Burton Watson Named PEN/Ralph Manheim Medalist for Lifetime Achievement in Translation

A41A6373 (2)

It is with great pleasure that PEN America announces today that the 2015 PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation will be awarded to scholar and translator of Chinese and Japanese literature Burton Watson. One of PEN’s most prestigious lifetime achievement awards, the medal is given every three years to a translator whose career has demonstrated a commitment to excellence through the body of his or her work, and has been previously awarded to such distinguished translators as Gregory Rabassa, Edith Grossman, and Edmund Keeley, among others.

The winner of the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal is chosen by the members of the PEN America Translation Committee, who are dedicated to highlighting the art of literary translation and advocating on behalf of translators. As the committee’s citation states, “Burton Watson is the inventor of classical East Asian poetry for our time.” Among other writers, Watson has translated the works of Chuang Tzu, Han-shan, Su Tung-P’o, and Po Chü-i.

Credited with making many classical Chinese and Japanese works accessible to the English-reading public for the first time, Watson’s translations also span a wide array of genres, from poetry and prose to histories and sacred texts. The committee citation continues, “For decades his anthologies and his scholarly introductions have defined classical East Asian literature for students and readers in North America, and we have reason to expect more: even at his advanced age, he still translates nearly daily.”

In 1982, Watson was a recipient of the PEN Translation Prize for his translation of From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Hiroaki Sato (Anchor Press/University of Washington Press) and in 1995 for his translation of Selected Poems of Su Tung–p’o (Copper Canyon). PEN is thrilled to now recognize Watson for his valued and longstanding commitment to the art of translation, bringing great creativity and precision to his work and introducing great works of literature to a wider audience.

Watson will be honored, along with all 2015 PEN award winners, at the PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on June 8 at The New School in New York City.

Click the image for the full citation.


In Other Words: a discussion about translation and translators at Asian Review

Julia Lovell, Sophie Lewis, Arunava Sinha, Marcia Lynx Qualey and I took part in a discussion at Asian Review of Books on the nature of translation and the role of translators in bringing Asian literature to the English-speaking world. Here is an excerpt from the conversation:

Peter Gordon, editor: A work in translation is, obviously, not the same as a work in the original language. But what is it exactly that readers are actually reading when they read a translation?

Lucas Klein: First, what a translation is not: a genetic clone of some original. Many criticisms of translation—such as that translation is “impossible”—are based on impossibly narrow definitions of translation.

Peter Gordon, editor: When setting up the Man Asian Literary Prize, I included an additional award for the translator (if there was one) of the winning novel. This was not just a matter of acknowledging the translators’ contribution: the Prize was initially for as yet unpublished works, and I figured if anyone would know what interesting works were in the pipeline, it would be translators … Where do translators and translations fit in this “eco-system”?

Lucas Klein: The role of translators in that ecosystem can seem both very large and very small. If Faulkner was influenced by the Bible and the great nineteenth century Russian novelists, say, and in turn influenced Gabriel García Márquez and Mo Yan, then not only was Faulkner influenced by the King James translators, but also by Constance Garnett, who translated Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in the early twentieth century, as García Márquez and Mo Yan are influenced by the translators of Faulkner into Spanish and Chinese, while Howard Goldblatt is in turn influenced not only by Faulkner but by Gregory Rabassa and Edith Grossman—García Márquez’s main translators into English—in the formation of the literary style he has used to represent and recreate Mo Yan’s voice in English.

Click the image above for the full discussion.