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PEN Translation Month; Annual Literary Awards
Calvin Reid -- 5/18/98
The month of May marks World-in-Translation Month, PEN American Center's third annual celebration of international literature and its translators, which features PEN's annual translation and literary awards.
Although literary translators clearly love what they do, they feel they could use a bit more respect. Edith Grossman, a distinguished Spanish translator since 1970 (among her many translations are books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa), was quick to note that "things are better for us now." Nevertheless, she is "bemused that book reviewers mostly give translations an adverb -- 'ably' or 'competently.' Maybe that's all we need."

Literary translation -- an arcane profession at best -- is bolstered by few university-based academic programs, said Grossman, who gave up teaching to translate full time. But to become a translator, Grossman quipped, "you just do it." That's what Linda Coverdale, winner of last year's French/American Translators Prize did. Although Coverdale has a degree in French literature, before she began translating she was a painter -- of houses. After translating a work by Roland Barthes in 1985, she told PW, "the phone just kept ringing."

Translators also bemoan what they claim to be a dwindling number of translations by American publishers -- even, they say, from stalwarts like Farrar, Straus &Giroux and Knopf. Agent Tony Outhwaite, chair of PEN's translation committee, recognizes part of the problem: "How do you promote an unknown author who may not speak English?" He hopes, however, that publishers will take notice of translators like Grossman and Coverdale, and he points to PEN's translation month reading series (all featuring translators). "Translators can be a good surrogate," said Outhwaite. "They can make translations more visible."

To that end, Grossman (latest: Loves That Bind by Julian Rios; Knopf) and Coverdale (Shadows of a Childhood by Elisabeth Gille; New Press) will be reading from their latest translations on June 3 at Barnes &Noble at Astor Place in downtown Manhattan. Borders Books will feature readings on May 18 and 19 by translators Linda Asher and John Shepley. Other readings scheduled around the country include Peter Theroux, Carol Volk and Robert Wechsler at Chapters bookstore in Washington, D.C., May 22; Howard Goldblatt and Anselm Hollo at the Boulder Bookstore in Boulder, Colo., May 26; and Chana Bloch, Carol Cosman and Jane Handel at A Clean Well Lighted Place in San Francisco, May 19.

The Awards

The PEN Awards were presented on May 14 in New York City.

PEN/BOMC Translation Award: Peter Constantine's translation of Six Early Stories by Thomas Mann (Sun &Moon).

P try in Translation: Eamon Grennan's translation of Selected P ms by Giacomo Leopardi (Princeton Univ.).

Kolovakos Career Translation Award: Johannes Wilbert, editor of the 24-volume Folk Literature of South American Indians (U.C.L.A./Latin American Center).

Spielvogel-Diamonstein Essay Award: Adam Hochschild's Finding the Trapdoor (Syracuse Univ.).

Albrand Memoir Award: Peter Balakian's Black Dog of Fate (Basic Books).

Albrand First Nonfiction Award: Serge Schmemann's Ech s of a Native Land (Knopf).

Pen/V lcker P try Award: C.K. Williams.
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