Translators on center stage in London

LONDON – «Translators probably get fewer thanks and less praise than they deserve,» said TLS editor Peter Stothard Monday evening at University College London’s Bloomsbury Theater, where he was presenting the 2005 Literary Translation Prizes. All the more welcome then is this annual event which, preceded by readings from the prize-winning works, gives translators and translation a rare moment on center stage. Organized by the British Center of Literary Translation (BCLT) and the Society of Authors with the support of the TLS, it is run in tandem with the Sebald lecture, held in commemoration of BCLT founder Max Sebald and sponsored by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA). Sebald lecture Professor Germaine Greer delivered the Sebald lecture. Welcoming Greer as someone who operates on the «interface of culture and academia,» BCLT Director Amanda Hopkinson said the lecture «focuses on ideas and concepts, rather than rules.» Though Greer’s topic – «On not knowing (Aeolian) Greek: the metamorphoses of Sappho» – looked uncharacteristically anodyne, Greer slashed her way in trademark fashion through received wisdom, this time on Sappho’s famous «Phainetai moi.» Examining the verse and a series of translations, Greer argued that Sappho has been reconstructed by succeeding generations in their own image, and that the original could not possibly have been as cliche-ridden as some renditions suggest. Though her guesses at etymology (and sometimes even geography) raised some eyebrows – Greer makes no claim to be a trained classicist – she did what she excels at, challenging prevailing notions with vigor and humor. The prizes The Vondel Prize for translation from Dutch went to Diane Webb for her translation of «Colors Demonic and Divine: Shades of Meaning in the Middle Ages and After» by Herman Pleij (Columbia University Press). The judges commended its «fidelity, fluency, resourcefulness and precision.» John Berger and Lisa Appignanesi won the Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from French for their translation of «The Year is ’42» by Nella Bielski (Bloomsbury), which the judges deemed to be «free and bold, fluent and fresh.» The Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from German was won by Karen Leeder for her translation of «Selected Poems» by Evelyn Schlag (Carcanet), and praised by the judges for «successfully conveying detail and mood.» David Connolly took the Hellenic Culture Foundation Translation Award for his translation of «The Dedalus Book of Greek Fantasy (Dedalus Limited), which the judges admired for its «flexibility with different styles and periods.» Chris Andrews won the Premio Valle Inclan for translation from Spanish for his translation of «Distant Star» by Roberto Bolano (Harvill), which the judges lauded for «brilliantly capturing the atmosphere of apparently random happenings.» The Rossica International Prize for translation from Russian, offered for the first time, went to Oliver Ready for his translation of «The Prussian Bride» by Yury Buida (Dedalus Limited). The good news is that another prize will be added to those administered by the Society of Authors and Translators Association. The Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, will be awarded for the first time in October 2006.