Announced yesterday by Words Without Borders, the James H. Ottaway Jr. Award for the Promotion of International Literature is one of the coolest prizes ever:
The Ottaway is named in honor of the organization’s first chair and current Chair Emeritus, James H. Ottaway, Jr., in recognition of his leadership during the organization’s formative years. It will be first presented at WWB’s 10th anniversary dinner in October of this year and thereafter at the organization’s annual benefit dinner to an individual whose work and activism have supported the mission of Words without Borders, of promoting cultural understanding through the publication and promotion of international literature. [. . .]
Nominees for The Ottaway will be solicited from the large community of translators, authors, publishers, agents, editors, and activists, and the final honoree chosen by a select jury. The Ottaway will not honor a translated work or body of work, but instead honor individuals who have succeeded in furthering literature in translation in the United States.
There are so many great individuals who deserve to win this (including one who will be speaking with my class in the near future), and I’m personally just glad that such a thing exists. Thanks, WWB and James H. Ottaway, Jr.!
For more information, please contact Joshua Mandelbaum at joshua [at] wordswithoutborders.org.
This weekend, the National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its books wards for publishing 2011 and—not to bury the lede—including Dubravka Ugresic’s Karaoke Culture as one of the five finalists in the Criticism category.
This is the first major book award that one of titles has been nominated for (not counting the BTBA), and we’re extremely psyched. I’ve been on and on and on about this book for the past year, which makes this news just that much sweeter. To celebrate this honor, we’re selling copies of Karaoke Culture through our website for the special price of $9.99.
OR, if you’d rather become an Open Letter supporter and receive all of our fantastic books, you can buy a subscription and we’ll throw in a copy of Karaoke Culture for free.
Going back to the NBCCs, I have to say, the Criticism category is the very definition of LOADED. Check out this list of finalists:
Bellos, Lethem, Ugresic, AND Dyer?!?!? Damn. That’s all I can say.
By contrast, the other categories—all of which contain a few truly excellent books—seem tame. You can read the full press release and list of all finalists by clicking here. And here are my picks for which titles should win in the various categories:
Congrats to everyone, and special congrats to Dubravka Ugresic, David Williams, Ellen Elias-Bursac, and Celia Hawkesworth!
This morning, Banipal announced that Khaled Mattawa has won of the sixth annual Saif Gobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literature for his translation of the Selected Poems of Adonis, published by Yale University Press.
They also named Barbara Romaine as the runner-up for her translation of Spectres by Radwa Ashour (published by Interlink), and “commended” Maia Tabet for her translation of White Masks by Elias Khoury (Archipelago).
The press release contains a ton of info about all these books and translators, so rather than crib from this, I’m just going to post it all below:
The Judges’ Announcement
Khaled Mattawa for his translation of Adonis: Selected Poems
Khaled Mattawa’s translation of this selection of Adonis’s poetry is destined to become a classic. It is a monumental piece of work, a long-overdue compendium of works by one of the most important poets of our time, a contribution to world literature that demonstrates the lyricism and full range of Adonis’s poetry. The translations are supple and fluent, flexible yet accurate, consistently sensitive to the poet’s nuances, and beautifully render into English Adonis’s modernist sensibilities. Anglophone readers will gain a new appreciation of why Adonis has so often been likened to TS Eliot and Ezra Pound, with the freshness of his lines and imagination liberated from the self-conscious archaism of other translations, and allowing his unique reworking of the legends of East and West, the arcs of love and death, to spring forth. This book should ensure that Western readers recognize the significance of Adonis’s contribution to world poetry.
Adonis is internationally known as a poet, theoretician of poetics and thinker, a patriarch of modern Arabic literature whose poetry resonates with universal dimensions. Known for his biting criticism of the dominating influence of Islamic ideology on modern Arabic literature, his influential, daring and experimental works of poetry enjoin the present with the past while giving perspectives into the future. Adonis’s poems in their original Arabic are not easy, in fact they are difficult and complex. They are multi-layered with history, myths and ideas, rooted in metaphors, symbols and surrealist images, and wide-ranging in genre and styles – all woven within a fine and concise language.
It was an immense challenge that faced the talented poet-translator Khaled Mattawa in translating Adonis’s poems to English or, as is often said in the Arab world, to the “language of Shakespeare”, and he has succeeded most eminently. Adonis: Selected Poems is a substantial and comprehensive volume covering over half a century of Adonis’s works from 1957 to 2008. Khaled Mattawa has brought Adonis’s poems to the English language with a musicality and aesthetic sensitivity that echo their innovative, conceptual and stylistic complexities – and in doing so he has created an original, powerful and lyrical poetic work in English. In a word: stunning.
On learning the news director of Yale University Press John Donatich commented: “It is very gratifying to see Adonis and his wonderful translator Khaled Mattawa receive this prestigious award. I know from personal experience how many readers have been so moved by these Selected Poems; it is so important that other people discover the work.”
Barbara Romaine for her translation of Spectres by Radwa Ashour
Radwa Ashour’s Spectres is an ambitious and moving blend of autobiography, history, politics and fiction telling the story of Egypt since the 1950s through the experiences of two women who are each other’s ghostly doubles. This experimental novel, which is political in the best sense, needs a confident translator, and has found one in Barbara Romaine. Her impressive translation renders the metaphorical power of Ashour’s story with grace and subtlety, skillfully reflecting the shifts in time and the different voices and registers. Fluent and refreshing, Romaine has done a brilliant job.
Maia Tabet for her translation of White Masks by Elias Khoury
First published in Arabic in 1981, White Masks was one of the first novels that dared to address the civil war in Lebanon, the terrible atrocities, and the war’s reflection in the daily lives of the people. Bringing home the dreadful reality of civil war, it is a fascinating investigation into investigation itself, telling the story of the murder of one man during the Lebanese Civil War, and showing the chaos and incoherence of history as it emerges, and the importance of personal stories to counteract and contain the messiness of history. Elias Khoury’s language is smooth and poetic, and finds its parallel in the masterful translation of Maia Tabet which brings the immediacy of the story to life, without sacrificing the nuances of Khoury’s moral and philosophical questions, transposing the colour and originality of the Arabic into wonderfully lucid prose.
Still catching up post-vacation, so this is somewhat old news, but still worth mentioning . . . Last week, PEN announced the recipients of this year’s Translation Fund awards. Winning translators receive $3,000 to support their work, and hopefully via the attention generated by the award, will find a publisher for their project. (There are at least three on here that I’m personally interested in, starting with Samanta Schweblin’s stories. We featured her as part of our “29 Days of Awesome”: series focused on Granta’s special “Best of the Young Spanish Language Novelists” issue.)
Anyway, here’s info on all 11 recipients, along with info on their respective projects. If you’re a publisher and want more info on any of these, you should contact either Alena Graedon (alena[at]pen.org) or Michael Moore (michaelfmoore[at]gmail.com).
Oh, and kudos to Northwestern for already having signed on one of the most interesting sounding books from this list. Clearly they’re still going to be doing great translations even after the demise of the Writings from an Unbound Europe series.
Congrats to all the winners!
The following piece was written by Ángel Gurría-Quintana, a freelance journalist, editor and translator. He is a regular contributor to the books pages of the Financial Times. His writing has also appeared in The Observer, The Economist, Prospect, The Paris Review and Brick. Ángel lives in Cambridge, U.K.
This piece of his was commissioned for a major British weekly publication but, for editorial reasons, did not make it into print. It’s a really good piece, and I thought it would be of interest to all of you for a variety of reasons.
And in addition to the legit reasons for running this, it’s also fun to run this the same day that we put up our new podcast, which includes Tom dissing on Philip Roth, the recipient of this year’s Man Booker International Award. If you haven’t been keeping up with all the Man Booker debacles, check out this article. Otherwise you may never know that the Man Booker International Prize is “now the world’s premier literary trophy, superior in fact to the Nobel.” Yep, learning new things everyday.
The winner of the Man International Booker Prize 2011 will be announced in Sydney on May 18th. Though still a relative newcomer to the world of literary awards –it is only in its fourth edition—the £60,000 prize has already acquired some heft. Unlike the Man Booker, given yearly to an outstanding work of fiction by a British, Irish or Commonwealth author, this biennial gong aims to celebrate “one writer’s overall contribution to fiction on the world stage.”
Its organisers hope that such a global remit might eventually make MIBP a rival to the prestigious Nobel. But is this aspiration compromised by the rule that the award is given to an author writing fiction in English, or whose work is “generally available” in English language translations?
Australian writer and publisher Carmen Callil, one of this year’s judges, admits that the translation requirement can undermine the prize’s claim to rewarding the best of world literature. “There are many writers who haven’t been translated and who are very important. But we agreed that, to be considered for our list, authors needed to have at least three books in translation.”
Callil and her fellow judges, American rare-book dealer Rick Gekowski and South African novelist Justin Cartwright, drew up a list of 13 nominees. It includes previous contenders like Scottish writer James Kelman (his second nomination) and American Philip Roth (his third) alongside less obvious choices such as British children’s author Philip Pullman.
Among the finalists are eight authors who write in English and five who don’t. Most noteworthy was the inclusion of two Chinese novelists: Wang Anyi, author of The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, and Su Tong, author of Wives and Concubines, on which the film “Raise the Red Lantern” was based.
Despite the refreshing nod to Chinese literature, and the nomination of contenders like Spain’s Juan Goytisolo, the odds seem to be stacked against non-Anglophone authors. The only non-English speaking novelist to have won the prize (and the extra £15,000 given to a translator of his choice) was Albania’s Ismail Kadare, who bagged the inaugural edition in 2005. That year’s jury included English, Argentine and Iranian judges. Every jury since has been predominantly Anglophone. All three of this year’s judges are native English speakers.
So are non-Anglophone writers handicapped by their dependence on English language translators? They might be, says Ms Callil. “Arabic novelists, for instance, have a tremendous disadvantage –they write in an overblown poetic style, too rich, better suited to French translation than to English.” Only one author writing in Arabic, Naguib Mahfouz, has ever been considered for the MIBP.
The appearance of two Chinese authors on this year’s list of finalists is surprising not least because of the particular challenges posed by Chinese literature in translation. Julia Lovell, a lecturer, translator and author of The Politics of Cultural Capital: China’s Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature, says that there are obstacles to the international success of Chinese literature. Some are stylistic: “Any national literature embodies its own set of ideas about language. Chinese literature has a different attitude to plot development, to sentimentality, to how jokes are set up. A Chinese text sometimes tolerates a use of repetition that doesn’t work in English.”
Other obstacles have to do with differing literary traditions. Modern Chinese authors often excel at writing short stories and novellas. But there is a growing pressure on them to produce novels. This often leads to sprawling works, not helped by what Ms Lovell calls a “confusion of editorial standards”.
Cultural critic John Carey, who chaired the jury of the IMBP in 2005, confesses that he found some cultural nuances insurmountable. “I was completely out of my depth with Japanese writers, for instance. It’s a whole different set of assumptions. You can’t get around that problem as a judge.”
Nicky Harman, a translator of Chinese fiction, non-fiction & poetry, does not think that such differences should necessarily obstruct a novel’s appreciation. “I believe that readers can get used to new ways of writing—after all, reading Tolstoy a hundred years ago must have been a new experience for Western readers. Good writing, well translated, will overcome cultural barriers.”
A more common complaint about Chinese literature in translation is that much of it is done by academic presses. “Contemporary Chinese texts often need some editing, but it isn’t always easy to do this if they’re published academically,” Ms Lovell says. Ms Callil goes further: “What is wrong with translations from the Chinese is that so many of them are written by American academics, in a jarring American English. I ignored it, but it is off-putting.”
This raises the question of what the judges are judging when they read foreign literature—the author or the translator? “Of course a translator can make a huge difference,” says Mr Carey. “A gifted and inventive translator is more likely to appeal to the judges.”
Ultimately, he believes, it boils down to the original text. “You can’t tell literary quality in translation if by quality you mean style. But if by literary quality you mean ideas—then yes. Words and images can be translated, but if a writer has non-trivial ideas, they shine through. The greatness of Mann, Flaubert or Dostoyevsky comes across in translation. This can be true for contemporary writers, too.”
It is a well known and often cited fact that only some 3% of all fiction published in the English-speaking world is translated from foreign languages. This is lamentable, especially when compared to the 30-40% of translated works published in some European countries. By drawing readers’ attentions to authors writing in Chinese, Italian, Spanish or French, the judges of the 2011 IMBP may be helping to redress that embarrassing imbalance—even if, in the end, they plump for a more familiar Anglophone writer.
I’ve been meaning to post this for a month now . . . At least there’s still some time before the March deadline:
THE 2011 SUSAN SONTAG PRIZE FOR TRANSLATION
$5,000 grant for a literary translation from Italian into English: PLEASE POST & DISTRIBUTE
PLEASE NOTE: The deadline is March 1, 2011.
This $5,000 grant will be awarded to a proposed work of literary translation from Italian into English and is open to anyone under the age of 30. The translation must fall under the category of fiction or letters, and the applicant will propose his or her own translation project. The project should be manageable for a five-month period of work, as the grant will be awarded in May 2011, and the translation must be completed by October 2011.
Acceptable proposals include a novella, a play, a collection of short stories or poems, or a collection of letters that have literary import. Preference will be given to works that have not been previously translated. (Previously translated works will be considered, however applicants should include an explanation for why they are proposing a new translation.) Applicants wishing to translate significantly longer works should contact the Foundation before sending in their applications so that supplementary materials can be included. The prizewinner will be notified on May 13, 2011 and results will be announced online at www.susansontag.org.
The recipient will be expected to participate in symposia on literary translation with established writers and translators, as well as public readings of their work once the translation has been completed.
Application Requirements (Please download the official application online..) All applications must include three copies of the following:
• Application Cover Sheet (available online)
• Personal Statement (2 pages maximum) explaining your interest and background in literature and the source language (Italian)
• Project proposal (2 pages maximum) outlining the work and describing its importance
• 5 page sample translation of the proposed work from the source language into English
• The same passage in the original language
• A bio-bibliography of the author (including information on previous translations of his or her work into English)
• One academic letter of recommendation
• Official transcript from your current or most recent academic institution
All applications must be submitted via regular mail to the Foundation address:
Susan Sontag Foundation
76 Franklin St. #3
NY, NY 10013
All application materials must be received by March 1, 2011.
The fine print: Applicants must be under the age of 30 on the date the prizewinner will be announced: May 13, 2011. By submitting work to the Susan Sontag Foundation, the applicant acknowledges the right of the Foundation to use the accepted work in its publications, on its website, and for educational and promotional purposes related to the Foundation. Please note that application materials cannot be returned to applicants.
Following on the last post about December being a month of year-end donations, it’s also a month of submitting applications and books for a variety of awards. So here’s the first of three posts about various book prizes:
On behalf of the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University, I am pleased to announce that submissions are now being accepted for the 2010 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature.
For over twenty years, the Keene Center and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission have annually awarded a monetary prize (current annual total: $6,000) to deserving American recipients whose works represent outstanding translation of Japanese literature. We would appreciate your support in making this year’s competition our most successful. A prize in the amount of $3,000 is given for the best translation of a modern work and for the best translation of a classical work, or at times the prize is divided between two equally distinguished translations regardless of category.
To qualify, submissions must be book-length translations of Japanese literature: novels, collections of short stories, literary essays, memoirs, drama, and poetry are all acceptable. Furthermore, all applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States. Submissions are judged on the literary merit of the translation and the accuracy with which it reflects the spirit of the Japanese original. Eligible submissions may include unpublished manuscripts, works in press, or books published within two years of the prize date (works published before January 1, 2008, will not be accepted). Applications may be submitted by individual translators or their publishers. Past winners and previously submitted works are ineligible.
Required application materials include: seven (7) copies of the English translation; one (1) copy of the Japanese original; seven (7) copies of the translator’s CV or resume; and seven (7) copies of the application form. Letters of support or recommendation are also encouraged.
The deadline for submissions for the 2010 Translation Prize is Tuesday, January 19, 2010.
For additional information, please visit the Keene Center Web site..
There you go . . . And stay tuned for info if you’re a publisher/translator of a French book, or someone wanting to get in on the Best Translated Book Award for Poetry . . .
This is kind of old news, but last week Juan Goytisolo was awarded Spain’s National Prize for Literature, an extremely prestigious award honoring a writer’s career.
Goytisolo is one of my all-time favorite writers, especially Makbara, Marks of Identity, Count Julian, and Juan the Landless. I actually had the opportunity to have lunch with him once during the Guadalajara Book Fair. He was incredibly charming and intelligent (as expected) and told a great story about Fidel Castro and Goytisolo’s vinegar allergy . . .
Dalkey Archive has reprinted all of the titles mentioned above, with the exception of Juan the Landless, which I think will be coming out in the future.
Over the holiday weekend, it was announced that Juan Marse was awarded the Cervantes Prize, which is considered to be the Nobel Prize for literature in Spanish.
Marse is best known for his novels about people enduring tough times in Catalonia after the 1936-1939 civil war, which ended with fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s victory and was followed by years of repression against his foes.
Doesn’t look like any of Marse’s books are available here in the States, although two—Lizard Tails and Shanghai Nights—were translated by Nick Caistor and are available in the UK.
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .