2018 PEN/HEIM TRANSLATION FUND GRANTS
PEN America is delighted to announce the recipients of the 2018 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants and the winner of the PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature. The Translation Fund, now celebrating its fifteenth year, received a large number of applications this year—177 in total—from a wide array of languages of origin, genres, and time periods. From this vast field of applicants, the Fund’s Advisory Board—John Balcom, Peter Constantine, Tynan Kogane, Allison Markin Powell, Fiona McCrae, Mary Ann Newman, Antonio Romani, Chip Rossetti, Ross Ufberg, Natasha Wimmer, and Board Chair Samantha Schnee—has selected 12 projects, spanning 13 different languages, including Japanese, Arabic, Korean, Farsi/Persian, Yiddish, and more.
Each project will receive a grant of $2,800 to assist in its completion, and the winner of the Italian Literature grant will receive a $5,000 grant. More information on each of the 12 grantees and the winner of the Italian literature grant can be found below. All of this year’s winning projects are available for publication. Publishers and editors who wish to express an interest in any of these projects are invited to contact PEN Literary Awards at [email protected] for the translators’ contact information.
2018 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Recipients
Janine Beichman for her selection and translation from the Japanese of The Essential Yosano Akiko: The Ripening Years:
This compilation of poems from fifteen poetry collections published between 1904 and 1919 moves beyond Yosano’s celebrated debut, Tangled Hair; in these selections Beichman showcases the poet’s astonishing and less well-known development as a writer and the boldness with which she plunged into formerly taboo subjects, such as childbirth, the nitty-gritty of married life, and political satire. The works included in The Essential Yosano Akiko use the spare and sometimes hermetic language of poetry to narrate the emotional and spiritual life of a woman who was at the center of Japanese cultural life and a major participant in the resurgent feminism of the early 20th century.
From “Sleeping Alone”
My good husband away,
what shall I wear to sleep in alone?
The sober nightdress all Japanese women
wear is dreary,
a shape for outcasts, a sketch of Death,
too dull even for the children.
No, I’ll wear silk crepe
dyed the red blush of dawn,
a kimono robe that touches the
skin like heavy mist falls on
flowers, and makes me glad,
each time I wear it, that I was
born a woman
Alexander Dickow, for his powerful, lyrical translation from the French of Sylvie Kandé’s Neverending Quest for the Other Shore: An Epic in Three Cantos:
Sylvie Kandé’s Neverending Quest For the Other Shore: an Epic in Three Cantos fully revives the genre of the heroic verse narrative. This “neo-epic” spans an astonishing range of registers and styles, from contemporary slang to medieval heraldic terminology, to craft verse of genuinely epic intensity. The narrative brilliantly combines the tale of Abubakar II, who sailed with a great company of ships to find the edge of the world, with that of the risky present-day voyages of clandestine migrants from Africa to the shores of Europe, reflecting the “grandeur and misery” intertwined in every human life.
From Neverending Quest for the Other Shore: An Epic in Three Cantos:
Ever since they row songless no heave-ho
For how long . . . to know . . . how many seasons
how many island mirages the wind will sow
did they row past pitch-drunk and swollen with spindrift
A foggy memory of what-it-is-to-have-one’s-feet-on-the-ground
and eyelids fluttering
they heed nothing at present but the wave that goes
These peasants made themselves belated sailors
their bodies cadence them
to cleave with the oar’s tainted tip
the purple mounds of the great salt savannah
which no furrow marks
where no seed takes root
(But to say the sea
earthly words were little suited)
Emily Drumsta for her translation from the Arabic of Revolt Against the Sun, a compilation of poems by the pioneering Iraqi poet Nazik al-Malaika:
Iraq’s most prominent woman poet, al-Malaika (1923-2007) was a leader of the “free verse” movement that modernized Arabic poetry and meter. In her fresh translations, Drumsta draws on the history of English verse to find echoes and analogues to this formally innovative Arabic verse.
From “Revolt Against the Sun”
You’re nothing but a ghost, splendor’s pretense.
I’ll build a heaven out of hidden hopes
and live without your luminosity.
We dreamers know that deep within our souls
there lie secrets, a lost eternity.
Lindy Falk van Rooyen for her translation of contemporary Danish writer Mich Vraa’s Hope:
Set in the period from 1787 to 1825, Hope tells the intertwined tales of a Danish humanist commissioned to report on the slave trade in the former Danish West Indies, and a fifteen-year-old girl conceived during a mutiny on the slave ship “The Hope.” Comprised of fictional historical documents—letters, extracts from manuscripts, log-book entries, and diaries—this novel examines a significant period of Danish colonial history, and its thematic resonance in contemporary political and social issues.
Despite the depth of my appreciation, my willingness to understand – if not excuse – the circumstances motivating his actions, a point of disagreement continues to plague my relationship with Marcussen. It pains me, for, on the whole, I am very fond of the man.
A few days a week I am invited to dine at the main house. Other guests have also been invited to Solitude from time to time, but rarely in any number that could warrant a veritable dinner party. The food is always delicious and exquisitely prepared. I suspect that Marcussen’s predilection for exotic dishes encourages his house slaves to demonstrate their culinary skills; they take pride in using home-grown raw ingredients, many of which, I’m told, are similar to those used in African kitchens.
Bruce Fulton and Ju-Chan Fulton for their fine translation from the Korean of One Left, a novel by Sum Kim, published in 2016:
Sum Kim’s important novel is the first Korean novel devoted exclusively to the subject of comfort women. During World War II 200,000 Korean girls, ages 12-16 were forced into sexual servitude to the Japanese forces. It is estimated that only 20,000 survived, and of those only 238 ever went public, beginning in the 1990s, fifty years after the war. Today, only 37 of them are still alive. Sum Kim’s traumatic novel is centered around a single comfort woman, now 93 years old and unmarried, who has lived through 80 years of nightmarish memories, suffering and shame. The woman, identified only as “she” in the narrative has never gone public. Conscripted when she was thirteen, she ends up as a sex slave in a “comfort station” in Manchuria. After the war she makes her way back to Korea, but remains silent about her experiences, never even informing her family.
The comfort station in Manchuria was a living hell. Even if you wanted to hang yourself, there wasn’t a single tree fit for the purpose. Out on the plains there were only scrub oaks and husk-like shrubs poking up here and there. You had to go high up in the hills to find trees worthy of the name. Four long days of walking across the highest of the high hills would get you to Soviet land.
And so the girls would kill themselves through blood loss while consuming opium. Knowing that if they cut their finger and sucked long enough to get the blood flowing, they would go to sleep on the opium and never wake up.
Kisuk ŏnni had died like that, her blood-caked teeth looking like pomegranate kernels.
Back in her ancestral home of Miryang, Kisuk ŏnni had worked at a cotton-gin operation run by the Japanese. You put the cotton bolls from the field into the gin and it separated the cotton from the seeds. Kisuk ŏnni said she had seen a man get dragged into the machine by his hair.
Michael Gluck, for his agile and energetic translation from the Russian of Matisse by Alexander Ilichevsky:
Matisse hearkens back to the great 19th century Russian philosophical novels, with great yarns spun by unsavory characters that sparkle with the language of the heavens and the language of the streets (literally—the protagonist is a theoretical physicist who abandons his former life to be a bum). Ilichevsky masters various registers to show us the many sides of life in contemporary Russia.
One day at the end of the season they – the three young drifters – sat down to a full table after steaming in the banya earlier. Their host had had too much to drink and staked his wife. She wore a black bonnet, waited on them, thin, middle-aged. Her features suddenly froze, her gaze fixed on the unthinkable, not uttering a sound. When he’d finished drinking, Kolyanych, embarrassed, went after her, while the host went over to the other two. With a rifle. He dropped his pants and pointed the barrel. Staggering, he rested the butt of the gun against his head, his mouth open, a thick tongue tossing and turning inside, tormented. They barely had time to defend themselves. Luckily, hobbled by his pants, he shot and missed, putting a hole in the roof and blowing the shed door off its hinges. So they split, stumbling over ravines, avoiding dogs, in darkness, until, at dawn, they reached the sea and from there hitchhiked to Novoross. And that’s how Vadya ended up without a passport. One of the many woes of perestroika – fugitives from all over. It never occurred to him to get another ID. It was only when he was in danger of losing his life that he would bother to do something about it, to put up any kind of a struggle. And even then – not much.
Mariam Rahmani for her translation from the Farsi of Mahsa Mohebali’s Don’t Worry:
This novel, published in 2008, follows a wealthy, disillusioned junkie as she makes her away through Tehran on a day punctuated by earthquakes. Offering a fresh view of Iran’s counterculture, from skater boys with Afros to a queer, gender-fluid protagonist, this award-winning Iranian novel, in Rahmani’s fluid translation, offers an eye-opening representation of contemporary Tehran to Anglophone readers.
I’m speechless. I can’t believe Sara has a stash.
“You’ve been in withdrawal before?”
She sits cross-legged on the cushion and puts the ball on a pin.
“No… But it doesn’t hurt for a rainy day.”
She gives a little laugh and winks. I lay my head on a pillow and take the bubbling pipe between my teeth… What a dream, looking at your face from down here. She applies the nail, I hold in the smoke, I close my eyes. I want to absorb it with all the cells of my body.
Aaron Robertson for his spirited translation from the Italian of a provocative and expansive contemporary novel by Igiaba Scego, an Italian-Somali writer from Rome:
Beyond Babylon is an intergenerational novel that explores the aftershocks of Italy’s colonial intervention in North Africa and the years leading up to Somalia’s civil war, the horrific ‘dirty war’ of Argentina during the 1970s, and contemporary life in the multiethnic metropoles of Rome and Tunis. A wide cast of characters reflects the nature of social memory as they narrate their stories of violence, disappearance, and survival.
I was splendid in my improvised athletic wear. I’d fixed a pair of knee pads. I lined my hips with rags to soften the falls and I wore the hat of a true pro. I didn’t make many saves in that game. We were better than our opponents. I fired up my teammates. Then, I don’t know when, mother appeared. She stood in the middle of the field. No one dared say anything to her. She came towards me and, like in the worst comic strips, she took me by the ear. She pulled me away and said, “Haven’t you realized that she’s a girl?”
Julia Sanches for her translation from the Spanish of Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández:
Although Hernández hails from El Salvador, this direct and unsensationalized novel about a nameless woman’s post-war struggles to secure a better life for herself and her daughters is set in a nameless country. Of Slash and Burn, Mexican author Yuri Herrera (who has called Claudia Hernández “one of our language’s greatest writers”) says, “Claudia Hernández’s writing is the controlled breathing of someone who knows that memory is just another battleground. Claudia Hernández, like her protagonists—women who are clear-eyed and tough—knows how to traverse them.”
When she turned fourteen, three men came for her at her maternal grandmother’s house, with guns. They said her father had sent them to tell her he was ill, near death, and that he wanted to see her. They would take her to him.
She recognized one of them, even though he’d shaved his head and his features had hardened since the last time she saw him: a year earlier, he’d been in one of the many camps her father had visited. She’d never seen the others, but could place them from the description she’d heard from one of her neighbors. Just three days ago her neighbor had warned her to leave and hide in the hills or in the gorges because there were three guerrillas with rifles wandering the area and raping any woman they found. They raped me then asked me where you lived, she said. They asked and I had to tell them.
Jamie Lee Searle for her translation from the German of Valerie Fritsch’s novel Winter’s Garden:
This masterful translation of the young Austrian poet and prose writer’s prize-winning novel brilliantly captures its complexity, originality, and stylistic tour-de-force. Winter’s Garden brings together a fascinating juxtaposition of utopia and dystopia, mixing the idyllic with the apocalyptic. It is a short novel of epic proportions praised by the German press for its stylistic innovations, which Jamie Lee Searle has successfully recreated in English.
By the time Anton Winter came into the world, the original founding community had long since unravelled and dwindled to become a confusing extended family, the product of past love affairs, who had remained loyal to the garden. They still cultivated one or two fields and tended to the herb garden and orchard, but many worked in the coastal city, a place which, to the children, seemed very far away. Those who couldn’t make a living from farming drove the hour-long journey to the city, day after day, until the mountains shrunk behind them, the meadows turned into a mesh of streets and the uneven ground vanished into restless water.
Brian Sneeden for his excellent translation from the Greek of Phoebe Giannisi’s poetry collection, Rhapsodia:
Sneeden’s lyrical translations bring the music of Giannisi’s poetry to life with new vividness, guiding the reader along the boundaries between myth and identity, language and the body. Larger in scope than the poet’s English debut, Homerica, this collection explores the themes of selfhood and otherness, testing the limits of the lyric “I” through history, place, and time.
Do the wings itch as they sprout?
When from the belly’s opening
you first raised your head
and pushing from the pain
sprang into the light
to cry out,
were your eyes open?
Did you listen to their words
as they held, gently
your contorted body
gathered, legs tucked
and the day warm?
A woman giving birth
on the floor of her car—
is each growth
painful as the first?
Ri J. Turner for her moving translation from the Yiddish of Fischel Schneerson’s seminal novel, Chaim Gravitzer:
Chaim Gravitzer is an epic of Eastern European Chasidic life, written over nearly twenty years by Schneerson, himself an initiate in the world of Chasidism and a secular psychologist. With its rare combination of tenderness, talent, and critical insight about Jewish social and spiritual life, the novel has remained relevant since it first saw the light. For the first time, English readers will have the opportunity to enjoy this important work of Yiddish literature, in Turner’s sensitive and intelligent translation.
The Little Rebbe was a tall young man with a narrow childish face, clear blue eyes and an inchoate beard. His glossy black sidelocks curled decoratively at each temple. Not only the velvet fedora and long caftan, but also his gestures and mannerisms identified him as a Hasid, a native of the Rebbe’s court. With his hands pulled into his sleeves, he bent deeply over his tractate and sang out the words with great devotion. During prayers, he had a tendency to hum and croon nonsense syllables. While the other boys did not hesitate to laugh at his Hasidic quirks, they soon found themselves touched by his gentle faith. His mind was sharp and his memory terrific. He had memorized hundreds of pages of the Talmud, along with their respective commentaries. Reb Hirsch Leib favored him especially.
The PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature
Jeanne Bonner for her brilliant translation of A Walk in the Shadows, by Mariateresa Di Lascia:
Winner in 1995, after the author’s death, of the Premio Strega (the most important Italian literary award), translated into German, French, Spanish and several other languages, this novel has finally found its way into English. Through Bonner’s scrupulous and effective translation, Di Lascia’s rich descriptive prose guides the reader on a passionate “walk in the shadows” of women’s lives in a village of the Italian deep South, where the protagonist is retracing significant moments of her life and seeking “the genesis of all of the deceptions.” With her own peculiarities, Di Lascia has been compared to Elsa Morante, and her work is also said to recall that of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the Italian classic The Leopard.
In the house where I have stayed after everyone left and silence finally descended, I drag myself around lazily, covered in dust and wearing my old clothes. Piled high against the wall are boxes bursting with cloth that I bought at sweaty Friday flea markets. I’m now free not to miss any of those markets, and when I go, I have the whole morning to roam among the stands and ransack with both hands the colorful, dirty fabrics that someone, who will remain forever unknown to me, wore many years ago…
Now that old age is approaching and I’ve stopped bleeding early without explanation, my humble appearance and the wrinkles that are late in coming protect me even more than the slovenly clothing that covers my body. Dressed up like this, ageless and sexless, I can finally laugh off the world.
It wasn’t always this way.