Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Oxford Weidenfeld Prize and Oxford Translation Day

My old friend and colleague Steph Morris just wired this in...

(Deputy Blog Agency reporting from the UK)
When Isabel Cole, my chum and fellow translator-and-writer, said she was on the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize shortlist for her rendering of Franz Fühmann’s Das Judenauto (The Jew Car, Seagull), couldn’t go to the prize ceremony, and had been asked to provide either a representative or a recording, I was flattered to be her preferred option – some US and Canadian translators on the shortlist sent entertaining video and audio messages. All I had to do was read from Isabel’s fine translation and introduce the book. The best bit was that not being Isabel I could also blow her trumpet. Which I did. Although I helped edit this translation, and saw it in an earlier draft, I was still mightily impressed by its fluidity and poetry. It was a joy to read. Isabel has earned this approbation after years of dedication to literature, with her many translations of fascinating (largely dead) authors for Seagull (hooray for them too). In the excitement I forgot to mention setting up No Mans Land, a huge achievement, but did mention the fact that she also writes – with a book out recently – a significant aspect, at least to me. (Isabel gave me some of the best feedback I received on my own manuscript and has a keen eye for fiction.) Having read The Jew Car in original too, I described what I think is special about the novel. The ironic voice on the one hand, evoking the perspectives both of naive young Nazi Franz and of post-war socialist Franz as he wrote, with humour as well as horror; and the un-heroic, anticlimactic dramatisation of ‘monumental’ events before, during and after the Second World War, with the focus on everyday, mundane details which makes the storytelling all the more convincing – refreshing and important in the context of the grotesque Schinken we’ve been subjected to recently: Nazi period dramas which buy into all the clichés and codes of Hollywood. Sorry rant over! (Well this is a blog...)
So, the winner was... not Isabel, it was Susan Wicks for her translation of Valérie Rouzeau’s poems – and there were two other poetry collections in the shortlist, plus a novel partly written in verse. As I was at pains to stress to Isabel on the phone, shortly afterwards, the judges were at pains to stress that the shortlist was as important as the winner, demonstrating this by each enthusing on stage about the books they particularly liked. In fact Susan declined to say anything herself on receiving the prize, nor did Matthew, MC, jury head and prize organiser, so the ceremony was also somewhat un-heroic. Luckily the principle of St Anne’s college toasted her over dinner. Oh yes, there was dinner, and fine wine (thanks Isabel, thanks St Anne’s!).
Susan is a Bloodaxe poet, and a Faber author, when not translating; like everyone who was at the dinner she was clearly someone who loved words and takes them seriously. As someone whose first degree was in ‘colouring in’ I found dining with a posse of top academics surprisingly relaxing, conducive and not in the least threatening. But not only was there dinner, more enticing to a thinny like me was the Rahmenprogramm. The prize ceremony was the climax of ‘Oxford Translation Day’, a festival of workshops, readings and talks spread over, erm, two days which reminded me of the VdÜ’s Wolfenbüttel gathering. Readers of this blog will be familiar with what goes on there. I attended a workshop on poetry writing, my new medium, run by English PEN, using poems in translation as the inspiration. Check the programme. Ok back to your regular blogger, that’s all from me.

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