(NEW YORK)— Books aside, some of the chatter among the literary and publishing crowd at PEN America’s Literary Awards ceremony last Thursday night zeroed in on a surprise guest presenter—the actor Molly Ringwald, star of 1980s movie hits like Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, and a leading figure in the constellation of young Hollywood actors known then as the “Brat Pack.” 

The question that formed on people’s lips that evening: “Wait, movie star Molly Ringwald is a translator?”

To those who may have missed the news, Ringwald, fluent in French, translated her first book in 2017, and recently finished a second. PEN America invited her to present the PEN award for Poetry in Translation, which was announced live on stage. The winner, poet Daniel Borzutsky, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, was as surprised to learn about Ringwald’s latest role and talent as some in the audience.

“I feel like my entire childhood is redefined to find out Molly Ringwald is a translator,” he said, as he collected the prize for translating the English-language version of Paula Ilabaca Nuñez’s The Loose Pearl from Spanish. Borzutzky was among 11 writers and translators honored for their outstanding writing over the last year, from novels and essays to science writing and biography, during the ceremony in New York City. This was the 59th annual PEN awards ceremony, held at the Town Hall, with comedy legend Tina Fey receiving the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award.

Walking the red carpet before the ceremony, dressed in a sparkly signature pink gown, Ringwald was asked what she is currently reading. “Poetry. A volume by Rachel McKibbens, Blud,” she replied, adding she was thrilled to be at the ceremony simply “to celebrate writers.”

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Ringwald, who lives in California, has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Vogue, and is the author of two books. She previously translated a love story Lie with Me, by French author Philippe Besson, a novel published in 2017.

In 2019, the translation publication Multilingual Connections wrote about her work in an article headlined Pretty in Pink: Molly Ringwald as a Literary Translator.

Ringwald’s breakout role in Sixteen Candles (1984) made her a star, and she went on to critical acclaim in a string of films during that decade. She became fluent in French after leaving Hollywood in 1992 for France to get away from the glare of stardom. In the years that followed, she took roles in French as well as American films.

She wrote a bestselling memoir, Getting the Pretty Back, and a story collection, When It Happens to You.

On her presentation role at the PEN America awards, she said: “I think it’s fantastic to celebrate translators.”

She said she has just translated a second book from French to English, My Cousin Maria Schneider: A Memoir, by Vanessa Schneider.

To be published in April, the book is about Maria Schneider, the 1970s French movie starlet who catapulted to fame in the controversial film Last Tango in Paris with Marlon Brando—only to live the rest of her life plagued by scandal—as told from the perspective of her adoring younger cousin.

About translating, Ringwald said: “It’s a lot of work. And I think it’s really a wonderful way to get writing to people who wouldn’t ordinarily read it.”

Well put, in any language.