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Announcing 2015 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Winners

The Translation Fund, now celebrating its twelfth year, is pleased to announce the winners of this year’s competition. The Fund received a record number of applications this year—226 total—spanning a wide array of languages of origin, genres, and eras. From this vast field of applicants, the Fund’s Advisory Board—Esther Allen, Mitzi Angel, Peter Blackstock, Howard Goldblatt, Sara Khalili, Michael F. Moore*, Declan Spring, and Alex Zucker—has selected sixteen projects which will each receive a grant of $3,100 to assist in their completion (*Voting Chair of the PEN/Heim Advisory Board). Read excerpts and essays from the recipients here.

“Translation is the lifeblood of literature. The PEN/Heim Translation Fund is at the very center of our lives as readers, making clear each year the richness and variety of what is being done in other languages, thus adding to the freedom of the word to move us and change us.”

Colm Tóibín, Chair, PEN World Voices Festival

2015 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Recipients

Allison M. Charette for her translation of Beyond the Rice Fields, by Naivo. Set in the early 1800s, this historical novel uses dual narrators—a slave boy and his first ownerto depict the era when Madagascar was ruled by a monarchy and first being settled by Europeans. In a prose teeming with color and energy, Charette brings to life the first novel from Madagascar ever to be translated into English. (Available for publication)

Hear and attend, O Manamango, you are now in her belly, you are now infusing her bones, you see her now from the inside. If she is guilty of sorcery, if she has brought harm to children or if she has brought harm to adults, if she has trampled on a tomb or if she has sung with wildcats, if she has made use of harmful spells, then break her from the inside, ravage her entrails!

Jennifer Croft for The Books of Jacob, the twelfth novel by Olga Tokarczuk, one of Poland's most highly acclaimed contemporary novelists. Jennifer Croft's translation brings to life the historical figure of Jacob Frank, Messianic leader of a mysterious 18th-century Jewish splinter group that believed in "purification through transgression." (Available for publication)

Once swallowed, the little paper lodges in her esophagus near her heart. Saliva-soaked. The specially made black ink gradually dissolves, the letters losing their shapes. Inside the human body, the word splits in half—into substance and essence. As the former is lost, the latter, formlessly abiding, gets absorbed into the body’s tissues—for essence will always seek out its material bearer. Even when it is to be the cause of myriad misfortunes.

Stephan Delbos and Tereza Novická for their translation of The Absolute Gravedigger, the culmination of Vítězslav Nezval’s work as the leading poet of Czech surrealism. Published in 1937, this book of poems is not only a dark and prescient avant-garde document of Europe in crisis, but highlights Prague as the twin capital of surrealism with Paris. Delbos and Novická do us all a service with their devoted translation. (Forthcoming from Twisted Spoon Press)

Two kind-hearted nurses
Holding open umbrellas
Above their heads
Each at one end
Of the footbridge
The sleepwalker is crossing
Carefully conceal the sun
With those two
Almost holey
Parasols
And wait
For the moon
To rise
Above the deep darkness
Their fair hair
Glitters in
And to lead
With luck
The somnambulist
With brooding eyes
To their
Quivering
Kind-heartedly outstretched
Fingertips
In which
Is grounded
The brilliant spark
Of sudden awakening

Amanda DeMarco for her translation of New Inventions and the Latest Innovations by Gaston de Pawlowski. First published in French in 1916, Pawlowski’s book is a catalog of absurd imaginary gadgets and “improvements,” an early satire on consumer society and the cult of the inventor. DeMarco’s translation perfectly captures the humor of a work that has only grown more relevant with time. (Forthcoming from Wakefield Press)

Should we patiently dismantle and separately classify all of the cogs in our watch, we would be astonished at the fact that, the end of this process, we had not discovered what time it is. What does it matter to a true modern savant if he has no idea where he’s going, as long as he gets there methodically?

Adriana X. Jacobs for her translation of The Truffle Eye, the 2013 debut collection of poems by Vaan Nguyen. Born in Israel to Vietnamese refugees, Nguyen, writing in Hebrew, explores points of contact and friction between her Vietnamese heritage and her native-born Israeli identity. As Jacobs notes, the truffle resists domestication, and she skillfully incorporates this resistance into her inspired translation. (Available for publication)

In the rice bowl unripe banana
peels and dry castor beans in a jar
feathers and mulch outside the window—
how you still gather evidence.

The chopsticks rest diagonally
matching the movement of birds along the waterfall—
how do they stall the transmission and keep eating rice
before the night migration?
Under the cover of delusions,
I just wanted to point out “there’s Armageddon”
and ask whether the foreigners have
inflatable boats.

Roy Kesey for The Cousins, by Aurora Venturini. An Argentinean novelist praised by Enrique Vila-Matas and Alan Pauls, Venturini was not discovered until she was eighty-five. This novel tells the story of a dysfunctional lower-middle-class family in La Plata during the nineteen-forties, and is fabulously translated by Roy Kesey. (Available for publication)

She waited for a question but no one asked anything, so she told us that on her wedding night—here she went red—she'd snuck out of her beloved husband's house and away through the garden and the marriage was never consummated and he was gone in a flash. She refilled her champagne glass and filled the ears of her listeners with clarifications: she was a married virgin, not Miss and not Mrs. and not anything else, and that's why she took refuge in the art of painting pictures.

Lee Klein for Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador, by Horacio Castellanos Moya. In what Roberto Bolaño called his best work, Castellanos invokes Bernhard's most characteristic mode: the electrifying tirade. Lee Klein's sinuous English proves that this rant is for anyone who feels let down by their native culture. (Available for publication)

I never could accept that of the hundreds of countries where I might have been born I was born in the worst country of all, the stupidest, the most criminal, which is why I went to Montreal, well before the war began, not in search of better economic conditions, but because I never accepted the macabre twist of fate of being born here.

Dong Li for his translation of The Gleaner Song, by Chinese poet Song Lin. In pieces selected by the poet and translator from thirty years of published work, the poet has engaged the world, East and West, creating a landscape of his extensive travels. Varying in form from short lyrics to long, serial poems, Song has, in the words of his accomplished translator, produced a “personal anthropology of our migratory world.” (Available for publication)

a brief history of language

not a name not a line of sight, never a thorough run of water
—slumbers of the turquoise icebergs. a severe wintry graver
dances still a transparent dance of death on the transparent coffin surface.

arrival of language at that soft slope, after yesterday’s mammoths left.
there comes a man in a birch bark coat, wearing a Dante-esque pale face
as if returning from the netherworld. slowly he blurts a word out—“flower.”

Meg Matich for her exquisite translations of Cold Moons, a collection of deceptively simple ecopoetry by Icelandic poet Magnús Sigurðsson who was born in 1984. She has deftly rendered the prosody of the young poet’s short, highly cadenced, enjambed verse in lines of images drawn from nature, often in the context of incursions by the modern world into this sparsely populated land of poets and sagas. (Available for publication)

Moonlight
In memoriam

The sun has sunk below forest line.

*

One after another,
miners climb
up out of the earth.

*

They crouch at the riverbank
in twilight,
drink from cupped palms,
rinse dust
from their foreheads.

*

Their pale faces,
20,000 newly kindled moons
against a black sky.

Jacob Moe for his translation of Part Time Dragons by Maria Mitsora. Since the 1970s, Mitsora has been publishing short stories which refract modern Greek life through the lens of its mythological past. Part Time Dragons collects sixteen short stories from across Mitsora’s forty-year career, rendered in a lucid translation that preserves their essential strangeness. (Forthcoming from Yale University Press)

Many are the undercurrents that run between my memory and the memory of the world…back in the distant froth of childhood, where new seedlings buzzed in the young belly of spring, even the threat of chains was sweet because they’d be made of fragrances – lilacs, four o’clocks, arabian jasmine. Winter was a tunnel, always finite, from which we’d emerge.

Rajiv Mohabir for his translation of Lalbihari Sharma’s Holi Songs of Demerara. Published in 1916, Sharma’s collection of folksongs is the only known literary work to be written by an indentured Indo-Caribbean writer. One of hundreds of Indians indentured to work the sugarcane fields in Guyana, Sharma’s mesmerizing songs, in Mohabir’s deft and elegant translation, tell of life on the plantations, of labor, love, loss, and longing. (Available for publication)

Chautal

From abroad Piya sends no word.
I’m listless; it’s the month of Phagun
without my love. The papiha bird cries,
Piya.

I’m overcome—
He stole away to another country
without telling me. The rain falls
like arrows or serpents

stirring worry in my heart.
All of the men search for him.
How can I be patient when my youth
itself is a poisoned arrow? Night and day

I sit watching for any sign.

Takami Nieda for her translation of GO, by Kazuki Kaneshiro. GO is a testament to the universality of teenage experience and a window into the life of a zainichi Korean student. Takami Nieda's fluid translation captures Kaneshiro's humor and social criticism, evoking a distinct compelling voice in the tradition of Salinger and Sherman Alexie. (Available for publication)

First let’s get one thing straight. The story that follows is a love story. My love story.
And communism, or democratism, pacifism, otakuism, vegetarianism, or any other
–ism for that matter’s got nothing to do with it. Just so you know.

Zoë Perry for Opisanie Świata, the award-winning debut novel by Brazilian writer Veronica Stigger. With her exquisite translation, Perry introduces to the English-speaking world a stunning and tantalizing novel by a young writer on the cutting-edge of Brazilian literature. (Available for publication)

Opalka peered once more over his newspaper and there was the man, now standing, holding a knife in one hand and an apple, like a trophy, in the other. He sat down beside him and, before eating, turned to Opalka and asked him in Polish: May I help you?

Will Schutt for The Selected Poems of Edoardo Sanguineti. In his sparkling, playful and dynamic versions, Schutt introduces the English reader to the full sweep of Sanguineti’s protean oeuvre, from the neo-avantgardist of the early '60s to the more introspective romantic poet of the later years. This is the first comprehensive English translation of one of post-war Italy’s most important poets. (Available for publication)

“WHAT DO YOU DO?”

what do you do? (they often ask me): I say nothing back (sometimes): or else
I say instead (sometimes): nothing:
                                                  other times I say: too much, to be honest
(but nothing that matters: and nothing that matters to me): (considering that,
shilly-shallying, nothing matters to me): (I’m merely following, oftentimes,
this hushed hush-hush of a whisper whirring inside me, weakly, no longer even
turning into word, phrase, verse):
                                                  I seek an end, in the end:

Sophie Seita for her translation of Subsisters: Selected Poems, by Uljana Wolf. Wolf's globalized, border-crossing poetry seems uniquely disposed to translation while also presenting many challenges. Sophie Seita's rendition remixes Wolf's German-English mélange to create a translation that is at once new and yet also brilliantly reflects the original. (Forthcoming from Belladonna*)

they say: and another committee, i say: pffft seriously. and they clear the room,
disintegrated by my relentlessness. and yet i do not feel krank! unchaperoned, although it
doesn’t look nice. until the doors open and out onto the streets. i do not mean this locally.
elsewhere i do. they say: ten things changed in the mirror room. i say: ten faces you’ll
erinner soon. i know they are changing things.

Simon Wickhamsmith for The End of the Dark Era, by Mongolian poet Tseveendorjin Oidov. This book of about a hundred poems is one of the few avant-garde collections to come out of that region. Simon Wickhamsmith's translations bring the poems across eloquently and beautifully. (Available for publication)

Brief in Eternal Blue Memory, Tomorrow's Tender Sky,
or the Presentiment of Movement

The eternal blue sky,
along which silver fishes move,
grows angry, but
holds the faith and clears up quickly.
The mind of a kindly woman,
paying attention to the milk of love,
counts off the days,
wishing for birds from stories.
Deep in the thoughts of the man
who rushes towards the tryst they rest their wings,
thinking of those left behind, exposed,
remembering the warmth of the words
whispered into the dusty shadows.
Truly the dreams of faithfulness awaken,
and one morning in the future, the sky will clear.

***

Publishers and editors who wish to express interest in any of these projects are invited to contact PEN Literary Awards Coordinator Arielle Anema (arielle@pen.org) or Translation Fund Advisory Board Chair Michael F. Moore (michaelfmoore@gmail.com) for the translators’ contact information.

The Fund gratefully acknowledges the ongoing support of Amzon which has assisted the Fund’s work this year with a gift of $25,000.

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