Yesterday Kari received a note from Jim Kates ’67, a College of Letters alumnus sharing the news that he had recently received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship to continue his work on translating the Kazakhstani poet Aigerim Tazhi:
Until recently, female poets writing in Russian did not receive attention commensurate with their male counterparts, and female poets living outside Moscow and St. Petersburg even less so. Tazhi (b. 1981) is helping to change that. This new bilingual edition of An Astounded World will have particular significance both in the U.S. and in the poet’s native Kazakhstan because, as the poet herself states (as translated by Kates), “In Kazakhstan, not even one independent publishing house remains. Most publishers work … as typesetters, living on government subsidies, and publish mainly Kazakh classics or textbooks.” The press that published her book, she adds, closed years ago. The author of numerous award-winning poems, Tazhi was a finalist for the prestigious Russian Debut Prize in Poetry.
J. Kates is a poet, literary translator, past president of the American Literary Translators Association, and current president and co-director of Zephyr Press, a nonprofit publisher of works in translation from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Asia. He is a recipient of NEA fellowships in both poetry and translation, as well as the Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation for his Selected Poems of Mikhail Yeryomin (White Pine Press, 2014). His most recent translation, Muddy River: Selected Poems of Sergey Stratanovsky, was published by the Carcanet Press in 2016.
Jim let us know that his fellow COL alumnus, Mark Schafer ’85, is also a distinguished translator who has garnered support from national foundations for his work.
Wesleyan has been a home for translators for a long time. When I was a student, the distinguished poet Richard Wilbur was also translating texts in a most powerful way, and my teacher in philosophy Victor Gourevitch published translations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that are still widely used. We would later collaborate on translating and preparing a critical edition of the correspondence between Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojève. Today, Norman Shapiro in Romance Languages holds the title “Distinguished Professor of Literary Translation.” He has been honored time and time again for his work at once so elegant and faithful to the original. In Russian, Susanne Fusso recently published an “outstanding” translation of a novella by Sergey Gandlevsky, and she has been praised for her deep knowledge of the history and culture of the author and attentiveness to his “relentless allusiveness.” In German Studies, professor Krishna Winston is a prolific, thoughtful translator of texts literary, philosophical and scholarly. Her work is widely read and regularly praised.
I know there are many more faculty engaged in translation projects. Please forgive me for not listing everyone!
All this brings to mind Prof. Katherine Kuenzeli’s recent award from the National Endowment for the Humanities to prepare a critical edition and translation of a selection of writings by Henry van de Velde. Katherine is an art historian, and she will work with a team to bring the work of this Belgian architect and art critic to a wider audience. Philosopher Stephen Horst has also received a major fellowship from the NEH to continue a project that might be described as translation in a less literal sense. Stephen is going beyond his specialized professional work to write a book aimed at a general audience “that examines the story of early modern science to demonstrate the compatibility between science, humanism, and theism.” I am so proud to see the work of our colleagues recognized by the NEH in this way.
I’ve been thinking this summer about the ways in which liberal education increases our abilities to translate lessons learned in one area to other domains. We learn to discover new possibilities of resonance, new avenues of relevance. At Wesleyan we aim to enhance the ability of students to translate what they are learning into what they will do after graduation. Indeed, the pragmatic liberal education we offer at Wesleyan may be described as translational liberal learning – broad, contextual education aimed at giving our students tenacious yet flexible ways of thinking appropriate for a rapidly changing world.
Wesleyan translators unite! We have nothing to lose but our parochialism!!