GBO Translation Prize Goes to Kurt Beals

Translationista is in the middle of moving house (in real life, not virtually), so I should apologize for having been so derelict of duty recently – it’s not as if nothing has been happening in the world of translation, it’s just that I’ve been stretched too thin to squeeze in much blogging. But now here’s something I feel I do have to blog about (which I’m doing while eating dinner, taking a break from packing books into boxes – who bought all these books while I wasn’t looking???).

The German Book Office in New York created a new translation prize this fall that I blogged about here. And for the inaugural year of the prize I wound up getting invited to be on one of the two juries that picked the winning translator. Yes, this contest was judged in two rounds. The round one jury was made up of three American editors (Jenna Johnson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; John Siciliano, Penguin; Lexy Bloom, Random House). They looked at all 58 or so translations submitted (all of them Englishings of the same 750-word text, by Nora Bossong), and narrowed down the field to a shortlist of nine. Then a trio of translators (Burton Pike, Ross Benjamin and me) chose the winner. All of this judging was blind, by the way, with the contestants identified only by number – which I was especially glad about when the winner turned out to be someone I know: Kurt Beals, whom I met when he was working at New Directions – first as an intern, then eventually as an assistant editor. He’s now at Berkeley getting his PhD in German Literature and Culture. He also just published his first book of translations, engulf – enkindle, poems by Anja Utler. Kurt was chosen unanimously; Burton, Ross and I had decided that each of us would come up with a short-short list of two or three translators, and Translator #35 (Kurt) was the only one on all three of our lists. We also chose a runner-up, Elizabeth Janik. Big congratulations to both of them!

Here’s Kurt’s statement that was read out at the ceremony: “As a reader and a student of German literature, every so often I come across a work that’s brilliant, unexpected, and untranslated,” said Beals. “And as a translator, that’s the kind of problem that I like to solve. But I think that the more fundamental reason to translate, for me, is that there’s no better way to engage thoroughly with a work of literature, to think about each word, why it’s there and how it fits into the work as a whole.”

As the winner of this prize, Kurt will receive a $600 commission to translate the first fifteen pages of Nora Bossong’s novel Gesellschaft mit beschraenkter Haftung into English. This will then serve as the sample translation used to shop the book around to potential publishers.

The GBO Translation Prize was presented at an awards ceremony at the Goethe Institut after an excellent panel on translation featuring Burton Pike and Lexy Bloom and moderated by Edward Nawotka, editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives. I’d blog about the panel myself (it was great), but Alex Mutter already did such a good job of writing it up on the Publishing Perspectives website, and I really should go pack a few more boxes now.

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