Burton Watson 

The PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation is given every three years to a translator whose career has demonstrated a commitment to excellence through the body of his or her work.

The winner is chosen by a sub-committee of the PEN America Translation Committee

From the Committee’s Citation

Burton Watson is the inventor of classical East Asian poetry for our time. Much has been made of Pound’s “invention” of Chinese poetry a hundred years ago, but it took the better part of a century for that invention to be embodied in practice. Watson, above all, was the one to reinvent the invention by unifying the precision of description in classical Chinese and Japanese with the precision of possibility in English, in translations—of Ssu-ma Hsiang-ju, of Tu Fu, of Su Tung-p’o, of Saigyō Hōshi, of Lu Yu, of Ryōkan Taigu—that are precise both in terms of their scholarship and in their poetic detail. Not that Watson is only a translator of poetry: he has made Bronze Age Chinese philosophy, medieval Japanese sagas, sūtras originating in Sanskrit, and modern Japanese scholarship on Chinese literary history as accessible to readers of English as Herodotus, Livy, and Johnson had been for generations. For decades his anthologies and his scholarly introductions have defined classical East Asian literature for students and readers in North America, and we have reason to expect more: even at his advanced age, he still translates nearly daily. Upon receiving the news that he had been awarded the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, Watson wrote back, “It will be an inspiration for me for the future.” Watson’s work, meanwhile, will continue to inspire us for the future, as well.”

Past Winners

Gregory Rabassa, Richard Howard, Ralph Manheim, William Weaver, Richard Wilbur, Robert Fagles, Edmund Keeley, Donald Keene, Edith Grossman, Michael Henry Heim, and Margaret Sayers Peden.

Click here for additional information, including submission guidelines, for the award.