PEN America is delighted to announce the recipients of the 2019 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants and the winner of the PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature. Now in its sixteenth year, the PEN/Heim Translation Fund awards grants to promote the publication and reception of translated world literature in English. It was established in the summer of 2003 by a gift from Priscilla and Michael Henry Heim in response to the dismayingly low number of literary translations appearing in English.

The Translation Fund received a large number of applications this year—237 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, Katie Dublinski, Ben Moser, Mary Ann Newman, Alta Price, Jenny Wang Medina, Max Weiss, Natasha Wimmer, and Board Chair Samantha Schnee—has selected 10 projects, spanning 8 different languages, including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Indonesian, Chinese, Danish, and Hungarian. Of the winning translations, 64 percent are by female translators, and 45 percent are translations of books written by female authors.

Each project will receive a grant of $3,500 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 10 grantees and the winner of the Italian Literature grant can be found below. 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.

“Since 2003, the PEN Heim Translation Fund has built a strong legacy of support for translators and their projects, with over 180 translations supported to date. Michael Henry Heim, whose generosity made the grants possible and who oversaw the jury’s work in the early years of the grant, would be incredibly proud of this year’s outstanding crop of winning proposals, a group of vibrant and necessary texts from ten nations on four continents, including poetry, essays, and fiction.” – Samantha Schnee

Bruna Dantas Lobato’s translation from the Portuguese of Moldy Strawberries: Stories by Caio Fernando Abreu

Original Language: Portuguese / Publication Rights: Available for publication

As Brazil slips into nostalgia for dictatorship with a president-elect who praises torturers and mocks LGBT people, Caio Fernando Abreu’s work stands as a powerful reminder of the last time that happened, and of the tight connection between tyranny and homophobia. In Bruna Dantas Lobato’s translation, Moldy Strawberries passes the microphone to the people on the other side of power: the junkies, failed revolutionaries, beggars, and drag queens who, at times like these, have the most to lose. Told by one of Brazil’s greatest gay writers, this book unfurls in long, elegant sentences, evoking the inner lives of people this society—like so many others—too often prefers to forget.

From Moldy Strawberries:
So frigid my legs and my arms and my face that I thought of opening the bottle to have a sip, but I didn’t want to arrive at his house half drunk, breath stinking, I didn’t want him to think that I’d been drinking, and I had been, every day a good excuse, and I was also thinking that he would think I had no money, arriving on foot in all that rain, and I had none, stomach aching with hunger, and I didn’t want him to think I’d been an insomniac, and I had been, purple circles under my eyes, I would have to be careful with my lower lip when smiling, if I smiled, and I almost certainly would, when I saw him, so that he wouldn’t see the broken tooth and think I’d been letting myself go, and I had been, not going to the dentist, and I had been, and all I’d been doing and being that I didn’t want him to see or know, but after thinking about it brought me such a distaste because I was realizing, inside the rain, that maybe I didn’t want him to know that I was me, and I was.

Stephen Epstein’s translation from the Indonesian of The Wandering: Choose Your Own Red Shoes Adventure by Intan Paramaditha

Original Language: Indonesian / Publication Rights: Available for publication

Intan Paramaditha is a wicked feminist writer in the very best sense possible. The Wandering: Choose Your Own Red Shoes Adventure is the Indonesian author’s first full-length novel, and was selected as the Best Literary Work for Prose Fiction by Tempo magazine in 2017. The novel is simultaneously unnerving and yet oddly familiar from the outset. Paramaditha establishes a rapport with the reader through a second person narrative that invites us to wander through worlds of myth, horror, and fantasy that progressively dismantle our perception of geographic and cultural boundaries.

The Wandering is the second collaboration between Paramaditha and Stephen Epstein, who translated her short story collection Apple and Knife. Epstein’s translation vividly captures the divergent voices and narrative styles that make up this wonderfully inventive novel.

From The Wandering: Choose Your Own Red Shoes Adventure:
You believe some places can lure people to suicide. Reading informs you that such spots are beautiful and bewitching: the river Seine, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Jakarta—so hot, so arid, so . . . ugly, its face too foul for dangerous enchantment. But that is where you live, in a city full of thwarted suicidal urges.

You can’t move. Perhaps this is what it means to be possessed by the devil. On those earlier nights, you had closed your eyes and prayed to anyone who would listen. You would count, hoping your life would change when you reached three. But nothing changed. You would be overcome with rage, challenge the universe. If a demon wanted to devour you, so be it—at least it might rescue you from boredom.

Maybe demons need an explicit invitation. You go to bed naked, and start your count. Before you reach three, the light in your room flickers and goes out. The window of your room opens.

And there he stands, at the foot of your bed.

Misha Hoekstra’s translation from the Danish of New Passengers by Tine Høeg

Original Language: Danish / Publication Rights: Available for publication

A brilliantly original novel in verse, New Passengers tells the story, taut and well-crafted, of a young woman’s disorientation and search for her adult self. The “new passengers” of this literary debut are the nameless protagonist and the married man she starts a turbulent affair with on the train. The daily commute takes her to her first teaching job, at a high school where she identifies more with the students than with the other teachers.

In his masterful translation, Misha Hoekstra has captured the complex shifts and nuances of Tine Høeg’s unique poetic style, her sense of timing, and her humor, bringing to English one of Denmark’s most compelling new voices.

From New Passengers:
I’ve bought a monthly pass

gotten a new name

a teacher’s name

compounded of four letters
from my first and last

I’ve gotten the code to the high school network
which changes every six months according to the principle

summer16 winter16 summer17 winter17

I’m entered
into systems

Lucas Klein’s translation from the Chinese of Words as Grains: New and Selected Poems of Duo Duo

Original Language: Chinese / Publication Rights: Not Available 

Duo Duo is one of China’s most important, influential, and interesting contemporary poets. He began writing in the early 70s and came to prominence in the 80s, winning the Jintian Poetry Prize in 1988. His early work, like that of other cutting-edge poets who emerged after the Cultural Revolution, was labeled as obscure. He went into exile in 1989 and returned to China in 2004. His work has continued to evolve over the years, “remaking language with remade tools.” Lucas Klein has made a new selection from Duo Duo’s oeuvre, covering the years 1972-2017. Fidelity to the original goes hand-in-hand with an unwavering poetic sensibility in these fine translations. 

“Delusion is the Master of Reality”
and we, we are birds touching lip to lip
in the story of time
undertaking our final division
from man

the key turns in the ear
the shadows have left us
the key keeps turning
birds are reduced to people
people unacquainted with birds


Simon Leser’s translation from the French of Of Our Wounded Brothers by Joseph Andras

Original Language: French / Publication Rights: Available for publication

Set during the Algerian War, Andras’s novel tells the true story of Fernand Iveton, an Algerian-French factory worker sentenced to death and guillotined in 1957 for a principled act of political sabotage. This is the rare political novel in which the political and artistic elements are not kept side by side, but entirely fused. Andras (who writes under a pen name) is himself no stranger to symbolic acts. He was awarded the 2016 Prix Goncourt but turned it down three days later, unleashing a minor media frenzy.

In Leser’s crisp, lyrical translation, Of Our Wounded Brothers ticks like the time bomb at its heart, giving voice to Iveton and his wife, Hélène, and throwing the tragedy of the Algerian struggle into sharp relief.

From Of Our Wounded Brothers:
Not a proud and forthright rain, no. A stingy rain. Mean. Playing dirty. Fernand is waiting eight to ten feet from the paved road, sheltered under a cedar tree. They’d said half past one in the afternoon. Four minutes to go. That’s right, one thirty. How unbearable, this sly rain, no courage even to pour in real drops: just a petty drip, barely enough to wet the back of your neck and get away with it. Three minutes. Fernand’s eyes are fixed on his watch. A car passes by. Is that it? The vehicle does not stop. Four minutes late. Nothing serious, let’s hope.

Emma Lloyd’s translation from the Spanish of Of Pearls and Scars by Pedro Lemebel

Original Language: Spanish / Publication Rights: Available for publication

Young, talented translator Emma Lloyd brings us a vibrant rendition of Pedro Lemebel’s short pieces originally composed for his radio show in Chile, which aired when the country was transitioning from dictatorship to democracy. The encounter in this work between literature and history, where private dramas are shown to constitute the national drama of dictatorship and resistance, sets Lemebel’s writing alight with urgency, poetry, and intensity. There will likely never be any significant judicial consequence in Chile or elsewhere for the majority of the crimes narrated in the collection. And so Of Pearls and Scars shoulders an extrajudicial role: to remember, to expose, to censure; in short, to put Chile and the world on trial.

From Of Pearls and Scars:
“ . . . at the center of it all was Señora Barrenechea, clanging nimbly through the room, filling up little baskets stamped with the national seal, and at her pleasant, snobbish step in fell the trinkets of gold, platinum, emerald, and ruby. In her familiar, posh manner, she evoked Eva Perón as she yanked the jewels from the necks of those who did not want to give them up. “Oh, Pochy, you didn’t like the coup d’état? You didn’t toast the junta with champagne on the eleventh? Then bring that little ring over here: on you it just looks like a wart on an arthritic finger. Bring out that pearl necklace, querida, that same one that you’re hiding beneath your blouse. Give to the cause, Pelusa Larraín.”

Ottilie Mulzet’s translation from the Hungarian of Gábor Schein’s Swedish (2nd, revised edition)

Original Language: Hungarian / Publication Rights: Available for publication

In 1956, a child is adopted from a Viennese refugee camp. Almost five decades later, the boy’s Swedish adoptive father asks a Hungarian doctor to help him piece together a narrative riven with erasure. At once resolutely contemporary and strikingly pre-Modernist, the novel probes the nature of existence without memory and navigates the treacherous currents of 20th and 21st century Hungarian history. Its deliberate pursuit of objectivity and distance in the face of repeated trauma is matched by the jewel-like precision of Mulzet’s translation.

From Swedish:
Ten days before his death, Mr. Grönewald sent a message to Dr. Bíró to get on a plane and—without giving her any indication of the goal of this journey—to come and see him immediately. He would, of course, cover the cost of her accommodation, and reimburse any losses incurred by the two-day trip. As for his reasons for obligating her to this urgent journey, he announced that the professor of the internal clinic of the K— Hospital, his good friend now for many decades, had diagnosed a dramatic change in his condition. Surgery was out of the question and chemotherapy would make no sense; the tumor allowed him only to choose between various forms of pain relief.

Catherine Nelson’s translation from the Spanish of Tea Rooms: Working Women by Luisa Carnés

Original Language: Spanish / Publication Rights: Available for publication

Born in Madrid in 1905, Luisa Carnés was heralded as one of the most important writers of pre-Civil War Spain. Tea Rooms: Working Women was first published to literary acclaim in 1934. Luisa Carnés’s innovative style combined narrative, lyricism, reportage, catalog, and socio-political commentary, as her undeniably feminist voice exposed the precarious vulnerability of working class women. Exiled following the Civil War, Carnés is now being rediscovered by a new audience. Catherine Nelson’s translation captures both the period feel and the freshness of Luisa Carnés’s language, rendering her kaleidoscopic voices with precision and verve.

From Tea Rooms: Working Women:
Matilda has met many job-seekers like her. And many just the opposite: young, clean, svelte, perfumed, with soft hands and manicured nails. Some are timid, stammer when they speak, and sit in the waiting room with their feet hidden under the bench or chair. Others burst triumphantly into the room, cross one leg over the other and talk about fantastic salaries while name-dropping important employers. Sometimes they even smoke a cigarette. Cold waiting rooms. Women of all ages and sizes. Worn-out shoes tucked under benches; stylish shoes adorn crossed legs. “Next.” Upon hearing this, broken heels hurry recklessly, while stylish shoes punctuate deliberate, graceful steps.

Julia Powers’s translation from the Portuguese of Selected Poems of Hilda Hilst

Original Language: Portuguese / Publication Rights: Available for publication

Few Brazilian writers have enjoyed a posthumous revival comparable to Hilda Hilst’s. Since her death in 2004, she has emerged as a powerful novelist and story writer, and several of her books have been translated abroad. Now, in Julia Powers’s selection, her poetry, which many believe is the best facet of her work, is available in English for the first time. Spanning 20 years of Hilst’s life, these poems entwine, in Powers’s words, “the erotic, the absurd, the morbid and the sacred, [wielding] a broad array of registers with pathos and humor, often in the span of a single sentence.”
From “Ten Overtures to the Beloved”:
If you find me nocturnal and flawed
Look again. Because tonight
I looked at me as though you were looking.
And it was like water

To slip from its home in the river
Without even touching the bank.

I looked at you. I’ve known for so long
That I’m land. For so long
I’ve prayed
Your body of water most fraternal
Would stretch out over mine. Shepherd and sailor

Look again. Less loftiness.
More care.

Lara Vergnaud’s translation from the French of The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai

Original Language: French / Publication Rights: Available for publication

In Yamen Manai’s prizewinning third novel, the devastation of a beekeeper’s hive by a hornet attack serves as a microcosm for the aftermath of Tunisia’s 2011 Jasmine Revolution. This absorbing contemporary fable, which Lara Vergnaud has rendered in a lucid and sensitive translation, vividly portrays the complicated and destabilizing arrival of democracy in a rural village. Rich with apicultural detail, wry humor, and compelling characters, The Ardent Swarm is a memorable and significant novel.

From The Ardent Swarm:
That night, Sidi didn’t get any sleep. Before sitting down on his veranda, which offered an uninterrupted view of the entire hillside, he had visited his hives, lifting up their roofs one by one and thanks to a small sliver of moonlight, observing their many, countless occupants as they slept. He visited the destroyed hive last, his heart sinking as he approached it. That very morning, he had discovered the bodies of thirty thousand of his bees at the foot of the wooden structure. Most of them ripped to pieces. Thirty thousand bees. Workers. Foragers. Guards. The heart of the hive wasn’t spared either. This evil had no limit and had crept as far as the sacred quarters. The cells were desecrated, the caps torn, and the larvae ripped from the warmth of their cocoons. Not one drop of honey was left. It was all gone, as if it had been drunk with a straw. And amid the wreckage, the queen. Lethally wounded, legs turned toward the sky as in a final prayer. An entire colony destroyed and pillaged in less than two hours time—a massacre. 

Hope Campbell Gustafson’s translation from the Italian of The Commander of the River by Ubah Cristina Ali Farah

Original Language: Italian / Publication Rights: Available for publication

Hope Campbell Gustafson for her translation of Ubah Cristina Ali Farah’s The Commander of the River, a postcolonial coming-of-age story about Yabar, an 18-year-old Somali-Italian coming to terms with his identity.

Originally published in 2014, The Commander of the River gives voice to the first generation of Somalis to emigrate following the start of civil war in 1991. The teenage narrator grapples with racism, the trauma of war, the absence of his father, and the silence of his mother. As Yabar exhumes secrets from his family’s and nations’ past, his reflections cast light on the lived experiences of colonialism, terrorism, fascism, religious biases, and the interactions of peoples, cultures, and languages.

The novel inventively reworks a creation story centered on Somalia’s two main rivers, transposing the tale to Rome’s Tiber River. Yabar and the commander of the book’s title share the same name, and both discover that goodness inevitably lives alongside evil. The author’s rooting in oral tradition sublimates into a slow-building, non-chronological, suspenseful interweaving of legends, dreamscapes, highly visual prose, and contemporary dialogue. Placing the reader squarely between cultures, the story leverages complex historical links between Somalia and Italy to encapsulate the constantly changing social and cultural conditions in which they’ve resulted.

Hope Campbell Gustafson’s strong translation brings this prizewinning author’s unusual, first-hand narrative of displacement to English-language readers at an opportune time.

From The Commander of the River:
War changes people, their relationships—no one comes out unharmed. Zia Rosa and mama made an alliance and raised us on stories and songs. Fables aren’t all that different from real life. It’s the river commander’s duty to protect the people of the village from the crocodiles and, to do so, he can only rely on his ability to distinguish good from evil. Will he succeed in this extremely difficult role? After everything I’ve gotten into, I’ll admit that, deep down, I knew all too well how everything had unfolded. It’s one thing to sense the truth, another to say it out loud . . . . Sissi didn’t understand, or didn’t want to understand, that brotherly love isn’t enough to make a color, because color is what others see—it’s not what you see, what you feel, and no fairytale, no song, no friendship can change the color that others see. That’s why I can say “Heil!” but Sissi can’t even pronounce it. “Heil!” is not taboo for me, because I myself am the taboo, and it’s my color, here, in this city, along this river, that’s a taboo.