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January 17, 2009, 2:30 PM

The World of the Translator

Participants: Peter Cole, Peter Constantine, Jonathan Galassi, Edith Grossman, Suzanne Jill Levine, Qiu Xiaolong

Borges once noted that nothing was more central to the "modest mystery" of literature than translation. Across centuries and language barriers, culture survives through translation, and it's an essential consideration in the art of reading. This panel will explore translation's role in literary culture, as well as the figure of the translator. Topics for discussion include the nature of the relationship between translation and original writing; the influence of editors and publishers; translators' aesthetic, political, and psychological concerns; and the role of translation in contemporary global culture.

Peter Cole, the recipient of a 2007 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, has published three books of poetry: Rift, Hymns & Qualms, and, most recently, Things on Which I've Stumbled. A fourth volume, What Is Doubled: Poems 1981-1989, was also recently published by Shearsman Books in the UK. Cole has worked intensively on Hebrew literature, with special emphasis on medieval Hebrew poetry. In 1988 he started the ambitious project of translating into English texts by Shmuel HaNagid, whose lyrical work had always been considered untranslatable. His Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid received the Modern Language Association's Scaglione Prize for Translation. His 2007 anthology, The Dream of the Poem, traces the arc of the Hebrew Golden Age, in which Jewish artistic and intellectual communities flourished in medieval Spain under Islamic rule. Cole has received numerous awards for his work, including fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the 1998 Modern Language Association Translation Award.

Peter Constantine is a translator whose most recent translations include Sophocles's Three Theban Plays, The Essential Writings of Machiavelli, Self's Deception by Bernhard Schlink, and The Bird is a Raven by Benjamin Lebert, which was awarded the 2007 Helen und Kurt Wolff Translation Prize. He was awarded the PEN Translation Prize for Six Early Stories by Thomas Mann, and the National Translation Award for The Undiscovered Chekhov—Thirty-Eight New Stories. Constantine was one of the editors for A Century of Greek Poetry: 1900-2000, and is currently co-editing an anthology of Greek poetry since Homer for W.W. Norton. He is a Fellow in the Program of Hellenic Studies at Columbia University.

Jonathan Galassi became an editor in the trade division of Houghton Mifflin Company in 1973. He was a senior editor at Random House from 1981 to 1986, when he joined Farrar, Straus and Giroux as vice-president and executive editor. He was named president of the firm in 2002. He has published two books of poems, Morning Run and North Street, and has translated several volumes of the work of the Italian poet Eugenio Montale. He is currently completing a translation of the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi. Galassi serves as honorary chairman of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the board of overseers of the California Institute of the Arts.

Edith Grossman is a prize-winning translator of Latin American and Spanish literature, ranging from her acclaimed translation of Don Quixote and poetry of the Spanish Golden Age, to contemporary works by Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Mayra Montero, and Alvaro Mutis. The recipient of Woodrow Wilson, Fulbright, and Guggenheim fellowships, in 2006 Grossman was awarded the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, and in 2007 she received an award in literature from the American academy of Arts and Letters.

Suzanne Jill Levine, the distinguished translator of innovative Spanish American writers such as Manuel Puig, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortazar, is the author of The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction and Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman: His Life and Fictions. A professor of Latin American literature and Translation Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, her honors include PEN American Center and PEN USA West awards, National Endowment for the Arts and for the Humanities grants and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship.

Qiu Xiaolong is the author of five novels—Death of a Red Heroine, A Loyal Character Dancer, When Red Is Black, A Case of Two Cities, and Red Mandarin Dress—in the critically acclaimed, award-winning Inspector Chen series. His books have sold over a million copies and have been translated into twenty languages. In addition, he has published three Chinese poetry translations and a poetry collection, as well as translating T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, Sigmund Freud and others into Chinese. Xiaolong worked as an associate research professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences before he came to the United States as a Ford Foundation Fellow in the late eighties.


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