PEN Announces 2014 Translation Fund Winners

The Translation Fund, now celebrating its eleventh year, is pleased to announce the winners of this year’s competition. From a field of 120 applicants, the Fund’s Advisory Board—Esther Allen, Barbara Epler, Sara Khalili, Michael F. Moore, Lauren Wein, and Lorin Stein—has selected fifteen projects for funding. Read excerpts and essays from the recipients here.

”The work of the PEN/Heim Translation Fund is at the heart of PEN’s mission to facilitate free expression and celebrate literature. By carefully choosing and supporting the translation of important works from around the world that would otherwise remain unknown to English speakers, the PEN/Heim Translation Fund broadens our horizons and extends our cultural reach." 

—Peter Godwin, President, PEN American Center

”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, Chairman, PEN World Voices Festival

2014 Translation Fund Grants

Kurt Beals
for his translation of The Country Road, by Regina Ullmann. With this translation, Beals introduces English-language readers to a sui generis early 20th-century Swiss writer. Regina Ullmann was an outsider artist greatly admired by Musil, Mann, and Hesse, and especially championed by Rilke. Her sad and haunted voice is like no other—harsh and delicate; acrid and violet-scented. Beals’ ventriloquism is astonishing in these eerie bucolic tales of loneliness, love, death, and loss. (Forthcoming from New Directions)

It was a very sunny day when the hot air balloon was to take flight. It didn’t even look foolish to stretch your arms out as if to touch it; sometimes the whole world appears to be painted on porcelain, right down to the dangerous cracks.

Eric M. B. Becker for his translation of Selected Stories by Mozambican Mia Couto, winner of the Prémio Camões and the 2014 Neustadt Prize. These stories, published in 1994, are Couto's first after years of civil war following independence from Portugal in 1975 and chronicle Mozambique's rebirth. Becker powerfully enacts Couto's aim of reconfiguring an inherited, colonial language into a uniquely local and personal idiom. (Available for publication)

At grief’s edge, suspicion took on the measure of fact. Mintoninho still tried to explain to his father the reasons for the beret. But he hadn’t even occasion. His father laid down orders: the boy was to be gone, immediate as the shooting star. – from “Serpent’s Embrace”

David Burnett for his translation of The American Stories by Johannes Urzidil. In a major rediscovery, Burnett brings us the work of Urzidil, a writer from the Prague Circle together with literary greats such as Franz Werfel, Max Brod and, of course, Franz Kafka. Urzidil’s fiction only blossomed later in life, in the United States, as a writer-in-exile. Burnett captures both the humanity and the erudite yet humble charm of these stories. (Available for publication)

We all have to die sometime, although even this was just an argument by analogy, not an actual proof, just a hypothetical piece of knowledge picked up through experience, and Stonelight’s faith in experience had seriously dwindled in recent years.

Janet Hong
 for her translation of Han Yujoo's The Impossible Fairytale, the first novel by one of South Korea's most promising young writers. In Hong's pitch-perfect, limpid rendering, this meta-fictional story of two small girls, one lucky, one luckless, in a small town in the late 90s, casts a hypnotic spell. (Available for publication)

The child is lucky.

But before we talk about her good luck, because several more children will be entering the scene, we first need to talk about her name. The child’s name is Mia. It could be Min-a, Mi-na, or Min-ha, or it could be A-mi, Yu-mi, or Yun-mi, but since she thinks of herself as Mia, let’s just call her Mia.

Paul Hoover for his translation of Nightmare Running on a Meadow of Absolute Light, by María Baranda. One of the leading Mexican poets of the generation born in the 1960s and a powerful presence in all of Latin American poetry, Baranda is best known for her sweeping and incisive long poems. Her cry is resoundingly of sea, sponge, ant, and prayer, as related in rapture. Hoover deftly captures the drama of her cadences in Spanish. (Available for publication)

You briefly switch on a galaxy and touch your childhood sea. The world is a dark road
where night is the voice of what you say. At the sound of water you think of celestial birds,
clouds, and a bit of sun in a story that begins without words.

Andrea G. Labinger for her translation of Gesell Dome, by prolific Argentine novelist Guillermo Saccomanno. In this dark, gritty novel, Saccomanno views through a Faulknerian lens a bleak seaside resort tensely awaiting the arrival of the next tourist season. Winner of the Dashiell Hammett Prize, Saccomanno’s novel is a brutally honest portrayal of the erosion of a town’s soul. Labinger’s translation pulls no punches in its sharp yet eloquent take. (Available for publication)

I’m running away with my boyfriend, she threatened. What boyfriend, I asked. I didn’t know she had one. He’s virtual, she said. I’m running away with him. I’ll beat the shit out of you, I said. And it won’t be virtual.

Sergey Levchin for Commentaires by Chris Marker. Marker is widely recognized as one of the world's most influential (and enigmatic) filmmakers. Commentaries presents nine of his earliest scripts (1953-66) together with stills from the films themselves. These are the founding texts of the "essay film" genre, collected in book form according to Marker's own design; Levchin's translation preserves their elegance, directness, and mystery. (Available for publication)

Personally, I can never resist the kind of film that takes you from one daybreak to another, all the while telling you things like: It is six a.m. over all the earth, six a.m. over the Canal Saint-Martin, six a.m. over the Gota Canal in Sweden...

Zachary Ludington for Pixel Flesh (Carne de Píxel), a haunting translation of a collection of prose poems by Agustín Fernández Mallo, who has pioneered an important shift in contemporary Spanish writing and paved the way for the birth of a new generation of writers. (Available for publication)

my digitized face in the blinking screen. Halfway down the street, a door, 1m2 of sidewalk, 2m3 of air, a scene where time [stealthy in its massless weightless abstraction] will plunder memory in order to embody itself. My time by your side showed me there were no more reasons to believe in the impossibility of life after death than there are to believe that it’s equally impossible before.

J. Bret Maney for his translation of Manhattan Tropics by Guillermo Cotto-Thorner, originally published in 1951: the first novel of the Puerto Rican mass-migration to New York City. A panorama of mid-century life in El Barrio, Manhattan Tropics is a crucial forebear of the Nuyorican aesthetics that would emerge in the late 1960s. Maney's translation deftly captures the wide-eyed wonder of the period and interweaves the Neoyorquismos that are this novel's hallmark. (Available for publication)

Nueva York is the city of commotion and mobility…. The torrent of pedestrians and vehicles is endless—streetcars, buses, automobiles, horse-carts, trucks, trains, bicycles, motorcycles, airplanes, and wheelbarrows; fire engines, with their high-powered motors and ear-splitting sirens; the shouts of children and adults…guffaws, curses, cries…noise, noise, NOISE: Nueva York.

Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev launch into English a major Russian poet little-known in the West, Arseny Tarkovsky, in I Burned at the Feast. Tarkovsky now joins the ranks of Mandelstam, Akhmatova, and Brodsky. Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev's translations—succinct and allusive, stingingly direct and yet sweeping, mournful and celebratory—are marvels. (Forthcoming from Cleveland State University Poetry Center)

Western Sky

On patches of unreaped rye
boats of gold descend.
How close you come, evening sky,
to my scorched steppe.

Your sails, so pink and delicate.
Chart a new course
from trenches and bomb craters,
draw us to your gentle waters.

Sayuri Okamoto for Dear Monster: the Naked Poetry of Gozo Yoshimasu. In his most recent work, Yoshimasu, an aurally and visually stunning poet known for his Talmudic density, struggles to respond to the 3.11 disaster in Japan, which took the lives of over twenty thousand people. The experience of reading these poems is emotional, psychological, and physical, and grounded in the poet’s strong sense of mission. In her deft, polyvalent translation, Okamoto has given the lie to those who consider Gozo’s poetry “untranslatable.” (Available for publication)

Benjamin Paloff for The Game for Real by Richard Weiner. In both its stylistic pyrotechnics and psychological intensity—the prose is poetic, self-reflective, and funny in a way that becomes increasingly horrifying—The Game for Real is the crowning achievement of Richard Weiner’s career and one of the most powerful works of Czech Modernist literature. Weiner’s work is finally available in English in Paloff’s masterful translation. (Forthcoming from Two Lines Press)

Do you know those tears of the jam-thief? They’re not tears from any fear of punishment. They’re tears set up long in advance: this boy—my intruder, my thief—was quaking to the core; he was quaking long before there was any reason to. This smartass, this tough guy was a daredevil, quaking. How do we square this?

Miranda Richmond Mouillot for her fluid and resourceful translation of The Kites, by Romain Gary. Set in Normandy during the Occupation, The Kites is a love story that draws on Gary's own experience of World War II. Published shortly before Gary's suicide, in 1980, this is the haunting last work by one of the great novelists of the twentieth century. (Available for publication)

“Kites must learn to fly, just like everybody else,” my uncle would say... “You have to hang onto them firmly, because sometimes they break loose and fly too high … and then you never see them again...”

“But won’t I fly away with them, if I hold them too tightly?”

“It could happen,” he’d say. “You mustn’t let yourself get carried away.”

Thom Satterlee for New and Selected Poetry of Per Aage Brandt. Long considered one of Denmark’s most distinguished poets and scholars, Per Aage is writing his best poetry today, in the twilight of a long and prolific career. His poems take the reader on a lyrical journey through a mind that is constantly probing, questioning, remembering, reflecting, indicting. Satterlee’s translation recreates the subtlety and intelligence of the original with elegance and concision. (Available for publication)

if I were a suicide bomber, professionally
so to speak, I would choose a deserted place,
climb up on a big boulder, focus my mind
intensely on the world’s most insane, stupid,
maladorous and in every respect repulsive
ideas, evoke, concentrate, scrutinize their
features very precisely with my inner eye and
ear, then, all set, press the detonator in my belt

Sholeh Wolpé for The Conference of Birds (Man-tiq ut-tayr) by Farid ud-Din Attar, one of the greatest Sufi mystic poets of Iran. This artful and exquisite modern translation brings one of the definitive masterpieces of Persian literature to the English-speaking world (Available for publication)

The mind is not a master
in the art of love;
love is not the offspring
of the human mind.

If sight is gifted to you
by the Invisible,
that’s when you will finally see
the heart of love.


The Fund is also pleased to announce that its two nominees for 2014 New York State Council on the Arts translation grants also received recognition for their projects:

Edna McCown
 for Shanghai, far from where, by German author Ursula Krechel. Based on research conducted for over 20 years, Shanghai, far from where is a novel of the emigrant community in Shanghai during the years of World War II and the immediate post-war period. A core cast of German and Austrian refugees, several based on real-life figures, create a complex portrait of the experience of exile set against the rich and colorful backdrop of Shanghai. (Available for publication)

Yvette Siegert
for Diana's Tree, by Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik. With these luminous, philosophical poems, Pizarnik lays the foundation for her groundbreaking explorations of childhood, mental illness, artistic solitude, the limits of linguistic possibility and the shifting valences of the self. (Forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse)

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

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


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