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The Bridge: On Translating Nonfiction: Shelley Frisch & Catherine Porter


The Bridge and the PEN Translation Committee present, “On Translating Nonfiction” with Shelley Frisch & Catherine Porter.

Two premier translators whose texts range from creative nonfiction and history to theory and criticism address issues of how to adapt nonfiction texts to the needs of a new target audience, the challenges posed by the quest to become quasi-experts in myriad fields, working with authors and editors, fact-checking and quote-hunting, and the role of the translator’s voice.


Co-presented by the Bridge and the PEN Translation Committee, PEN American Center.



Shelley Frisch taught at Columbia University while serving as Executive Editor of The Germanic Review, then chaired the Haverford/Bryn Mawr Bi-College German Department before turning to translation full-time in the 1990s. She has published widely on German literature, film, cabaret, and the political and linguistic dimensions of exile, as well as on translation; her book on the origin of language theories, The Lure of the Linguistic, was published in 2004. Her many translations from the German include biographies of Nietzsche, Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Kafka, for which she was awarded a Modern Language Association Translation Prize and Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize.  Her translation of Karin Wieland’s Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives will be published by Liveright/Norton this fall, and she is completing her translation of the final volume of Reiner Stach’s Kafka biography trilogy, Kafka: The Early Years, to be published by Princeton University Press. The previous volumes, Kafka: The Decisive Years and Kafka: The Years of Insight, have garnered numerous awards, and were chosen by the TLS and The Guardian as a Best Book of the Year; The Years of Insight was also longlisted for the 2014 PEN Translation Award. Shelley Frisch co-directs international translation workshops in Switzerland, Germany, and Ireland with Karen Noelle, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Catherine Porter received her doctorate in French literature from Yale University in 1972. She is a Visiting Professor at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, and Professor of French Emerita at the State University of New York College at Cortland, where she taught French at all levels and chaired the Department of International Communications and Culture for a total of ten years. She served as president of the Modern Language Association in 2009, introducing translation as the theme of the annual convention that year. She has authored a number of essays on foreign language pedagogy as well as on translation, and she served as co-editor, with Sandra Bermann, of Wiley-Blackwell‘s Companion to Translation Studies, published in 2014. A freelance translator in the humanities and the social sciences since the mid-1970s, Porter has published numerous essays and more than three dozen books in translation from the French, from Oswald Ducrot and Tzvetan Todorov’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Sciences of Language (Johns Hopkins, 1979) to Antoinette Fouque’s There Are 2 Sexes (Columbia, 2015). She is currently working, with Cornell colleague Susan Tarrow, on a collection of essays by the late French Hellenist Jean Bollack, The Art of Reading, from Homer to Paul Celan, for the Center for Hellenic Studies, and on Élisabeth Roudinesco’s acclaimed new biography, Freud in His Time and Ours, for Harvard University Press.

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