The Sydney PEN Translation Program

“Left to itself, every literature will exhaust its vitality if it is not refreshed by the interest and contributions of a foreign one.”

– Goethe, quoted in Esther Allen, ed. To Be Translated or Not To Be: PEN/IRL Report on the International Situation of Literary Translation (Barcelona: Insitut Ramon Llull, 2007)

NSW Premier’s Translation Prize & PEN Medallion

The biennial New South Wales Premier’s Translation Prize ($30,000) with accompanying PEN Medallion is offered to Australian translators who translate literary works into English from other languages. The work can include poetry, stage and radio plays, and fiction and non-fiction works of literary merit. The prize recognises the vital role literary translators play in enabling writers and readers to communicate across cultures and in ensuring that dissident voices are heard around the world. The prize was proposed by the International PEN Sydney Centre and is funded alternately by Arts NSW and the Community Relations Commission For A Multicultural NSW.

In 2011, the award was given to Dr. Ian Johnston. Born in Collaroy, NSW in 1939, Johnston studied to become a prominent neurosurgeon, and in 2000 was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his contribution to the field of medicine. He continued to pursue his passion for ancient languages, completing a PhD in Chinese at Sydney University. The Mozi is his translation of the important philosophical works of Mo Di, adding to his earlier publications of ancient Chinese poetry. Johnston has also translated two major works of writer and physician Galen from classical Greek: Galen: Diseases and Symptoms and Galen: Method of Medicine. The judges for the 2011 prize were Patricia Azarias, Sally Blakeney and Julie Rose.

David_Colmer_sm In 2009, the Prize and Medallion were won by David Colmer. Born in Adelaide in 1960, Colmer studied medicine but left after a few years to travel. In the early nineties he moved to Amsterdam, where he learnt Dutch and became a literary translator. He translates poetry, novels, plays and children’s literature and has published more than twenty book-length translations. He has twice won the David Reid Poetry Translation Prize. Besides translating, he also writes and has published short stories in literary magazines in Australia and Europe. A novel and a short story collection have been published in the Netherlands in Dutch translation. The judges for the 2009 NSW Premier’s Translation Prize were Mabel Lee, Barbara McGilvray and Jeanne Ryckmans.

nieuwenhuizen-l The 2007 Translation Prize and PEN Medallion were awarded to John Nieuwenhuizen, who translates from Dutch to English. The award is for excellence in literary translation across a body of work. The judges noted in particular Nieuwenhuizen’s translations of Guus Kuijer’s The Book of Everything, Jan Simoen’s And What About Anna? and Anne Provoost’s Falling, among others. The Translation Award judges panel included Sydney PEN Vice President Sally Blakeney (chair), Suzan Piper and Beth Yahp.

ChrisAndrews In 2005, the PEN Medallion and Translation Prize were awarded to Chris Andrews, a translator, poet and commentator who has moved between French and Spanish but is known particularly for his translations from Spanish of writers such as Jaime Collyer, Julio Cortázar and Roberto Bolaño. The judges for the 2005 award were PEN Translation Committee members Julie Rose (chair of the judging panel) and Nicholas Jose, together with Tony Stephens. Read Chris’s translation of “Dance Card” by Bolaño, from Last Evenings on Earth & Other Stories (New York: New Directions, 2006).

JulieRose In 2003, the award was made to Julie Rose, renowned for her translations of the French cultural critic Paul Virilio. Published in the UK, the US and Australia, Rose has also translated Jean Racine, Alexandre Dumas, Jacques Rancière, Michel Leiris, Pierre Bourdieu, Marguerite Duras, and Chantal Thomas. The shortlist for the 2003 prize included Harry Aveling, translating from Indonesian; Patricia Clancy, from French; and Jennifer Lindsay, from Arabic. The judges were Vrasidas Karalis (chair), Mabel Lee and Evelyn Juers.

lee-mabel Mabel Lee, who translated Nobel Prize winner Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain and One Man’s Bible, won the award in 2001. The inaugural year saw entries from 16 languages – Arabic, Assyrian, Bengali, Chinese, Czech, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Macedonian, Polish, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese – and covered most genres: prose, poetry, drama for both stage and radio, literary non-fiction. Patricia Clancy, Simon Patton and Julie Rose were on the shortlist. Judges were Barbara McGilvray (chair), Helmut Bakaitis and Vivian Smith.

Sydney PEN Translators' Exchange Fellowship

Sydney PEN is currently developing an annual exchange program between Australia and the Asian and Pacific region. The fellowship aims to work with one PEN centre in the region per year, supporting one Australian and one regional translator in an exchange between their home countries. The fellowship will provide each translator with a return flight, one month’s accommodation and stipend, and local resources to develop a part or whole work of translation.

This project is interested in promoting the translation of Australian writing in countries within our region, and sharing Asian and Pacific literatures with Australian and English speaking audiences.

Sydney PEN is seeking funding support for the inaugural fellowship with a partner country yet to be confirmed.

Independent Chinese PEN Centre Quarterly Journal

ICPC has worked with Sydney PEN to edit the Spring 2010 issue of its journal of writing. The issue features English translations of poetry and prose by currently imprisoned Chinese writers. It can be downloaded here.