7 Books in 1 Year, and Why More Authors Should Translate

Here are a couple of stories from some of our favorite translation-focused blogs out there. First of all, Chad Post at Three Percent highlights the amazing achievement of Antonia Lloyd-Jones, who received the 2012 Found in Translation Award for the 7 (seven!) books she translated in 2012. Per the press release:

The Polish Book Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute London, and the Polish Cultural Institute New York are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2012 Found in Translation Award is Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Usually the award is given for a single book, but this year the jury made an exception and decided to give the award to Ms Lloyd-Jones for the entirety of her output from the previous year. . . .

The complete list of translations by Antonia Lloyd-Jones published in 2012 includes:

Paweł Huelle Cold Sea Stories (Comma Press, 2012).
Jacek Dehnel Saturn (Dedalus Press, 2012).
Zygmunt Miłoszewski A Grain of Truth (Bitter Lemon Press, 2012).
Artur Domosławski Ryszard Kapuściński, A Life (Verso Books, 2012).
Wojciech Jagielski The Night Wanderers (Seven Stories & Old Street Publishing, 2012).
Andrzej Szczeklik Kore: On Sickness, the Sick and the Search for the Soul of Medicine (Counterpoint Press, 2012).
Janusz Korczak Kaytek the Wizard (Urim Publications/Penlight Press, 2012).

As Chad notes, “There are established, talented translators who haven’t published seven books in their entire life, much less in one year.” Indeed, in’s a little staggering that Lloyd-Jones managed to line up 7 viable translation projects in just one year and to have translated the books well enough to win an award for her work. Certainly the Polish government and Poland’s presses must be doing something right to land so many of their books with English-language presses. Though, this isn’t quite a surprise: as Chad’s Translation Database shows, Poland perennially ranks among the top nations in terms of getting its books translated.

And then at the Literary Saloon, Michael Orthofer makes the case that more young U.S. authors should translate:

I have long maintained that translation is a great exercise for writers of fiction — and continue to argue that it would do most would-be authors a whole lot more good to translate a good foreign-language text (or, preferably, several) than to get an MFA (from a purely technical/creative/writing point of view; the social and professional benefits of MFAing are, of course, something else — but also have very little to do with actual writing). Certainly, I wish that more US/UK fiction writers would engage in this most direct and intimate of ways with foreign texts (preferably fiction-texts, not the stuff Mitchell and Franzen spent their time on …).

Indeed, this is something that poets have done for decades (if not centuries) in order to improve their art, so it stands to reason to fiction writers could benefit as well (to say nothing of how being exposed to other national literatures might break them out of the dull MFA novel genre that continues to proliferate throughout the US writing scene).

Two Lines Press’s Baboon Receives NEA Grant

The new round of NEA Translation Grants were announced earlier today, and we’re quite proud to say that a future Two Lines Press title has been awarded one! The book is Baboon (Bavian) by Danish author Naja Marie Aidt, and the translator who has received the grant is Denise Newman.

Aidt first came to our attention at part of Best European Fiction 2010, which published her story “Bulbjerg.” Words Without Borders also published her story “A Car Trip” in 2010. Then, we published in Passageways her story “Blackcurrant,” which came from the Nordic Council Literature Prize-winning collection Baboon. That story was so impressive that we tapped Newman to translate the entire book, which we will be releasing next year as part of our 2014 collection of titles.

Baboon is part of a very impressive list of 16 projects that the NEA is awarding a total of some $250,000. It’s wonderful to see so many resources going toward the enabling of some very worthy translations, and even nicer that this news comes right on the heels of the latest round of PEN Translation grants, announced last week.

Here are some from the NEA list that caught our eye:

  • Nancy Naomi Carlson (Silver Spring, Maryland) is recommended for a grant of $12,500 to support the translation from French of a poetry collection by African writer Abdourahman Waberi.
  • Jen Hofer (Los Angeles, California) is recommended for a grant of $12,500 to support the translation from Spanish of To Be in Pain: Texts from a Wounded Country by Mexican writer Cristina Rivera Garza.
  • Andrea Lingenfelter (Berkeley, California) is recommended for a grant of $12,500 to support the translation from Chinese of The Kite Family, a collection of fiction by contemporary Hong Kong writer Hon Lai Chu.
  • Amanda Powell (Eugene, Oregon) is recommended for a grant of $12,500 to support the translation from Spanish of the novel El gato de si mismo by Costa Rican writer Uriel Quesada.
  • Angela Rodel (Sofia, Bulgaria) is recommended for a grant of $25,000 to support the translation from Bulgarian of the novel The Physics of Sorrow by writer Georgi Gospondinov.

Translating the New Murakami Novel

The Australian interviews J. Philip Gabriel, the long-time Murakami translator who is at work on the Japanese author’s latest novel, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

There are some interesting tidbits here for Murakami-lovers and fans of translation alike. We learn, for instance, which Murakami translation gave Gabriel the most trouble.

Gabriel, who has met Murakami only once but communicates with him frequently via email, says he translates three pages of the author’s original text a day. The relationship between the two goes back to 2000 when Gabriel was selected to translate Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun. He also translated Kafka on the Shore, which cemented the author’s international reputation in when it was published in English in 2005 and won Gabriel an international literary prize.

Gabriel rates Kafka as the hardest of Murakami’s works to render into English.

Seems like a sensible pick. Out of the books J. Philip Gabriel has translated, that probably would be the most difficult.

They also discuss some of the difficulties particular to Japanese:

In Japanese, subjects are often omitted, which tends to make sentences indirect and vague, and capable of multiple meanings. English sentences, on the other hand, tend to be more precise and complete. Japanese has the added dimension of the multiple interpretations of kanji symbols and the word games and double entendres that this lends itself to.

In bridging this structural and grammatical gap between English and Japanese, the translator can’t help but thrust themselves and their style into the work.

“When you read Haruki Murakami, you’re reading me, at least 95 per cent of the time,” Rubin told Kelts for the same article. . . .

Gabriel says Japanese writing tends to omit explanation in some areas and over-elaborate in others, and addressing this imbalance is part of the translator’s challenge: “I sometimes find myself wanting to make clearer certain unspoken connections and toning down parts that restate the same idea.”

I’ve heard this before about translating from the Japanese, particularly in regards to sentences often turning on the last work, or last few words. This is obviously difficult to reproduce in English—as Gabriel implies, English opts for much more clarity than Japanese. It’s likely true that reading Murakami in the original is a much different experience than getting him in Japanese, probably much more so than for a closer language, like Spanish.

And then there’s the explanation for why many translators do not write novels themselves:

Gabriel says translators who write original works – such as Murakami – are a rarity as the skill sets required are different. “Staring at a blank page and coming up with an original story seems so different from reworking an existing story into another language. Many people have asked me why I don’t try my hand at writing a novel, and I have played with writing a little, but it became clear to me early on that my interest lay in translation rather than writing original work.”

This is indeed something that I’ve heard from many translators. For instance, it’s a point of discussion in my interview with Margaret Jull Costa on That Other Word.

We had Gabriel (along with co-1Q84 translator Jay Rubin) for an event in April 2012. Interested parties can listen to the audio of that event right here.

2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature Finalists Announced

The nine finalists for the biannual, $50,000 Neustadt Prize have been announced. Interestingly, the shortlist is formed by having nine nominators each suggest a single writer. Here are the nominees, along with their nominator:

Cesar Aira, nominated by Cristina Rivera-Garza
Mia Couto, nominated by Gabriella Ghermandi
Duong Thu Huong, nominated by Andrew Lam
Edward P. Jones, nominated by Laleh Khadivi
Ilya Kaminsky, nominated by Lauren Camp
Chang-rae Lee, nominated by Krys Lee
Edouard Maunick, nominated by Ananda Devi
Haruki Murakami, nominated by Deji Olukotun
Ghassan Zaqtan, nominated by Fady Joudah

Strangely, each juror also picks a “representative text,” which it seems is what the jury makes their pick based on. This would obviously preference an author like Edward P. Jones, who is more given to writing relatively few long, laborious novels, rather than an author like Cesar Aira, whose work is based more on a career-wide project than any one book.

Also strange about this award are some of its past nominees and winners. The 2012 shortlist, for instance, included Bob Dylan (the site doesn’t say what his “representative work” was). In 2004 J.M. Coetzee was nominated by two jurors (did he get two representative works?)

All that said, the award does have an impressive geographical reach, regularly coming up with shorlists stuffed full of authors that will be little known to even the most ardent lovers of international literature.

2013 Susan Sontag Prize for Translation to Two Lines Press Translator

We’re very pleased to report the news that translator Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody has received the 2013 Susan Sontag Prize for Translation for his work with Benjamin Fondane’s long poem Ulysse. Big congratulations to a fine up-and-coming translator.

Ulysse is a work that has long been familiar to us at Two Lines Press, as we published a lengthy excerpt from his translation in Passageways, the 19th edition of our TWO LINES journal. In addition, we published some further portions of the work at TWO LINES Online, and they can be read here and here.

Here’s a little about Fondane and his work from Nathaniel’s introduction to the work in TWO LINES:

Born in 1898 in the old Jewish community of Iaşi, where his father was a storekeeper and his mother came from a well-known intellectual family, Fondane studied law but did not pass the bar, as his professor routinely failed Jewish students. He published poems, translations (from German and French), and criticism in the journals that flourished between the wars in his hometown and Bucharest, where he moved in 1919. In the capital, he was always at the center of a flurry of avant-garde artistic activity, yet in 1923 he moved to Paris like so many other Romanian artists and intellectuals, drawn to the city whose literature and culture was its own second language. Eugene Ionesco was his friend, Constantin Brancusi a witness at his wedding, and in later years the young Emil Cioran would visit him for encouragement. . . .

In French, he published the long poems Ulysse (1932) and Titanic (1937), but the many poems he wrote during the occupation of Paris—including The Sorrows of Ghosts and the collection In the Time of the Poem—were only published posthumously.The three extended poems: The Sorrows of Ghosts, Ulysses, and Titanic, were all inspired by two journeys Fondane made to Argentina, once invited by Victoria Ocampo to give a series of lectures, and once to direct a film that was unfortunately never released. All three poems take as their central image the Atlantic passage. Ulysses identifies its Homeric title character with the storied Wandering Jew, and draws on the mass emigrations that brought many of Fondane’s fellow Romanian Jews to America. Its tone and ideas anticipate the late masterpiece The Sorrows of Ghosts, written in occupied Paris in the shadow of the camps, whose ghosts, waiting on the quay to embark, then crossing the ocean in giant steamers, are fleeing a world falling to pieces. Their estrangement—from that lost world that was never theirs in the first place, from their own past (both the immigrants’ and Fondane’s, who was never sure how to confront his own Jewish heritage), and, as seekers of a hard truth like Shestov, from the crowds around them who accepted the world as they saw it—is ten years distant from the still-young poet. The voice, however, is the same, as are the concerns and the uniquely warm and sympathetic way of seeing a wide and unfriendly world.

PEN American Prizes Shortlist

The PEN American Center has always been excellent at highlighting great international writing, and the shortlists for their poetry and fiction translation awards, announced today, are no exception. It’s tough to even guess at frontrunners, since the lists are so diverse and interesting, and it’s nice that PEN announces these full shortlists, since taking a look at all of these books is a good opportunity to see what’s happening in translated literature in each of these genres.

Even just the list of presses represented in the poetry shortlist, judged by the Korean translator and poet Don Mee Choi is a testament to the vitality of translation in the independent and nonprofit publishing scene. Every single one of these presses is committed to publishing work in translation, and it’s especially refreshing on an awards shortlist to see ‘newer’ ones like Action Books alongside long-time stalwarts of translation like BOA Editions and Yale University Press:

Spit Temple by Cecilia Vicuña (Ugly Duckling Presse), Rosa Alcalá

Diadem by Marosa di Giorgio (BOA Editions), Adam Giannelli

Tales of a Severed Head by Rachida Madani (Yale University Press), Marilyn Hacker

The Smoke of Distant Fires by Eduardo Chirinos (Open Letter Books), G. J. Racz

Almost 1 Book/Almost 1 Life by Elfriede Czurda (Burning Deck), Rosmarie Waldrop

The Shock of the Lenders and Other Poems by Jorge Santiago Perednik (Action Books), Molly Weigel

For the fiction list, I’m a little less familiar with all of the books, but even that’s nice to see, at least if only here, since it feels like perhaps we’re moving beyond the paradigm where one or two fiction titles in translation a year get attention while so much other worthy work doesn’t get noticed. Of this list I’m partial to the Bilge Karasu, which the Center did an event for last fall and is really a beautiful book, or the Clarice Lispector (although it must have been tough to pick from the four Lispector’s that came out last year):

A Long Day’s Evening by Bilge Karasu (City Lights Books), Aron Aji and Fred Stark

Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector (New Directions), Alison Entrekin

Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Rosalind Harvey

The Cardboard House by Martín Adán (New Directions), Katherine Silver

The Island of Second Sight by Albert Vigoleis Thelen (Overlook Press), Donald O. White

Check out all the shortlists at The PEN site


Two Translation Contests for You

Some great opportunities for translators this summer in the form of two translation contests.

First up is Asymptote’s Close Approximations International Translation Contest. Judged by Eliot Weinberger (poetry) and Howard Goldblatt (fiction), this contest is open to translators from all languages into English and will award $1,000 prizes in each category, as well as publication in Asymptote. Deadline September 1, 2013. Cost of entry is $10.

More information is available right here.

“Close Approximations,” our new international contest, will be judged by two translators we greatly admire, Eliot Weinberger (poetry) and Howard Goldblatt (fiction), and we’re offering 1,000 USD to the winner in each category, as well as publication in Asymptote. The winners and shortlist will be announced in our January 2014 issue.

Eliot Weinberger’s books of literary essays include Karmic Traces, An Elemental Thing, and Oranges & Peanuts for Sale. His political articles are collected in What I Heard About Iraq and What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles. The author of a study of Chinese poetry translation, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, he is the current translator of the poetry of Bei Dao, and the editor of The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry and a forthcoming series of classics from Chinese University Press of Hong Kong. Among his translations and editions of Latin American poetry and prose are The Poems of Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges’ Selected Non-Fictions, Xavier Villaurrutia’s Nostalgia for Death, and Vicente Huidobro’s Altazor. His work has been translated into thirty languages.

Howard Goldblatt has translated several books by Chinese novelist and 2012 Nobel Prize Winner Mo Yan. Other writers he has translated from the Chinese include virtually all major contemporary novelists. Recent translations include Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong, Su Tong’s Boat to Redemption, and, with Sylvia Li-chun Li, Bi Feiyu’s Three Sisters, all winners of the Man Asian Literary Prize. In 2000 Goldblatt won the National Translation Award for his rendition of Chu Tien-wen’s Notes of a Desolate Man, and received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009. He is a contributing editor at Asymptote.

With another opportunity, the British press Harvill Secker is in the fourth year of its Young Translators’ Prize. The contest this year is to translate a passage from the celebrated Brazilian writer Adriana Lisboa (the excerpt in question was originally written in Portuguese), to be judged by Margaret Jull Costa, Naomi Alderman, Ángel Gurría-Quintana, and Ellie Steel. The deadline on this contest is August 2, 2013, and the prize is £1000 and a selection of Harvill Secker titles. The winner will also participate in the BCLT mentorship scheme and in Crossing Border festival. Entry is free, but since this is a young translators prize, entrants must be between the ages of 18 and 34.

Here’s information on Lisboa and the judges:

Adriana Lisboa was born in Rio de Janeiro. With degrees in Music and Literature, she is the author of ten widely translated fiction titles, including five novels, a collection of flash fiction, and books for children. She was hailed as a new star of Brazilian literature after the publication of her 2001 novel Sinfonia em Branco (‘Symphony in White’), which received the prestigious José Saramago Prize. In 2007, she was selected by the Hay Festival/Bogota World Book Capital as one of the 39 highest profile Latin American writers under the age of 39. Her latest novel, Crow Blue, will be published in the UK by Bloomsbury in October 2013, translated by Alison Entrekin.

Margaret Jull Costa (translator)
Margaret Jull Costa has been a literary translator for nearly twenty-five years and has translated many novels and short stories by Portuguese, Spanish and Latin American writers, including Eça de Queiroz, Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago, Javier Marías, Bernardo Atxaga, Alberto Barrera Tyszka and Luis Fernando Verissimo. She has won various prizes for her work, most recently, the 2012 Calouste Gulbenkian Prize with Teolinda Gersão’s The Word Tree, for which she was also runner-up with António Lobo Antunes’s The Land at the End of the World.

Naomi Alderman (author)
Naomi Alderman grew up in London and attended Oxford University and UEA. In 2006 she won the Orange Award for New Writers, and in 2007 she was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and one of Waterstones’ 25 Writers for the Future. She is the author of four novels: Disobedience, The Lessons, The Liars’ Gospel and the Doctor Who tie-in novel Borrowed Time. Naomi broadcasts regularly, has guest-presented Front Row on BBC Radio 4 and writes regularly for Prospect and the Guardian. From 2004 to 2007 Naomi was lead writer on the BAFTA-shortlisted alternate reality game Perplex City. She’s written online games for Penguin, the BBC, and other clients. In 2012, she co-created the top-selling fitness game and audio adventure Zombies, Run!.

Ángel Gurría-Quintana (literary reviewer)
Ángel Gurría-Quintana is a historian, journalist and translator of Spanish and Portuguese. He has written for the Financial Times since 2003, specialising in literature in translation. His work has also appeared in the Observer, the Guardian, The Paris Review, Brick, granta.com and the translation blog Three Percent. A regular presence at the Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty, his translations from Portuguese include the stories by Beatriz Bracher, Bernardo Carvalho, Milton Hatoum, Reinaldo Moraes and Cristovão Tezza in the compilation Dez/Ten (2012). More recently he co-edited and translated the forthcoming anthology, Other Carnivals: New Writing from Brazil (Full Circle Editions). He works at the University of Cambridge.

Ellie Steel (editor)
Ellie Steel is an editor at Harvill Secker, where she publishes Manuel Rivas, Karin Fossum and Andrey Kurkov, among others. She is the editor of the ‘A View from This Bridge’ blog at www.internationalwriting.co.uk.

Complete Review: All My Friends a Nice Introduction to Marie NDiaye

The Complete Review has tendered its opinion on Marie NDiaye’s All My Friends, finding it, a “nice introduction to the author.” In summary, the Review finds,

NDiaye has a very nice touch with her writing. There’s a clarity and crispness to it, even as her characters are often in a sort of fog, uncertain of their own place and position. The stories end not in a clear resolution, but an open-ended amplification of what led to this point — most clearly in ‘The Boys’, where a character longs for escape but finds anything but when his wish is granted.

While we’re running down NDiaye reviews, I should mention the Goodreads review of it by the critic K.Thomas Kahn. Kahn, who has reviewed for the Los Angeles Review of Books, 3:AM Magazine, Music & Literature, Berfrois, and others, certainly knows good literature, and had this to say:

NDiaye takes her time to parse the information with which she first bombards the reader (and her characters), starting in medias res both in terms of narration and also in terms of psychological tension. The build-up, and what she withholds, are crucial to her pacing and plotting. One example of what I mean here is how a conversation occurs between one main character and a man whose first name is given for several pages; it is only toward the end of the conversation that the omniscient narrator places the qualifying “her husband” before his name, causing the conversation that just ensued to have an intimacy that was removed and in effect displaced.

Each of these stories is devastating in its own way, dealing with subject matter that might be hard for some people to fathom with the open mind that NDiaye begs of her readers. Searing insight is on each page here, too, into how we distance ourselves in our past and present relationships with others; how we distance ourselves from the truth in order to remain as inviolable as we possibly can; and how the ties that bind—familial and those that we choose—can involve making decisions that, to outsiders, might seem to be unethical or immoral but which, in our state of confusion and panic, seem the only logical way out.