PEN America is delighted to announce the recipients of the 2017 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants and the inaugural winner of the PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature. The Translation Fund, now celebrating its fourteenth year, received a record number of applications this year—224 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—Tynan Kogane, Edna McCown*, Fiona McCrae, Canaan Morse, Idra Novey, Allison Markin Powell, Antonio Romani, Chip Rossetti, Shabnam Nadiya, and Ross Ufberg —has selected 15 projects, spanning 13 different languages, including Arabic, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Nepali, and more (*Chair of the PEN/Heim Advisory Board).

Each project will receive a grant of $3,870 to assist in its completion, and the inaugural winner of the Italian Literature grant will receive a $5,000 grant. More information on each of the 15 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 Manager, Arielle Anema for the translators’ contact information.

2017 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Recipients

Nick Admussen for his translation of Floral Mutter, a collection of poems by the contemporary Sichuanese poet Ya Shi. A master of disjunctive imagery, Ya Shi brings language to the precipice of the absurd and holds it over the abyss for all to see. Admussen’s translations, which are perfectly balanced and polished, recreate the source poems for us in a language the judges described as “haunting.” In an age when contemporary Chinese poetry is profoundly influenced by its eastern urban centers, Ya Shi stands out as an inimitable voice from the interior. (Forthcoming from Zephyr Press.)

In the summer           slit open a plump, cool lotus root

taste the sweet juice frothing up from its orifices.

On the rooftop           a dense and scorching pressure crowds inward

but… it’s vague and speechless like the long wind.

The great many cruelties of life have gone ignored for ages.

— and what is loathsome is more or less similar

for all that is vulgar, keep strumming on your shiny oddity!

Polly Barton for her unflinching translation of Cowards Who Looked to the Sky by Misumi Kubo. Centered around a high-school student’s affair with a married woman ten years his senior and the fallout that occurs when footage of their cosplay sex appears online, the five different narrators of this explicit novel offer a searing and prismatic portrait of the relentless pressures of ordinary life in modern Japan.  (Available for publication.)

My mum opened the window, and a lukewarm breeze came flowing into the room. I watched as she cut the cord and took care of the afterbirth. I looked at the screaming baby, lying on the pale chest of the woman who’d just become his mother. I wanted to join in with the baby’s wailing. I wanted to scream and cry, because Anzu had sucked my tongue and my cock, and they were stinging like hell.

Elizabeth Bryer for her Spanish translation of The Palimpsests by Aleksandra Lun, a novelist who lives in Spain but grew up in Poland. This sly, satirical book follows the bewildering fate of Przęśnicki, an Eastern-European immigrant, after undergoing “Bartlebian linguistic therapy” to cure him of foreign writer syndrome and the disease of writing a first novel in a language other than his native one. Inventive in its conceit, Palimpsests is also deadly serious in its questioning of totalitarian thinking and cultural essentialism. (Available for publication.)

Perhaps the native Antarctic writers had a point the day they assaulted me at a book fair, dragged me by my thinning hair towards the exit and tortured me for hours in a garage. As they thwacked me with their manuscripts, the sage intellectuals blurted out that instead of writing books in foreign languages, we miserable immigrants should translate their exquisite creations into our own languages so they could exert some influence in our secondary cultures.

Vitaly Chernetsky for his translation of Ukranian writer Sophia Andrukhovych’s vividly detailed novel Felix Austria. Andrukhovych is one of her country’s most exciting young novelists and the novel’s themes of isolation, community, otherness and the importance of history are especially relevant, and moving, in these times. Set in a small Ukrainian city in 1900, Andrukhovych’s work in Chernetsky’s English rendering is keen, lifelike, and endlessly exciting and perceptive. (Available for publication.)

The eyes of the audience thoroughly study this space, seeking to register the tiniest movement, extract a hint of action about to start. They hold back the spring of impatience, fully prepared to see the jumping out of some kind of otherworldly creature, the rolling out of a crazy-looking scarecrow, the flying out of something unimaginably weird—for an unthinkable to happen, something completely unfathomable. They are fully prepared for this, tensed and frightened, utterly excited.

           But nothing happens.

Iain Galbraith for his compilation and translation from the German of Raoul Schrott: Selected Poems, a dual language collection of poetry by the celebrated polyglot Austrian poet, novelist, and essayist that has been published over the last 20 years. Galbraith’s great gift as a translator and poet is to render the wide and challenging range of Schrott’s subjects–eruptions of the earth and of history, the ancient world, science, art, and the experience of the sublime—in stunningly lucid and exquisite imagery. (Available for publication.)

all things cleave to the wind · each and every panicle  

the leaf’s throat the shrub’s open hand

spread against it · the spears of the hay rack

 

the spikelets of the feather-grass laid out to dry

grow into it · veins and the belly of a sky

too broad for the trees · it rolls on its back

 

through the fields changes with the sun

and crawls on all fours in the spelt

from one gust to the next it damps its voice

 

and soft-pedals the grass

 

(from ‘Physical Optics IV’)

Michelle Gil-Montero for the crystalline elegance that shines through her translations of the work of award-winning Mexican poet, translator, and visual artist, Valerie Mejer Caso. The collection of poetry, Edinburgh Notebook, named for a city the author never visited, vividly recreates a sense of the speaker as she interrogates the inner landscapes of her memories in intense, imagistic verse and prose poems. (Available for publication.)

Nocturne

Dove, bluish light flying over the rough world: your water stings because it resembles crying; crying burns because it reminds us of sobs that predate the existence of water. This coin is not of this world. Buy me a planet with it! Bluish dove, rude light. I’d pay you for a day of rain, I’d pay you with that moon that has a hero on one face and a bird on the verso. That spirit animal tracks me with its infallible sense of smell: it’s aware that the wave has swallowed every one of my faces, that I’ll wait on the shore until it gives me at least one of them back, the one I could wear to pick up my daughter from school. With that face, I will cross the street and use the coin to buy milk. I’ll do this before the world begins, with its endless crying. I’ll do it this afternoon, and it will rain. I’ll walk in, with my one face, and the milk they’ll give me for that coin will have the whiteness of things yet to exist. Things they will one day call tooth, foam, bone, page. And we’ll drink it, stormed by presentiments, under flocks that break upward, drawing the night.

Sophie Hughes for her excellent translation from the Spanish of The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán, an elegiac debut novel about post-dictatorship Chile. This novel about unanswered questions combines a number of narratives, including one about a road trip in a hearse and a journey through the Andes as ash rains down on Santiago. (Available for publication.)

That night it rained ash. Or perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps the gray is just the backdrop of my memory, and the only thing that went off was a big party, and the only things unleashed were a stubborn drizzle, and this memory, once tied to all the other loose strings of my childhood.

Elisabeth Jaquette for her translation from Arabic of the 2009 short story collection Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Sudanese author, journalist, and activist Rania Mamoun. These stories—possibly the first collection by a Sudanese woman to be fully translated into English—offer an emotionally intimate look at urban life and alienation, while demonstrating an impressive range of literary styles, from realist to reality-bending. (Available for publication.)

I was at the edge of consciousness or death, when from far away a line of dogs appeared, led by our neighbor’s dog, who had something in his mouth. I thought I was starting to hallucinate, and was seeing things that weren’t there. When they got closer I saw that each one was carrying something in its mouth. Our neighbor’s dog looked me in the eyes as he tossed me a piece of meat. I didn’t know what garbage pile it had come from, or what house he’d stolen it from.

Kira Josefsson for her skilled translation from the Swedish of The Arab by Pooneh Rohi, a novel that offers a compassionate portrait of the isolation and humiliations suffered by a former civil engineer in Iran as he builds up a life in his new country. His (seemingly) thoroughly assimilated daughter, meanwhile, struggles with nostalgia for a life and memories she never had. A resonant, timely, and affecting work. (Available for publication.)

Generations of mothers have taught their daughters to take their time whisking the eggs when they make kuku in order to mitigate the smell. To remove the onions from the stew as soon as the lamb is ready, so it doesn’t smell of meat. Not to turn the lamb in the stew, but to bake it so it takes on that nice golden color. But right here, I think, right by my toes, runs an invisible line. It runs right in front of my toes, where rug turns to tassel. This is where it ends.

Adam Morris for his translation of I Didn’t Talk, a novel by Brazilian author Beatriz Bracher. With intensity and sophistication, I Didn’t Talk takes the reader on a journey of memory, perception, and invention, and Morris’s translation captures well the tormented reality and doubts of a self-reflective retired professor who was subject to torture three decades prior. An important addition to Brazilian—and universal—literature. (Forthcoming from New Directions.)

Mine, mine, mine. Like a little child learning the language of the tribe, I find myself in the acquisitive phase of a new language. At the same time the old one, the one I knew and used, seems sterile. It was now my cup, my bread, my rage, my 64 years of age. As though I needed once more to name and own what I was taking with me. Return to the first person and to the possessive, the twin juvenile plagues that modernity bequeathed us […]

Kaitlin Rees for her excellent translation of Nhã Thuyên’s poetry collection A Parade. The prose pieces that make up this collection—which seem to be built around the edges of a narrative—introduce a compelling new Vietnamese voice. (Available for publication.)

book opened to page forty-seven, by chance his same age, the age, he mumbles to himself, to have been shattered enough now, ached for the memory enough now, steeped bitterly enough now, raged enough now, hopelessly enough now, emptied enough now, depleted enough now, having tenderly returned enough now, having chaotically begun to return enough now, though the first chaos came with this morning’s eye opening, after his days absorbed in the bliss of being submerged in water from dawn till this whole time, the time he gives himself to solitary undulation in unfamiliar sea…

Dayla Rogers for her translation of Wûf, a highly imaginative work of fiction by Kemal Varol, a Turkish author of Kurdish ethnicity. Varol, who is hailed as a courageous representative of Turkey’s Kurdish community, here tells the story of ethnic conflict in the voice (so to speak) of Mikasa, a dog who ends up in a shelter after losing both hind legs to a landmine. Rogers brings us the tale in a forceful, rugged English that perfectly recreates Varol’s brutally impassive authorial viewpoint.  (Available for publication.)

My days were dull replicas of one another, much like the photocopies of my dark fate deposited in the army’s files.

I was bound.

I was a registered piece of inventory.

I was a liability.

I wasn’t going anywhere.

There was a war on, and my job was to find the damnable landmines the Southern guerillas had placed expertly in the ground. These were guys who really didn’t know shit about technology. They learned to hurl rocks like pros before heading to the mountains, where they became equally skilled at killing.

Christopher Tamigi for his translation of In Your Name by Mauro Covacich. Partly autofictional, this novel explores ethnic conflict, post-Communism outcomes in Eastern and Western Europe, and immigration in contemporary Italy.  Of Slavic origin, the author was born and raised in Trieste, a former Austro-Hungarian port, and currently one of Italy’s most multicultural cities. (Available for publication.)

‘In October the water is still pretty warm, take advantage of it. You need to swim slowly toward the open sea. Swim and swim until the deep becomes night blue and you feel like your arms are going to fall off from exhaustion. At that point you turn over on your back and do a dead man’s float until you’ve regained the strength to swim back.’

‘That’s the most frightening thing I can imagine,’ I say, in a tone that suddenly removes the smile from his face.

Manjushree Thapa for her translation of There’s a Carnival Today by Indra Bahadur Rai. Set during the heady decades following the end of the British Raj, Rai’s novel explores fractures that (still) run through the bones of South Asia. The Partition of India, the rise of radical political movements throughout South Asia, the tumult of nation-building and identity-formation in the post-colonial era form the heart of this novel, allowing a glimpse into how these transitions played out in Nepal—a nation and language-community not very well-represented in South Asian literature in translation. (Forthcoming from Speaking Tiger Publishing.)

The light of truth doesn’t travel uninterrupted along a straight line. It is obliged to pass through the gravity field of many a prejudice and self-interest, and so must bend and veer a little off-course. Janak and Bhudev’s paths separated clearly and definitively from that day onward. Each mulled over this matter neutrally, and each felt that the truth was on his side.

Joyce Zonana for her translation of This Land That Is Like You by Tobie Nathan, a novel set in the Jewish quarter of Cairo in the early part of the twentieth century. Written in French by an Egyptian-born ethno-psychiatrist, diplomat, and writer, this work explores the mystical and fantastical elements of Jewish and Arab Egyptians. (Available for publication.)

Although Esther returned to the human world, she came back from her adventure among the demons with strange ways. People called her “topsy-turvy”; they claimed that the afrit, that devil composed of the Nile’s silt who had possessed her since her fall, had turned her inside out like a sock to be mended. Her behavior was the inverse of a young girl’s.  She swore like a water-seller, reeling off strings of nasty words and insulting grownups in the streets, even the men in her family.

In its inaugural year, the PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature, administered within the PEN/Heim Translation Fund, awards a translator $5,000 to complete a translation of a work from the Italian. The inaugural award goes to Douglas Grant Heise:

Douglas Grant Heise, this year’s recipient, for his translation of Ithaca Forever, by Luigi Malerba. First published in 1997, this metafictional novel is a rewriting, from a fresh new perspective, of the return of Odysseus to his native island. Focusing on conflicts of identity and supremacy between Odysseus and Penelope, his loyal wife who pretends not to recognize him, this well translated narrative invites speculations and opens up multiple readings. (Available for publication.)

In spite of his ragged clothes, the artfully-bent spine, the trembling hands that feigned old age, regardless of how his fingernails wandered from time to time underneath those rags and into his greasy, mud-caked hair to make us believe that fleas and lice were dwelling there, I knew instantly that the man sitting on that stool near the burning fire in front of my eyes was my husband, the man I have longed for during twenty years of sleepless nights and anxious days passed in my palace, assaulted by rowdy Suitors.

 

Finally, the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Advisory Committee is pleased to announce that PEN America will be nominating the following applicants for funding from the  New York State Council for the Arts: Sean Gasper Bye, Hazem Jamjoum, Julia Sanches, and Jennifer Zoble.

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PEN America gratefully acknowledges Michael Henry Heim and Priscilla Heim who founded this award in 2004 as well as the ongoing support of the Amazon Literary Partnership, which has assisted the Fund’s work each year since 2009 with a gift of $25,000.