Tag Archives: Bill Johnston

Found in Translation Award nomination, Deadline January 31st

If you haven’t yet made your nomination, please read further and send your email in by this Sunday!

Found in Translation Award 2010

The Book Institute reminds that 31st of January is the deadline for submitting nominations for Found in Translation Award.

The Award was announced 2 years ago by the Polish Book Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute in London, the Polish Cultural Institute in New York and W.A.B. Publishing House in Warsaw.

The Found in Translation Award is presented annually to the translator or translators of the best translation into English of a work of Polish literature published as a book in the previous calendar year.

The Award consists of a three-month placement in Krakow, with accommodation, a grant of 2,000 PLN per month, a return airline ticket to Krakow funded by the Polish Book Institute and a financial award of 10,000 PLN funded by the W.A.B. Publishing House.

The Award is presented by a Selection Committee consisting of representatives of the Polish Book Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute in London and the Polish Cultural Institute in New York. The Director of the Polish Book Institute is the President of the Selection Committee.

The name of the winner is announced during the award ceremony, which is organised each year in the winner’s country of origin, if possible during that country’s International Book Fair.

Candidates for the Award can be nominated by both private persons and institutions in Poland and abroad.

Nominations should be sent to the Polish Book Institute, 31-011 Kraków, ul. Szczepańska 1, Poland, e-mail office@bookinstitute.pl with the subject-heading FOUND IN TRANSLATION.

The nomination must include the book title, the name of the author, the name of the translator, the publisher, and the reasons for the nomination. The deadline for submitting nominations is midnight on January 31 each year.

Previous award winners: Bill Johnston (2008) for NEW POEMS by Tadeusz Różewicz (Archipelago Books, USA); Antonia Lloyd-Jones (2009) for THE LAST SUPPER by Paweł Huelle (Serpent’s Tail, UK).

Special Polish literature offer from Archipelago!

Don’t pass up this stunning holiday offer from Archipelago Books: All 5 of their Polish literature titles for only $45, shipping included. That’s almost 50% less than their total retail price. Seriously folks, Polish books haven’t been this affordable since 1989. Here’s what you’ll get:

Translated by the genial Bill Johnston and beautifully produced by Archipelago, these books are already classics of Polish literature in English. Click here for descriptions. To order, please email the publisher directly at: info @ archipelagobooks . org or from their contact page. If you’re not already familiar with Archipelago’s work, a perusal of their website and catalogue is definitely worth while. Also, please consider making a donation to Archipelago, so that more great literature from around the world can find its way to English-language readers.

(Addendum, 29 December 2009: this intriguing Croatian blog just posted a useful compendium of brief reviews and responses to Tulli’s three books with Archipelago: http://zorosko.blogspot.com. I had no idea of the resonance she’s had among U.S. poets, especially. Other authors whose reception is likewise digested include Schulz, Pessoa, Gert Jonke, Merce Rodoreda, Abdourahman Waberi, and James Tate — an eclectic and delightful canon.)

Jerzy Pilch’s A Thousand Peaceful Cities

The Quarterly Conversation has a great short essay by Matthew Jakubowski on Jerzy Pilch’s novel A Thousand Peaceful Cities (Tysiąc spokojnych miast, Wydawnictwo Literackie 1997), which Open Letter will publish in summer 2010 in a translation not by Bill Johnston, but by David Frick, who is better known as a scholar of Polish Baroque literature, among other specialties, and as Chair of Berkeley’s Slavic Department. This is surprising, but great news. Johnston no doubt has enough on his plate, what with his translation of Wiesław Myśliwski’s magnum opus Stone Upon Stone due out from Archipelago next year; and Polish literature needs more translators. TQC also includes an excerpt from the book, which as Jakubowski describes, is “a coming-of-age story set in the small southern Polish town of Wisla during Soviet rule in the 1960s” and is “narrated by a boy named Jerzy at age twelve or thirteen, with the occasional shift in perspective to show Pilch commenting as an adult on his memories as an adolescent.”

(Note [19 December 2009]: as editor E.J. Van Lanen comments here, Open Letter will be publishing a fourth book by Pilch in 2011, also translated by David Frick.)

Hello! Przerwa skończona!

Yes, the hiatus is over! The past 5 weeks have seen, among other things, preparations for three Polish Cultural Institute events here in New York City:

the Institute’s season opener at Symphony Space on September 11, which featured readings by Polish poet Piotr Sommer and American poet Christian Hawkey and a performance by members of the New York-based ensemble The Knights of recent works by Lisa Bielawa and Jeffrey Lependorf (works composed as settings of poems by Hawkey and Sommer respectively)…


the Polish Cultural Institute booth at the 4th Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday, September 13 (which featured an informal reading by Jacek Dehnel, the author of the acclaimed novel Lala and editor of Six Polish Poets, and a book signing by Alex Storozynski, author of The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution)…




photos: A. Grenda

…and our first session of the European Book Club, at which both newcomers and seasoned aficionados of European literature in translation discussed Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel, recently published by Open Letter Books, together with Open Letter publisher Chad Post, who came down from Rochester to talk with readers.


The rest of the autumn will be awash with Polish culture — see the Polish Cultural Institute’s website for more details and consider subscribing to the newsletters if you haven’t already. Be sure not to miss the debut performance in the U.S. of work by celebrated Polish composer Paweł Mykietyn (Thursday, October 1, at Symphony Space; the concert will be preceded by a conversation with Mykietyn and Cuban-American composer Tania Leon) and the dissident Theatre of the Eighth Day‘s return to the U.S. with their famous production Wormwood, which will be performed at Yale University November 5-7 and at the Abrons Arts Center in New York City November 11-15.

As for upcoming literary events, make sure to mark your calendar for the following:

October 6-7: After Kapuściński: The Art of Reportage in the 21st Century — a public conversation on the ins and outs of long-form and literary journalism with leading authors of the genre (these include Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Suketu Mehta, and Lawrence Weschler, as well as Wojciech Jagielski and Paweł Smoleński). The event is cosponsored with the National Book Critics Circle, the New York Institute for the Humanities, and the new Literary Reportage concentration of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU.


November 3-4: Polish Poetry Now: Bożena Keff, Marzanna Kielar, Tomasz Różycki, and Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki will read at the new Poets House in New York on Wednesday, November 4, following a discussion there the night before with translators Benjamin Paloff and Bill Johnston; on Thursday, November 5, they will read and discuss their work together with translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones at Harvard University. Check back here and at the Polish Cultural Institute website for more details.


November 10: As part of the Performing Revolution in Central and Eastern European festival that the New York Public Library is organizing, there will be a book party at Idlewild Books in New York for The Wall in my Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain — a Words without Borders anthology published by Open Letter Books. Polish author Dorota Masłowska will read, together with Romanian poet Dan Sociu and German author Kathrin Aehnlich; New York University professor Eliot Borenstein will moderate.


Hope to see you at any or all of these events!

New Translations from Polish Ahead…

Well, Chad Post beat me to the punch with the news about Danuta Borchardt’s new translation of Gombrowicz’s Pornografia, which is forthcoming with Grove in November. It will be the first translation of the book directly from the Polish (Alistair Hamilton’s translation from Georges Lisowski’s French translation appeared with Calder and Boyars in 1966 and with Grove in 1967). Here are some other new translations from Polish to look forward to (I’ll post a downloadable list here soon as well):

by Andrzej Stasiuk
translated by Bill Johnston
Dalkey Archive Press, forthcoming September 2009

Towers of Stone: The Battle of Wills in Chechnya
by Wojciech Jagielski
translated by Soren Gauger
Seven Stories Press, forthcoming October 2009

Primeval and Other Times
by Olga Tokarczuk
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Twisted Spoon Press, forthcoming November 2009

The New Century: Poems
by Ewa Lipska
translated by Robin Davidson and Ewa Elzbieta Nowakowska
Northwestern University Press, forthcoming November 2009

The Last Supper
by Paweł Huelle
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Serpent’s Tail, forthcoming December 2009 (appeared in UK in November 2008)

Archipelago Books‘ Fall 2009 catalogue includes announcements of the following new translations:

by Cyprian Kamil Norwid
translated by Danuta Borchardt

A Treatise on Shelling Beans
by Wiesław Myśliwski
translated by Bill Johnston

Stone upon Stone
by Wiesław Myśliwski
translated by Bill Johnston

There are also rumours that in addition to Lipska, Northwestern UP will be publishing a new book of poems by Julia Hartwig, translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter; this will be Hartwig’s second book in English (In Praise of the Unfinished came out with Knopf last year). Another book that we’ll hopefully see very soon is Zbigniew Herbert’s collected essays, translated by Alissa Valles and forthcoming next year with Ecco.

Incidentally, there’s an early issue of The Complete Review (Twice Removed: Case Studies [Vol. IV, issue 4; November 2003]) that discusses those first second-hand translations of Gombrowicz’s novels (it’s interesting to see, too, that John Ashbery reviewed both Pornografia and Ferdydurke for the New York Times).

“the good author with a bad monkey on his back”: Jerzy Pilch’s THE MIGHTY ANGEL

Brian MacDonald’s piece (“Under the Literary Influence,” 20 February 2009) on the New York Times “alcohol and American life” blog Proof (who knew?)  surveys a terrain familiar to fans of Raymond Chandler, Malcolm Lowry, Hunter S. Thompson, and company. Imbibers of this canon rarely look to foreign-language writers for their fix, but there’s one book that by all rights should become a staple on the menu: Jerzy Pilch’s THE MIGHTY ANGEL, which Bill Johnston has translated for Open Letter, and which comes out on April 28th.


True to his Protestant background (one of the 2% of non-Catholics in Poland), Pilch has produced a postmodern, latter-day-Pietist diary of alcohol addiction, and recovery, that is both product of and commentary on the giddy, groggy matrix of writing and drinking. The narrator paints periphrastic portraits of his fellow inmates on the alco wardColumbus the Explorer, the Hero of Socialist Labor, Simon Pure Goodness, Don Juan the Rib, the Most Wanted Terrorist in the World, the Sugar King, the Queen of Kentall the while composing his own story as simultaneously an “emotional journal” and a love letter to the “woman in a yellow dress with spaghetti straps” he sees one day outside his window. The book, for which Pilch received the prestigious NIKE Award in 2001, is more complex than it may appear, playing as it does with multiple modes of writing and eschewing straightforward plot in favor of a stylized confessional voice. At different moments it also approaches the generic openness of the silva, which is described by Przemyslaw Czaplinski (following Ryszard Nycz) as:

part of the tradition of unobliged writing, which means that a work rooted in this school of poetics does not compose an entirety, be it thematic, generic or aesthetic.The narrative evolves from situation to situation, driven by associations, recollections, and above all opportunities… [and] can accommodate portraits, anecdotes, sketches, essays, stories, micro-dramas, commentaries, tableaus or notations of ideas for works. (“Letter from Poland,” Context 20)

But it is also simply a lot of fun to read, no small thanks to Bill Johnston’s exquisite translation (it’s clear that Johnston really enjoyed working on this book). And as far as critical assessments of THE MIGHTY ANGEL go, this nugget of commentary on Brian MacDonald’s blog post is, if inadvertently, right on the money:

I just don’t think it’s possible to find a replacement for the good author with a bad monkey on his back. As they stumble through the haze of their addictions and fears they give insight to the mathematics of need like no other. (Fred X. Quimby)

2008 Best Translated Book Award

Open Letter Books/Three Percent held the ceremony for its first Best Translated Book Award (for 2008) at Melville House last night. The winners were (for fiction) Attila Bartis’s book TRANQUILITY, translated from Hungarian by Imre Goldstein for Archipelago Books, and (for poetry) Takashi Hiraide’s book FOR THE FIGHTING SPIRIT OF THE WALNUT, translated from Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu for New Directions. As Open Letter publisher Chad Post said in his introduction to the event, the idea for the award came out of his and others’ disappointment that translations were consistently left unmentioned in year-end reports about published books. Congratulations to everyone involved!

Congratulations, too, to the translators, authors, and publishers of the two Polish titles shortlisted for the poetry award: Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki’s PEREGRINARY, translated by Bill Johnston and published by Zephyr Press, and Adam Zagajewski’s ETERNAL ENEMIES, translated by Clare Cavanagh for FSG.


More information on the award and the other long- and short-listed titles here: 3% BTB 2008.

What’s in a name?

Bacacay is the name of a long street in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that bisects the geographical center of the city, running northeast to southwest through the neighborhoods of Villa Crespo, Caballito, and Flores.

It is also a village in the Bicol region of the Philippines, not far from Legazpi City, on the southern end of the main island of Luzon.

A search on Google for the meaning of the word has turned up 0 results. But there are some curious, if obscure, leads: “Bacacai” = the (possible?) common name, in Portuguese, of a variety of palm tree; “Bakakai” = “grupo punk rock”; “Baka Kay” = a girl with one friend on Facebook

Steve Dolph from Calque writes:

I’m just about certain that the name in BA is from the famous “Battle of Bacacay” where the Argentine forces (aka the Spanish at that time) repelled Brazilian (ie Portuguese) forces from the western side of Uruguay (what was then known as the Banda Oriental, or East Bank).

Bacacay, of course, is the title of Witold Gombrowicz’s book of short stories, originally published as Memoirs of a Time of Immaturity, and now available in English thanks to Bill Johnston and Archipelago Books.

So why have I decided to name this blog “Bacacay”? For starters, Gombrowicz lived on the street in Buenos Aires, hence his choice of the name for his title. And its indeterminate meaning, foreignness, and persistent dislocation/relocation seem meaningful, useful, and interesting… in the context of what this blog is about: Polish literature’s place in the world outside Poland, and Polish literature’s openness to the world.