The National Endowment for the Arts just announced this year’s recipients of their Literature Translation Fellowships, and wow is this a loaded group. It’s very exciting to see so many friends and colleagues on this list, and a lot of the projects sound really amazing . . . Below is the list of winners with shortened NEA descriptions for the projects. You can read the complete descriptions and find out more about the various fellowships by clicking the link above.
To support the translation from the Spanish of Zama, a novel published in 1956 by Argentine writer Antonio Di Benedetto. Zama is the second of Di Benedetto’s 10 novels, none of which have been translated into English. Part historical, part allegory, the novel is written in a precise, jarring style that contrasts with the prevalent flowing prose of magical realism associated with works from Latin America. A quarter of a century after it was published, it won the prestigious Italia América Latina prize.
To support the retranslation of The Mysteries of Paris by French novelist Eugène Sue. This novel, about the Parisian criminal and working class, caused a sensation when it was published serially in 1842 and 1843. Sue’s work was groundbreaking for its unmannered and realistic depiction of the echelons beneath the aristocracy. This is the first English retranslation of this classic in more than 100 years.
To support the translation from the Romanian of Belgrade in Five Friends and Other Poems by Nichita Stanescu. Stanescu is a major figure in Romanian postwar poetry but remains largely untranslated into English. He is credited with bringing modernism into the Communist era. In the translator’s words, the poet’s stark language has a de-familiarizing perspective as it “seduces the reader away from the human, enabling us to reconsider ourselves from the objects’ points of view.”
To support the translation from the Swedish of a collection of contemporary poetry by Håkan Sandell. Sandell has recently been awarded a writer’s pension for life from the Writers Union and the government of Sweden, among other top poetry honors in his country. This translation will preserve the music and form of the original work of a poet known for marrying romanticism and a wide range of traditional forms.
To support the translation from the Russian of The Joyous Science: The Selected Poetry of Maxim Amelin. Born in 1970, Amelin is considered one of the defining voices of the “Thirty-Year-Olds,” the last generation to grow up under Soviet power. He has helped run two of Russia’s most successful and respected post-1991 publishing houses. His poetry has been called “archaic-innovative,” offering a nod toward the classics while using slang and contemporary references.
To support the translation from the French of Fear of the First Line, selected stories from Belgian writer Bernard Quiriny. Quiriny won Belgium’s top literary prize in 2008, taking him from a cult favorite to heir to the Belgian School of the Bizarre. Published in 2005, Fear of the First Line features stories in the fabulist tradition, incorporating the literary styles of absurdism, surrealism, existentialism, and magic realism. Quiriny writes with cleverness and ease, often paying homage to past masters via riffs and inversions.
To support the translation from the Spanish of the novel Península, Península by Mexican writer Hernán Lara Zavala. Written in 2008, this historical novel is Lara Zavala’s second, and focuses on the Caste War of Yucatán (1847-1901), a dramatic event in Mexican history which began with the revolt of native Mayans against European descendants. This epic novel explores the tensions between the old and new world Mexico. Lara Zavala was awarded Mexico City’s prestigious 2009 Elena Poniatowska Ibero-American Prize for this work and has garnered praise for his treatment of a taboo topic.
To support a translation of Manzoor Ahtesham’s Hindi novel The Tale of the Missing Man. Ahtesham has been publishing fiction for more than three decades and has won many of the top literary prizes in his native India. This is his third novel, published in 1995, which playfully explores what it means to be Muslim in post-colonial India.
To support a translation from the Yiddish of Chassidim Re-tell, a collection of Chassidic tales by Rabbi Tovia Halberstam. These authentic folktales give the reader entry into Chassidim culture through its storytelling tradition. They reintroduce readers to the original, full-length tales, which are mostly only available in American culture through anecdotes or extended sayings. Rabbi Halberstam, a master Chassidic storyteller and the translator’s father, emigrated from Poland in the 1920s and published a series of these tales in Yiddish newspapers and broadcast them on a popular radio program in the 1950s. Sixteen years after the Rabbi’s death, Halberstam discovered the handwritten manuscripts used for the radio program in his mother’s house.
To support the translation from the Arabic of Closing His Eyes, a collection of short stories by Iraqi prose writer and critic Luay Hamza Abbas. Published in 2008, Closing His Eyes is the fourth collection of stories from Abbas. Two of the 17 stories in this collection have been selected for publication in five different languages. The title story, “Closing His Eyes,” was selected for the 2006 Kikah Best Short Story Award in London. Abbas’s work is known for its unique, individualized perspective on the treatment of the themes of violence, identity, and authoritarianism.
To support the translation from the Russian of selections from the memoir How Much Is a Person Worth? by Eufrosinia Kersnovskaia (1907-94). After Kersnovskaia’s escape from a labor camp in Siberia, she traveled 900 miles through the Siberian taiga on foot, only to be captured and sent to the Gulag for 10 years where she worked as a swineherd, medical assistant, morgue attendant, and miner. Her handwritten journals and illustrations first appeared in print in a popular Soviet magazine in the early 1990s. Due to her photographic memory and vivid, ironic writing, her essays are important additions to the works about this era in Russian history.
To support the translation from the Hebrew of Reality Crumbs, a collection of Raquel Chalfi’s poetry. This collection will draw from Chalfi’s 10 volumes of poetry, representing 35 years of her work, including Solar Plexus, Poems 1975-1999 (2002), Secret Details from the Transparent Binder (2007), and Witches (2009). Her Tel Aviv-based poems have carved a niche in the contemporary Hebrew poetry scene. This would be the first collection by Chalfi to be published in this country.
To support the translation of Steel and Flesh: Korean Stories 1945-48, an anthology of prose from North and South Korea. The project is the first of a three-volume series titled The Land Also Rises: Stories from the Korean War and Division. Steel and Flesh incorporates the post-liberation, pre-war period during which Korea was portioned and occupied by Soviet and U.S. forces. The work includes a range of authors, both well-known Korean writers as well as those whose work has rarely been available in English.
To support the translation of the 1934 Lithuanian novel Frank Kruk by Petras Cvirka (1909-47). Cvirka’s fame as a writer and social realist came posthumously during the Soviet era; there are numerous books about him, as well as documentaries, streets in his name, a postage stamp with his picture, a statue, and a museum on the site of his birthplace. Frank Kruk, his first novel, is a comic tale told in two volumes of the adventures of an immigrant to the United States and then his life after he returns to his home country. The novel is considered a classic because of its humane and humorous treatment of perennial themes of immigration and corruption.
To support the retranslation from the Ancient Greek of the epic 6,000-line poem “Argonautika” by Apollonius of Rhodes. The poem narrates the famous quest of Jason and the Argonauts to recover the Golden Fleece, complete with murder, monsters, magic, and heroism. The project will reintroduce the formal elements and sound of the original – aspects missing in existing 20th-century translations.
To support the translation from the Spanish of Woman in Battle Dress, a historical novel by Cuban writer Antonio Benítez Rojo. Published in 2001, this epic novel re-imagines the story of Henriette Faber, a 19th-century woman who posed as a man to attend medical school and work as a doctor during the Napoleonic wars. After immigrating to Cuba, Faber’s secret was discovered when she was prosecuted during a sensational trial for marrying another woman. She was exiled from Cuba in 1827.
John Galbraith Simmons
To support the translation of the French novel Aline and Valcour by Marquis de Sade. Composed while Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille and published in 1795 during the French Revolution, this 600-page epistolary novel is replete with Sade’s black humor, unique philosophy, and original thought. It consists of three interrelated stories that include unrequited love, perilous journeys to Africa and the South Seas Islands, and utopian and dystopian interludes. Only a few pages have ever been translated into English.
To support the translation of Black Olive Tree and Other Zapotec Poems by Mexican poet Natalia Toledo. Toledo is the first female poet whose work is written in both Zapotec, the language indigenous to the Juchitán region in Mexico, and Spanish. Her direct, visually inspired writing evokes the traditions and mythology of the region. This project is a rare instance of literature translated directly from Zapotec to English, demonstrating the contemporary nature of Isthmus Zapotec writing, unique among indigenous cultures.
To support the translation from the French of Paper Collage, a collection of essays and personal narratives by Georges Perros. These three volumes were published in 1960, 1973, and 1978 and include essays, short narratives, and original maxims for which Perros was famous. Perros’s work includes recurring themes of love, solitude, daily life, writing, death, and mostly atheistic meditations on the existence of God.
To support the translation from the Spanish of Legends of Guatemala, a collection of eight tales and myths by Nobel Laureate Miguel Ángel Asturias. Asturias is among the first to recover the Mayan heritage and cultural identity of Guatemala for world literature. He is best known for exploring indigenous perspectives using surrealistic and experimental prose styles and undercurrents of social protests. Written in 1930, Legends of Guatemala is his first major work. Only three of the tales have been translated into English. This translation will highlight the oral and poetic nature of the tales.
This is one of my favorite NEA programs, and it really makes my day to see Esther, Edward, John Taylor, Elizabeth, Jason, Sean, and Robert all on this list. Congrats to everyone, and I’m looking forward to reading a number of these books when they are finally translated and published.
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .