Madeleine Levine & the Found in Translation Award
#language & literature
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At the Polish Consulate General in Midtown Manhattan, the veteran translator Madeline G. Levine was bestowed with the Found in Translation Award for her new translation of Bruno Schulz’s ‘Collected Stories’, ‘for its fluency and fidelity to the rare and often elusive complexity of Schulz’s prose.’ Fellow translator Sean Bye looks at her work as well as those of past winners.
The Found in Translation Award is the Polish government’s prize for the best translation into English in a given year. It is jointly awarded by the Polish Book Institute in Kraków and the Polish Cultural Institutes in London and New York. Designed to encourage high-quality translations into one of the world’s most important book markets, the award comes with 16,000 PLN and a one-month residency at the Book Institute’s beautiful apartments in Kraków. Over the years, it has gone to some of Polish literature’s most important translators, as well as a number of new and emerging voices in the US and UK.
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At this year’s ceremony, the gilded reception hall of the New York Consulate hosted readings in English and Polish by Levine and Kasia Glinka, a discussion led by the translator and scholar Eliza Rose, and a concert of Polish and American jazz standards by Kuba Cichocki.
Levine talked about the immense challenge of translating Schulz’s surreal and proto-magical realist prose. Schulz was one of Poland’s most innovative and renowned writers, yet his life was cut tragically short when he was shot down in the street by a Nazi German Gestapo officer, and people often muse on what else he would have written had he lived. His stories have achieved popularity far outside Poland and even been adapted into other media, for instance Wojciech Jerzy Has’s film The Hourglass Sanatorium. This edition of his Collected Stories, published by Northwestern University Press, is the first new English translation of Schulz since the 1970s.
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Hardly anyone could be more up to the task: Levine has an extensive CV with a long career in Polish literature. Her first translation in 1977 was of Miron Białoszewski’s Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising, a harrowing and true account of the author’s time in the Polish capital as the Home Army tried to liberate it from Nazi German occupation. Białoszewski’s hectic and fragmentary style was a challenge to bring into English – but one Levine got the unusual chance to revisit and revise when the book was reissued by the New York Review Books in 2015. Additionally, Levine has brought a large number of important Polish-Jewish writers to Anglophone readers, including Hanna Krall, Bogdan Wojdowski, Ida Fink and others. It’s no wonder her work has received such recognition.
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Levine is not the only translation superstar of Polish literature to receive the Found in Translation Award. Last year’s winner was Jennifer Croft, for her translation of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk. That book netted its author and translator the Man Booker International Prize – the most prestigious award for international literature in the English-speaking world. Croft not only translates from Polish, but also Spanish and Ukrainian. She is also an author in her own right: her memoir Homesick, including Croft’s own photographs, has won critical accolades this year. It was first written in Spanish, with Croft translating and recrafting it herself for the English-language edition.
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The Polish author Olga Tokarczuk (left) pictured with the translator Jennifer Croft after winning the Man Booker International prize 2018, photo: Matt Crossick / PA Wire / PA Images / East News
The previous year’s laureate was a newer voice. Piotr Florczyk won in 2017 for his translation of Building the Barricade by the outstanding World War II poet Anna Świrszczyńska. Florczyk is a Kraków native who relocated to the United States as a teenager. A former competitive swimmer, he’s also an accomplished poet and has translated works by Julian Kornhauser and others. Świrszczyńska’s Building the Barricade is one of the best-known examples of poetry about the Warsaw Uprising, and Świrszczyńska’s uniquely raw, intimate portrayals of the violence of that period have left a lasting mark on Polish culture.
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Piotr Florczyk, photo: Lost Horse Press promotional materials
Bill Johnston is a rare case of a two-time winner. He won the very first FiTA ever in 2008 for his translations of the poet Tadeusz Różewicz, then won again in 2016 with another poet (with a similar name!): Tomasz Różycki, author of the epic poem Twelve Stations. Johnston is an accomplished translator of both poetry and prose, bringing English readers such varied authors as Magdalena Tulli, Wiesław Myśliwski, Stanisław Lem, and even Poland’s national epic, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz. Twelve Stations is Różycki’s reflection on his and his family’s relationship to the land in his native Opole region, to which his family was relocated in the aftermath of World War II.
Bill Johnston Wins Found in Translation Award for Różycki's Twelve Stations
The full list of past winners can be found on the Book Institute website. It reads like a who’s who of the most important advocates for Polish literature in the English-speaking world. All of these winners have not only translated Polish books, but tirelessly promoted Polish authors of all genres to publishers and audiences in their own countries. Like Madeline G. Levine, these translators act as living bridges between Polish culture and the outside world, ensuring that Polish literature continues to enjoy a high profile and great respect amongst readers on both sides of the Atlantic.
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Written by Sean G. Bye, 12 Dec 2019