav, 1928-2015

harshavHearing the sad news this past week of Benjamin Harshav’s passing, I asked Adriana X. Jacobs, a colleague who specializes in contemporary Israeli poetry and translation, to say a few words in tribute. This is what she wrote:

A few trembling lines on the palm of my hand.

I held them long
And let them flow through my fingers,
Word by word.”
—Jacob Glatshteyn, “A Few Lines”
translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav

The great literary scholar and translator Benjamin Harshav died this past week at the age of 87.  Though he had been ill, the official announcement of his passing was nonetheless shocking and heartbreaking.  The moment I heard the news, I shared the feeling, which others articulated, of a “void” opening up.  I did not study directly with Harshav and did not know him personally, though I met him a few times while I was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale. Yet I am indebted to him in ways that reveal themselves in every project I undertake.  Harshav leaves a tremendous legacy in the fields of Yiddish and Hebrew literary scholarship, but that legacy also includes his brilliant pedagogy and students who have gone on to mentor new scholars and inspire new readers.  That’s hardly a void.  But looking back at his oeuvre, and projects that will come into fruition in the near future, it’s clear that there was something about Harshav that made him special, incomparable, and irreplaceable.

He was born Binyamin Hrushovski in Vilna (then a part of Poland) in 1928. During WWII, his family fled to the Soviet Union, where he briefly studied math and sciences at Orenburg University and joined Dror, a Zionist-Socialist movement that was active in Poland and Germany.  In 1948, he emigrated to Palestine, and following the 1948 war he enrolled in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. From that point on, he dedicated himself to a serious study of Hebrew and Yiddish literatures that included a doctorate in Comparative Literature at Yale under the direction of René Wellek.  He returned to teach in Israel at the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, where he founded the Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics and the journal Poetics Today. His teaching resume included several stints as a visiting professor in Europe and the United States, and in 1987, he returned to Yale and concluded his teaching career there, as the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature and Professor of Slavic Literatures.

As the Yiddish poet H. Binyomin, he published a collection of poems Shtoybn (Dusts) in 1948 and was a founding member of Yung Yisroel, a group of Yiddishists in Israel.  In that same period, he also started the journal Likrat, which marked a transformative moment in Hebrew poetry and was also where the poet Yehuda Amichai published his first poems. As the poet Gabi Daniel, he also published Hebrew poetry in the major literary journals of the day (a collection of his Hebrew poems followed in 1990).  Harshav’s marvelous collection of essays The Polyphony of Jewish Culture (2007) offers a personal history of the development of Israeli literary culture in the statehood period, but the story of his own creative contribution to Hebrew and Yiddish literature is not as well known. The forthcoming publication in Israel of his Collected Poems, which will include both his Yiddish and Hebrew output, as well as an introduction by the scholar and translator Chana Kronfeld, promises to fill this gap.

The epigraph to this post comes from American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology (1986, University of California Press), a monumental undertaking and collaboration with his wife Barbara Harshav, an internationally-recognized translator from Hebrew, Yiddish, French and German and former president of the American Literary Translators Association.  With Barbara, Harshav also translated into English major collections of the work of the Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever (Selected Poetry and Prose, 1991) and the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai (A Life of Poetry, 1948-1994).  In his most recent publication, Three Thousand Years of Hebrew Versification: Essays in Comparative Prosody (2014), he refers to her in the acknowledgments as “my partner among books.”  Their collaboration was, in a word, remarkable. Harshav also translated into Hebrew, and his translations of Yiddish literature, including the works of Sholem Aleichem, Avrom Sutzkever and Moshe Leib Halpern were highly praised. His Hebrew translation of Bertolt Brecht’s German poems appeared in 1978 under the title The Exile of Poets. And on that note, it feels right to conclude here with a poem about translators in the Harshavs’ translation:


And We Shall Not Get Excited
by Yehuda Amichai

And we shall not get excited.  Because a translator
May not get excited. Calmly, we shall pass on
Words from man to son, from one tongue
To others’ lips, un-

Knowingly, like a father who passes on
The features of his dead father’s face
To his son, and he himself is like neither of them.
Merely a mediator.

We shall remember the things we held in our hands
That slipped out.
What I have in my possession and what I do not have in my possession.

We must not get excited.
Calls and their callers drowned. Or, my beloved
Gave me a few words before she left,
To bring up for her.

And no more shall we tell what we were told
To other tellers.  Silence as admission.  We must not
Get excited.


translated from the Hebrew by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav

Translation at the 2015 London Book Fair

LBFJuliaSherwoodTwo years ago I visited the London Book Fair for the first time and was chuffed (new vocabulary item!) to see how prominently  translation and translators were featured. I wrote up an account of my experiences here. Since then, I unfortunately haven’t made it back again, but my colleague Julia Sherwood (who translates from Slovak) was in attendance for LBF 2015 and has written up a lively account of her adventures for Asymptote. Among other things, she attended a panel entitled “Bloody aubergine or goddam eggplant?” On more serious topics, there were panels about (the dearth of) women’s books in translation, alternate modes of publishing, what the critics think about (works in) translation, political and cultural pitfalls and more. I highly recommend you check it out on the Asymptote website. (And then if you’re in the mood for a more fanciful account of LBF, ask Katy Derbyshire how her visit to London went.)


Translation at the 2015 PEN World Voices Festival


2015 PWV cover image: The Root of all Eves (detail) by Wangechi Mutu

There’ll be some terrific-sounding translation-flavored events at this year’s PEN World Voices Festival, to be held May 4 – 10 in various NYC locations. Here’s the lineup:

Friday, May 8:

Translation Slam: This one is a perennial Festival favorite, moderated as is traditional by Michael Moore. This year’s slam will feature competing translations from Spanish and French, as performed by Allison M. Charette, Marjolijn de Jager, Mónica de la Torre, Boubacar Boris Diop, Mariposa Fernández, and Urayoán Noel. This is a ticketed event, more information here. Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 236 E. 3rd. St., 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 9:

Who We Talk About When We Talk About Translation: Women’s Voices: You know the grammarian in me is dying to add back the missing “m” at the end of that initial “Who.” This is a panel I’m speaking on, with great enthusiasm, since the topic is the gender gap in the reception of translated literature by women authors, both on bookshelves and in terms of prizes. I’ll be joined by Jen Fitzgerald of VIDA, Rob Spillman of Tin House (and winner of a 2015 VIDO award for his contributions to the cause) and author Véronique Tadjo, moderated by Margaret Carson (Co-Chair of the PEN Translation Committee) and translator Alta L. Price. Admission free, RSVP recommended, more information here. Albertine Books, 972 Fifth Avenue (at 79th St.), 1:00 p.m.

Then stay for: Who We Talk About When We Talk about Translation: The Bloggers: Given that literary translation is, almost by definition, out of the American mainstream, independent publishers and independent writers writing about literature (in many cases bloggers) have played a crucial role in keeping interest in (and access to) translated literature alive in this country. Bloggers Tara Cheesman-Olmsted, Scott Esposito, Nana-Ama Kyerematen, and Michael Orthofer will tell you how it’s done, moderated by the excellent Sal Robinson. Admission free, RSVP recommended, more information here. Albertine Books, 972 Fifth Avenue (at 79th St.), 3:00 p.m.

These are the main three translation-themed events at this year’s festival. Some other events that include literary translators include:

Monday, May 4:

Monkey Business: A Japan/America Writers Dialogue in Words & Pictures. This panel will be moderated by three editors of the journal Monkey Business, including two (Ted Goossen and Motoyuki Shibata) who are also translators. Also featuring Ben Katchor, Satoshi Kitamura, Kelly Link, Aoko Matsuda. Ticketed event, more information here. Asia Society, 725 Park Ave., 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, May 6:

Armenian Genocide: A Dark Paradigm: Translator Maureen Freely (also President of English PEN) participates in this event also featuring Peter Balakian, Eric Bogosian, Nancy Kricorian, Robert Jay Lifton, Ronald Grigor Suny, and Ragıp Zarakolu. Ticketed event, more information here. SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., 7:30 p.m.

Also Wednesday, May 6:

The Arrivants: This panel focusing on Kamau Brathwaite’s classic New World trilogy The Arrivants includes, in its lineup, translator (and poet) Nathalie Handal, and is moderated by translator (and scholar) Brent Hayes Edwards. Also featuring Teju Cole and Binyavanga Wainaina. Ticketed event, more information here. Crosby Street Hotel Screening Room, 79 Crosby St., 8:30 p.m.

Also Wednesday, May 6:

Divine Punishment: Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramírez and his translator, Nick Caistor, will read from and discuss the author’s political thriller, Divine Punishment. Introduction by the book’s publisher, Bruce McPherson. Ticketed event, more information here. Americas Society, 680 Park Ave., 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 7:

The Witnesses: This panel on the role of “elders” includes Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who founded the legendary Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine. The event also features Vinie Burrows, Boubacar Boris Diop, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Achille Mbembe, moderated by Rashidah Ismaili. Free admission, RSVP recommended, more information here. The Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 7:

H.G. Adler: A Survivor’s Dual Reverie. Adler’s translator Peter Filkins will be joined by Jeremy Adler, Ruth Franklin, and Daniel Mendelsohn to discuss Adler’s double view of the Holocaust in two different books, moderated by Edwin Frank. Ticketed event, more information here. The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave. (at 92nd St.), 7:00 p.m.

Friday, May 8:

The Literary Mews at NYU: This festival-within-the-festival – a sort of literary street fair – held all day (starting at 10:30 a.m.) in NYU’s Washington Mews (map here) features several events of interest to translation enthusiasts:

Reading Between the Lines/Languages: Moroccan Poetry in Text, Translation, and Performance: Translators Omar Berrada, Alexander Elinson, and Deborah Kapchan join Moroccan poets Idriss Aissa and Driss Mesnaoui. 4:00 p.m.

The Passion of Elena Ferrante: Ferrante translator Ann Goldstein joins Rebecca Falkoff in a conversation about the anonymous Italian author. 6:00 p.m.

No reservations needed, more information here.

So those are my recommendations if you’re interested in PEN World Voices Festival events with a translation tie-in. This is one of the richest festivals to date in terms of translation goodness, so I hope you’ll turn out for at least part of it. I don’t suppose too many translation fans will be feeling so enthusiastic about this year’s PEN Gala, though, seeing that one of the 2015 honorees is Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, now the largest trade publisher in the world, and one whose Spanish branch recently distinguished itself by slashing its translators’ paychecks across the board. Who knows, maybe Dohle will announce that this scandal has only just come to his attention and that he plans to remedy the situation at once? (I’m not holding my breath, but you can’t blame a girl for dreaming.)

Translation in Transition Conference, May 1-2, 2015

translation-transition-pc3The Center for Translation Studies at Barnard College will be hosting its 5th annual translation conference this year, this time co-organized by Mary Grace Albanese, Heather Cleary, and Bret Maney. This year’s topic, “Translation in Transition,” addresses the emergence of translation studies as a field in its own right over the last thirty or so years. Thirty years is a long time for a field to still feel cutting edge, I’d say, but something about translation and the study thereof has produced the opposite of intellectual or even institutional stability. It’s a good topic for a translation conference, and I look forward to see what the organizers and participants make of it. I’ll be participating as well in a small way, speaking as part of a roundtable about teaching translation.

The conference is free and open to the public, no need to register. We’ll see what happens when these panels produce standing-room-only audiences! The programs will be held in two different venues on the Barnard College campus (take the 1 to W. 116th St, enter Barnard at 117th, and Barnard Hall will be the large, elegant building right in front of you.

Friday, May 1 – Sulzberger Parlor, 3rd floor, Barnard Hall

2:00pm-4:00pm Panel: Frontiers and Futures of Translation: The Machine Age, the Age of the Digital Humanities

John Cayley (Brown University): “The Translation of Literary Process”

Miguel A. Jiménez-Crespo (Rutgers University): “Translated Texts in Digital Spaces: Collaborative Translation and the Challenges to Translation Theory”

Audrey Lorberfeld (University of Washington): “Are You My Mother? An Exploration of Bibliographic Relationships of Translated Documents”Mairi McLaughlin (University of California – Berkeley): “The History of News Translation and its Place in our Discipline”

Moderated by Peter Connor (Barnard College)

4:00pm-4:30pm Coffee
4:30pm-6:30pm Panel: Sites, Nodes, Networks, and Habitats of Translation

Michelle Woods (State University of New York – New Paltz): “Archiving Agency: the Materiality of the Translation Biblio-System”

Ahmad Ayyad (Al-Quds University): “Translation and Political Marketing: Selling the Geneva Accord to the Palestinians and Israelis”

Janet Hendrickson (Cornell University): “To Show the Truth by Allowing it to be Seen Hiding: the Functions of Lexical Excess in Anne Carson’s Nox“Corine Tatchiris (University of Massachusetts – Amherst): “Branding World Literature: Translation at the Intersection of the Market and Academia”

Moderated by Brian O’Keeffe (Barnard College)

Saturday, May 2 – James Room, 4th floor, Barnard Hall

10:00am-12:00pm Panel: Figures and Fables of the Translator

Bahareh Gharehgozlou (Kent State University): “Translation Criticism: English Translation of The Shahnameh by Dick Davis”

Adriana Vega Mackler (University of Connecticut): “Vistas of the Present: Translation and Representation in Salvador Benesdra and Rodolfo Rabanal”

Meg Matich (Columbia University): Iceland: Rewriting Notions of Ice and Fire through Poetry Translation”Marko Miletich (University of Texas – Arlington): Dragomans Gaining Footing: Translators as Usurpers in Two stories by Rodolfo Walsh and Moacyr Scliar”

Moderated by Heather Cleary (Whitman College)

12:00pm-1:00pm Break
1:15pm-3:15pm Panel: Topoi: The “Otherwheres” of Translation

Brian James Baer (Kent State University): “Translation and the Un-making of Literary Studies”

Nimrod Reitman (New York University): “A Diva on Mute: Pasolini’s Medea

Jamille Pinheiro Dias (Stanford University/University of São Paulo): “Utopias and Dystopias of Translation in the Ontological Turn: Implications of the Method of Controlled Equivocation”Jenine Abboushi (Lebanese American University): “The Chosen Language: West Asia’s New Non-native Productions”

Moderated by Bret Maney (University of Pennsylvania)

3:15pm-3:45pm Coffee
3:45pm-5:45pm Panel: Generation, Alteration, Translation

Carolyn Shread (Mount Holyoke College): “Translation: Epigenesis of the Text”

James Petterson (Wellesley College): “Emmanuel Hocquard: ‘Taches Blanches’ in Translation”

Geoffrey Bennington (Emory University): “The Angel and the Beast”Moderated by Nimrod Reitman (New York University)

5:45pm-6:00pm Coffee
6:00pm-7:00pm Round-table Topic: “Teaching Translation”

Susan Bernofsky (Columbia University)

Peter Connor (Barnard College)

Marguerite Feitlowitz (Bennington College)

7:00pm-7:15pm Closing Remarks

Peter Connor (Barnard College)

For speaker bios and more information, see the conference website. I hope to see you there!

New Spaces of Translation: A Reportback

NewSpacesOfTranslationI couldn’t make it to Illinois for the New Spaces of Translation conference that Elizabeth Lowe put on together with Antoine Cazé of the Université Denis Diderot, Paris. This was the third of the annual conferences at the Center for Translation Studies of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Anyhow, I heard that Ezra Fitz was going, so I asked him for a reportback. Here’s what he had to say:

What do the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Université Diderot in Paris, and the Illinois Fire Service Institute have in common? They all got together to host the Third International Conference on Translation and Related Disciplines. The schools provided the framework, the firehouse provided the facilities, and the participants enjoyed a long weekend of doing what we love: talking shop.

The weekend kicked off with a keynote by one of my favorite former professors, David Bellos. I still have a thickly-annotated copy of Life A User’s Manual (no colon!) in my office library from a class I took with him many moons ago. This time, though, he was talking about Les Misérables. The title, actually. Why was it never translated into English? It has remained, throughout history, Les Misérables, or Les Mis, if you’re into the whole brevity thing. Listening to Bellos break it down, I realized, first, why I had never thought to ask that question before, and second, why the answer is not as easy as one might think. Of course, as any translator worth his or her salt knows, it never is.

The other keynote was, shall I say, performed by professor Douglas Hofstadter of Indiana University. He presented a very short poem – just 20 syllables long! – written some 1300 years ago in classical Chinese by the poet, painter, and politician Wang Wei. Then he shared a sampler of renderings of this same poem in English by a variety of translators, some of which were taken from the provocative little volume Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger. He finished up with his own “rather extreme version” (his words) that he concocted many years ago, inspired by his puzzlement at the fact that, to him, none of these translations “felt Chinese” (again, his words). Doug nailed the translation, and his explanation of the choices he made was as serious as it was entertaining. Perhaps the twentieth time was the charm.

Another highlight was UCLA professor and translator from the Japanese Michael Emmerich, who took the opportunity to “fight the power,” as Chuck D said, and shared with us a cringe-worthy contract he had to negotiate before translating a novel by Banana Yoshimoto. We translators are only too familiar with the Oulipoian constraints under which we are so often bound to work, and every time someone like Michael speaks up on our behalf, it’s a small yet significant victory.

Finally, there was the panel of which Your Humble Narrator was a member. Elizabeth Lowe, who miraculously organized and orchestrated this wondrous shebang under the very literal threat of tornadoes, and Earl Fitz, both translators from the Portuguese, reminisced over their experiences learning from one of the G.O.A.T.s, Gregory Rabassa, when they were students of his at the CUNY Graduate Center in the 1970s. My father shared a story about walking into Rabassa’s office for the first time. “You’re from Iowa, right?” Rabassa asked him. “Do you say ‘creek’ or ‘crick’?” “Both,” my dad replied, “depending on whether you’re talking about a stream or a pain in your neck.” He and Elizabeth talked about what his classes were like: the way he always put national literature in the larger context of world literature, and how he reminded his students that it’s not about how fast you read, but how well you read. To that point, he would often drop by the library and check to see which of his students had actually gone to the reserve desk and signed out the books he had assigned for his classes… very apropos of the former OSS cryptographer! For my part, I reflected on what it was like to have been one of Robert Fagles’ last few students, back when he was my adviser at Princeton. The last time I saw him was in 2002, a couple of years after I graduated. He flashed a wry grin when he saw me. “Nice manifesto!” he said, remembering my thesis.

On the drive back to Nashville, I called Rabassa to let him know how the panel went. There’s something generational about all of this, I thought. Something familiar. A translation is not unlike the younger sibling of an older text. A fraternal twin, perhaps. And when translators get together at conferences such as this one, we remind ourselves once again of why it all matters. We do it for what came before us, and for what has yet to come. We do it for our literary family. We do it for the love.

Thanks so much for the report, Ezra!


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