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Helen and Kurt Wolff Symposium 2010: The Art of Literary Translation

Award-wining translator Peter Constantine leads a casual roundtable discussion on the practice of literary translation and how his panelists came to their tasks. Featuring Wolff Prize winners Breon Mitchell, Krishna Winston, Susan Bernofsky, Ross Benjamin, and editor Drenka Willen.

Peter Constantine has recently translated The Essential Writings of Machiavelli (Modern Library, 2007). 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. His translation of the complete works of Isaac Babel received the Koret Jewish Literature Award and a National Jewish Book Award citation. He has translated Within Four Walls: The Correspondence between Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Blücher, 1936-1968 for Harcourt, and Gogol's Taras Bulba, Tolstoy's The Cossacks, and Voltaire's Candide for Modern Library. He was one of the editors for A Century of Greek Poetry: 1900-2000 and has co-editing an anthology of Greek poetry since Homer for W.W. Norton, entitled The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present. He is a senior editor of Conjunctions. His translation of Sophocles' Theban Trilogy was published by Barnes and Noble in 2008. In 2007 he won the Kurt and Helen Wolff Translator Prize.

Breon Mitchell is a professor of Comparative Literature and German Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington and currently the director of Lily's Rare Book Library in Bloomington. Among his translations into American English are works by F. Federspiel (Geographie der Lust/ Laura's Skin), Rüdiger Kremer (The Color of the Snow), Ralf Rothmann (Messers Schneide/ Knife Edge), Martin Grzimek (Die Beschattung/ Shadowlife), Franz Kafka (Der Prozess/ The Trial), Heinrich Böll (Der Engel schwieg/ The Silent Angel and Der blasse Hund/ The Mad Dog), Sten Nadolny (Ein Gott der Frechheit/ The God of Impertinence) und Marcel Beyer (Spione/ Spies). His new translation of Günter Grass' Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) was recently published to mark the novel's fiftieth anniversary. In 2004 he won the Kurt and Helen Wolff Translator Prize.

Krishna Winston has been a professor of German language and literature at Wesleyan University in Connecticut for thirty years. She began translating while still a graduate student, and has translated over twenty books and numerous shorter works by authors such as Oskar Schlemmer, Siegfried Lenz, Golo Mann, Goethe (Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre), Grete Weil, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Peter Handke, and Günther Grass. In 1994 she received the Schlegel-Tieck Translation Prize for her version of Ralf Georg Reuth's Goebbels. In 2001 she won the Kurt and Helen Wolff Translator Prize.

Author and translator Susan Bernofsky has translated 15 books, including six by the great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser, as well as novels by Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, Hermann Hesse, Gregor von Rezzori and others. She received the 2006 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize as well as awards and fellowships from the NEH, the NEA, the PEN Translation Fund, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Lannan Foundation. During the Fall 2010 semester, she will be a visiting faculty member in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College (CUNY) and in the Graduate Writing Program at Columbia University.

Ross M. Benjamin is a writer and translator living in Nyack, New York. His translations include Friedrich Hölderlin's Hyperion, Kevin Vennemann's Close to Jedenew, Michael Maar's Speak, Nabokov, Thomas Pletzinger's Funeral for a Dog and Joseph Roth's Job. His literary criticism has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Bookforum, the Nation, and other publications. He was a 2003-2004 Fulbright Scholar in Berlin. He is currently at work on a novel about the Harlem Renaissance.

Senior Editor Drenka Willen joined Harcourt as a translator and freelance editor in the 1960s, and took over day-to-day duties for the Helen & Kurt Wolff imprint in 1981. She specializes in literature-in-translation, both fiction and nonfiction. The authors she has worked with include Günter Grass, Umberto Eco, Octavio Paz, Wislawa Szymborska, José Saramago, and Charles Simic. Specific titles on her list are The Tin Drum, translated by Breon Mitchell; José Saramago's memoirs of childhood; We, the Drowned, an epic seafaring novel by Danish author Carsten Jensen; a collection of essays by Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk, and A Personal History with Jigsaws by acclaimed British novelist Margaret Drabble.


Recorded Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at Goethe-Institut Chicago.

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