Just got a message from the Polish Book Institute that Bill Johnston (translator of numerous Polish authors, including Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel, another Open Letter book about drunks that we’ll be publishing in Spring 2009) has won the first ever Found in Translation award.
He won for his translation of Tadeusz Rozewicz’s New Poems available from Archipelago.
As pointed out in the press release about the award, this isn’t the first honor for Rozewicz’s book—it was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry.
Bill is a really incredible translator and perfect example of how someone can help promote a particular country’s literature in translation.
He has translated the classics – J. Słowacki, B. Prus, S. Żeromski and Witold Gombrowicz. His splendid translations of books by authors such as Magdalena Tulli and Andrzej Stasiuk have also allowed American readers to become acquainted with Polish contemporary literature. Bill Johnston is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Second Language Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington (USA).
The Found in Translation award was established last October by the Book Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute in London, the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, and W.A.B. Publishers. The winner receives 10,000 PLN (almost $5,000) and a three-month Book Institute scholarship.
Over at Critical Mass, they’ve been highlighting all of the NBCC Award finalists in preparation for the ceremony on March 6th. This is one of my favorite CM features, in part because they have such great, knowledgeable critics offering up short takes on all thirty finalists.
Such as Barbara Hoffert’s piece on Tadeusz Rozewicz’s New Poems, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston and published by one of our favorite presses, Archipelago Books.
How can a poet whose formative experiences include service in Poland’s Underground during World War II and many decades spent under Communist rule write poetry that sounds so utterly contemporary? That’s the thought that races through one’s mind while reading Tadeusz Różewicz’s “New Poems,” a collection combining the three volumes the professor’s knife, gray zone, and exit, all ably translated by Bill Johnston. And races is surely the operative word here, for Różewicz’s spare, distilled lines simply pour down the page like water over a mountain’s edge, and once caught in the flow the reader is not likely to stop. It’s that seductive.
On a sidenote, it’s interesting to me that the NBCC poetry catalog is dominated by independent presses: two Graywolf books, two Flood Editions books, and this one from Archipelago. Of the other 25 finalists, there’s a book from Verso, one from Oxford, and one from Yale, but that’s it. I’m not saying that these books don’t deserve to be finalists, I just hadn’t noticed this before, although it’s not all that surprising that the best poetry is coming from presses such as these.
The Fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation is online now, and features reviews of Gabriel Josipovici’s Goldberg: Variations, Dumitru Tsepeneag’s The Vain Art of the Fugue, and Tadeusz Rozewicz’s new poems.
Definitely go and check it out.
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