PEN American Center Announces 2012 Translation Awards

The PEN American Center (not to be confused with the PEN Center USA) has just announced its 2012 Literary Awards, including several prizes for translation. Most prestigious among these is the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal, a lifetime achievement award that is presented only once every three years and is voted on by all active members of the PEN Translation Committee. The medal honors “a translator whose career has demonstrated a commitment to excellence through the body of his or her work.” This year’s award goes to Margaret Sayers Peden, known for her translations of Juan Rulfo (Pedro Páramo), Sor Juana, Carlos Fuentes and La Celestina. Gregory Rabassa, who authored the citation honoring Peden, writes:

Her characters speak as they would have had they been born to English and their authors likewise acquire a style in their transformed tongue that is true to what they say or are trying to say, to follow Borges’s admonition to his translator.

The PEN Translation Prize, for an outstanding work of translated prose published the previous year, went to Bill Johnston for Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski, published by Archipelago Books. This year’s prize was judged by Aron Aji, Donald Breckenridge, and Minna Proctor, and the runners-up were Sinan Antoon and Margaret Jull Costa.

The PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, judged this year by Christian Hawkey, went to Jen Hofer for Negro Marfil/Ivory Black by Myriam Moscona (Les Figues Press). Runners-up were Mark Ford and Susanna Nied.

PEN also announced the 2012 recipients of the PEN Translation Fund Grants, which provide stipends of $1000 – $3000 to help translators (particularly those early in their careers) complete and publish book-length works in English. The projects are chosen for the quality both of the translation and the original work. This year’s panel of judges, chaired by Michael Moore as a non-voting member, included Barbara Epler, Edwin Frank, Michael Reynolds, Richard Sieburth, Eliot Weinberger, and Natasha Wimmer as well as me. In other words, I’ve known who the winners were for a couple of months now and am very happy not to have to keep it a secret any longer. 

Here are the prize-winning translations:

•Bernard Adams, A hóhér háza (The Hangman’s House), a novel by Hungarian writer Andrea Tompa (from Hungarian)

•Alexander Booth, in felderlatein (in field latin), a collection of poems by German poet Lutz Seiler (from German)

•Brent Edwards, L’Afrique fantôme (Phantom Africa), an ethnographic study with autobiographic elements by the French writer Michel Leiris (from French)

•Joshua Daniel Edwin, kummerang (gloomerang), the first book by young German poet Dagmara Kraus (from German)

•Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Hoshruba: The Prisoner of Batin, an epic fantasy based on oral tradition by Indian writers Muhammad Husain Jah and Ahmed Husain Qamar (from Urdu)

•Deborah Garfinkle, Worm-Eaten Time: Poems from a Life Under Normalization, a collection of banned poems originally circulated in samizdat copies by Czech poet Pavel Šrut (from Czech)

•Hillary Gulley, El fin de lo mismo (The End of the Same), a novel by Argentine writer Marcelo Cohen (from Spanish)

•Bonnie Huie, Notes of a Crocodile, the groundbreaking queer novel by Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin (from Chinese)

•Jacquelyn Pope, Hungerpots, a collection of poems by Dutch poet Hester Knibbe (from Dutch)

•Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad, Mirages of the Mind, a novel by Pakistani writer Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi (from Urdu)

•Carrie Reed, Youyang zazu (Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang), a compendium from the Tang Dynasty by Duan Chengshi (from Chinese)

•Nathanaël, The Mausoleum of Lovers, French novelist and AIDS activists Hervé Guibert’s posthumously published collection of private journals (from French)

 Each year the judges also select one project to nominate for a New York State Council on the Arts translation grant. Last year’s nominee, Ana Božičević, was awarded a grant in January for her translation of It Was Easy to Set the Snow on Fire by Serbian poet Zvonko Karanović.

Award winners and runners-up will be honored at the 2012 PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, October 23, 2012, at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium, 365 Fifth Ave., at 6:30 p.m.

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