The annual Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize is awarded each spring to honor an outstanding literary translation from German into English published in the USA the previous year. The translator of the winning translation will receive US-$ 10,000.00. The prize was established in 1996 and is administered by the Goethe-Institut Chicago. It is funded by the German government.
Philip Boehm was selected by a five-member jury as the winner of this year’s Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for his translation of Gregor von Rezzori’s An Ermine in Czernopol, (New York Review of Books, New York, 2011), originally published as Ein Hermelin in Tschernopol.
This year's jurors were:
David Dollenmayer, Hopkinton, MA
Krishna Winston, Middletown, CT
Karen Noelle, Germany
Michael Ritterson, Gettysburg, PA
Susan Harris, Chicago, IL
Statement of the jury: “There are realities besides and beyond our own, which is the only one we know, and therefore the only one we think exists.” Thus begins Gregor von Rezzori’s novel “An Ermine in Czernopol”, his brilliant evocation of a city where Romanians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Armenians, ethnic Germans, exiled Russians, Jews, Gypsies, and others rub shoulders in uneasy coexistence following the First World War. Philip Boehm’s virtuoso translation captures both the stylistic pyrotechnics of Rezzori’s digressive and often hilarious prose as well as the spiritual turmoil that lies just below its surface. Through the naïve yet knowing childhood ears and eyes of the narrator, we listen to a babel of ethnic voices and watch as disaster unfolds in slow motion. With this translation, rich in alliteration, assonance, elaborate sentence structure, and changing rhythms, Philip Boehm makes another masterpiece by the author of “Memoirs of an Anti-Semite” vividly available to English-speaking readers.”
Philip Boehm’s career zigzags across languages and borders, artistic disciplines and cultural divides. He is the author of more than two dozen translations of novels and plays by German and Polish writers, including Nobelist Herta Müller, Christoph Hein, Franz Kafka, Bertolt Brecht, Ida Fink, and Stefan Chwin. Nonfiction translations include A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous and Words to Outlive Us, a collection of eyewitness accounts from the Warsaw Ghetto. For his work as a translator he has received awards from the American Translators Association, the U.K. Society of Authors, the National Endowment for the Arts, PEN America, the Austrian Ministry of Culture, and the Texas Institute of Letters. As a theater director fluent in several languages he has staged plays in Poland, Slovakia, and the United States. His most frequent venue is Upstream Theater in St. Louis, which he founded in 2004. Since then the company has become a leading producer of new international work, having presented over a dozen U.S. premieres of plays from countries as far-flung as Cuba and Croatia. In 2012 Upstream was recognized by the American Theatre Wing with a National Theater Grant as one of the most promising emerging companies in the United States. As a dramatist his staged plays include Mixtitlan, Soul of a Clone, Alma en venta, The Death of Atahualpa (inspired by a Quechua oral drama), and Return of the Bedbug—a modern fantasia on Mayakovsky’s 1928 satire. For this work he has received awards from the Mexican-American Fund for Culture and the National Endowment for the Arts as well as a 2013 Guggenheim fellowship.
Honorable Mention was awarded to Donald O. White for his translation of A.V. Thelen’s novel “The Island of Second Sight“(Overlook Press2012).
The jury stated: Donald O. White, with his translation of Albert Vigoleis Thelen’s The Island of Second Sight, has recovered for readers of English a work of grand proportions and manifest virtuosity. White is particularly successful in capturing and sustaining the language of Thelen’s wry, irreverent, penetrating, and often hedonistic humor, whether in the narrator’s voice or the many voices of his variegated cast of characters. This is a major effort for a landmark work of the mid-twentieth century.
Dr. Christian Brecht, Consul General in Chicago, presented the award to Philip Boehm.
Recorded live Monday, June 3, 2013 at the Fine Arts Building.