Tag Archives: Chad Post

Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel longlisted for Best Translated Book Award

Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel, translated by Bill Johnston, has just been longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Fiction nominees were announced two days ago on the Three Percent blog and include some formidable competition: Robert Walser’s The Tanners, trans. Susan Bernofsky (Switzerland), Ferenc Barnas’s The Ninth, trans. Paul Olchváry (Hungary), Abdourahman Waberi’s The United States of Africa, trans. David and Nicole Ball (Djibouti), Ignácio de Loyola Brandão’s Anonymous Celebrity (trans. Nelson Vieira (Brazil), César Aira’s Ghosts, trans. Chris Andrews (Argentina), Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Spring, trans. Martha Tennent (Spain/Catalonia), Gerbrand Bakker’s The Twin, trans. David Colmer (Netherlands), Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Memories of the Future, trans. Joanne Turnbull (Russia), and many other remarkable works. I have to say I’m a little disappointed that El Salvadoran author Horacio Castellanos Moya’s The She-Devil in the Mirror (trans. Katherine Silver) didn’t get nominated, but that’s because I’m currently reading it and think it’s great. Also, I really wish Gombrowicz’s Pornografia (trans. Danuta Borchardt) had been selected: Three Percent might have reinterpreted its rule against retranslations inasmuch as this is actually the first translation from the original… But what to do.

The award, which is in its second year, has been getting oodles of attention in the British and international press, with articles in The Guardian, the Independent, Bookseller.com, and places farther afield; but as Open Letter publisher Chad Post pointed out today on his Facebook profile, U.S. publishing media have been weirdly quiet about it — probably, as subsequent comments suggest, because the news hadn’t been routed to them by a publicist…

Anyway, this year the award has been cleaved in two, evidently to reflect our two literary genders: you know, fiction and poetry. There’s no longlist for poetry, but its shortlist will be announced, along with the fiction shortlist, on February 16th. Unfortunately, the human gender balance doesn’t come off so equitably: of 25 nominated authors, 3 are women. Well. (The 28 translators, on the other hand, are split evenly.)

It would be interesting, of course, to know what the jury’s criteria are in nominating and awarding, and hopefully that will be expressed in some form during the awards ceremony this spring. Until then, hopefully, Jerzy Pilch is in some amazing company. Congratulations all around.


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!

Paloff reviews Anders in The Nation / Post on current state of translated literature

The Nation has just published a great review by Benjamin Paloff of Jarosław Anders’ Between Fire and Sleep: Essays on Modern Polish Poetry and Prose, which Yale University Press brought out recently.


The title, “Cures for the Common Cold War: Postwar Polish Poetry,” is a little befuddling, since much of the work discussed by Paloff—and Anders—is prose. The editorial oversight notwithstanding, the review is informative and, like Anders’ essays, brings an indispensable perspective to bear on the reception of Polish literature in English:

…while [Polish] literature is hardly a historical relic, our approach to it often risks being just that. In this regard, Anders’s critical approach is an invaluable tonic. His fleet-footed leaps between biographical detail and scholarly commentary are enormously edifying and entertaining in their own right. At the same time, Anders generally refuses to succumb to the romanticizing that has reduced so much journalism about these authors to a pocket lexicon of moral clichés.

* * *
The fate of Polish literature in this country certainly cannot be isolated from that of translated literature in the publishing economy. Chad Post, the publisher of Open Letter Books and blogger of Three Percent, offers an indispensable assessment of the situation in the new Publishing Perspectives, “Translation Nation: A State of the Union.” He addresses a current conundrum—

So why, if Bolano’s 2666 and Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses can hit the best-seller list, and if everyone’s arguing that literature in translation is important for enriching our culture, are there fewer translations coming out this year than last?

and identifies causes not only in the economy, of course, but, structurally, in the

disconnect between publishing thoughtful, long-selling literary translations and a system that thrives on the HUGE HIT and is willing to spend millions to make that hit happen IMMEDIATELY.

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).


There’s an account on the Open Letter Books blog Three Percent of a recent survey of translation statistics, Ruediger Wischenbart’s (draft) Diversity Report. Open Letter publisher Chad Post discusses some of the salient features of the report:

First of all, there’s no real surprise in terms of which languages are most often translated—looking at the global market, books originally written in English represent approx. 60% of all translations around the world. This number has increased dramatically over the past quarter century, rising from just over 50% of all translations in 1979 to almost 64% in 1999. When you look at the graph in the report, it’s almost shocking to see the English line rise and rise while all the other languages remain muddled at the bottom of the chart, fluctuating slightly, but not nearly as dramatically as English . . .

It’s also not that surprising, but the second and third most translated languages are French and German, respectively. Put together, these three top languages represent around 80% of all the translations published globally. The next five most translated languages are (in descending order): Italian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch. And taken as a whole, the top 8 languages account for 90% of all translations. (It’s like a wealth pyramid!)

There’s a special section of the report on Central European languages, which is really interesting as well, and it’s from that research that Ruediger uncovered a very interesting correlation: aside from a select handful major political occurrences (e.g., fall of the Berlin Wall) the only identifiable event that directly impacts the translation statistics is when a country is the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair. As you can see in his report, translation numbers for both Hungarian and Polish jumped when the two countries were chosen to be Guests of Honor (in 1999 and 2000, respectively) and translation levels from those languages are still higher than what they were pre-Frankfurt Book Fair.

Wischenbart’s report is in part based on the statistics available at UNESCO’s Index Translationum, which has a variety of databases and search forms available. Evidently UNESCO takes stock of all titles published in translation every year, categorizing them according to original language, target language, country of publication, author, and publisher. It is not clear to me from the website exactly how complete this bibliography is, what kind of books it includes (I assume it is the total number of translated books regardless of field), or what their methodology is for collecting the information. It also doesn’t take translations into periodicals into consideration. Also, there seem to be some errors in data entry, as when the numbers for total annual translations from Czech into English jumps from 19 in 2001 to 109 in 2002 and increases again to 308 by 2004 (not that it’s impossible or that I don’t wish the Czechs greater popularity in English, but it seems unlikely given the averages for the previous two decades and the lack of any explanatory event, such as guest-country status at the Frankfurt Book Fair).

Anyway, here are some stats for Polish literature that I compiled based on the Index Translationum data. I cannot vouch for their incontestability, but they do give an idea, I think, of the position of Polish literature in a global book market.

Poland, with 12,279 translated books, is #14 on the Index’s list of the top 50 translated languages, after the following (total number of translated books in parentheses):

1. English (1,000,758)
2. French (186,036)
3. German (169,387)
4. Russian (93,779)
5. Italian (55,397)
6. Spanish (43,365)
7. Swedish (30,738)
8. Latin (16,602)
9. Danish (16,222)
10. Dutch (16,050)
11. Czech (14,642)
12. Ancient Greek (14,315)
13. Japanese (13,437)

It precedes:
15. Hungarian (10,487), 16. Arabic (9,952), 19. Hebrew (8,161), 21. Chinese (7,411), 32. Ukrainian (2,706), and 44. Hindi (1,387), among others.

THE 12 MOST POPULAR TARGET LANGUAGES FOR TRANSLATIONS FROM POLISH (again, total number of translated books in parentheses):

1. German (2777)
2. English (1960)
3. Russian (1325)
4. French (1060)
5. Czech (897)
6. Hungarian (515)
7. Spanish (497)
8. Slovak (405)
9. Italian (297)
10. Bulgarian (291)
11. Lithuanian (286)
12. Dutch (200)

THE 10 LEAST POPULAR TARGET LANGUAGES FOR TRANSLATIONS FROM POLISH (languages with large populations or relatively large readerships):

1. Indonesian (2)
2. Malayalam (2)
3. Hindi (3)
4. Chinese (4)
5. Icelandic (8)
6. Persian (14)
7. Arabic (22)
8. Korean (24)
9. Turkish (31)
10. Greek (31)


1. English (37,423)
2. German (8472)
3. French (5531)
4. Russian (3190)
5. Italian (2546)
6. Spanish (1155)
7. Swedish (752)
8. Czech (689)
9. Ancient Greek (525)
10. Latin (517)


1. German (23,332)
2. French (22,353)
3. Russian (11,531)
4. Spanish (6899)
5. Italian (4307)
6. Danish (3427)
7. Hungarian (3137)
8. Japanese (2625)
9. Czech (2347)
10. Dutch (2234)

Here are two charts comparing annual numbers of translations into English from 1978 to 2005 from the following original languages: Polish, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Hungarian. The reason I’ve chosen these 7 is that after French, English, and German, Polish, Italian, and Spanish are the three most widely spoken languages in the European Union. And clearly Polish, Czech, and Hungarian share a common region and circumstances for transmission into English.

First the numbers:


And now the data compared:


That gap there is pretty extreme. And Polish could be doing better (maybe one day even overtaking Italian?!), though it’s hard to know how to make that happen, especially in the current financial environment. As I mentioned above, the sudden surge this past decade for Czech seems a little fishy. I suspect the numbers are actually in the double digits, with an average of around 25 books per year from 2001-2005, instead of what was entered into UNESCO’s database; but who knows. It is, at any rate, interesting that the Central European languages have generally fared worse since 1989, as Chad Post pointed out. And the spike in 2001 for translations from Polish confirms Wischenbart’s claim that events like the Frankfurt Book Fair have a direct influence on numbers of translations (one would, by that logic, expect a similar spike for the Hungarians in 2000, but it looks like it happened a year earlier, 1999, the year they were the guest country in Frankfurt).

Last but not least:


1. Stanisław LEM (551)
2. Henryk SIENKIEWICZ (389)
3. Czesław MIŁOSZ (186)
4. Janusz KORCZAK (178)
5. Witold GOMBROWICZ (160)
6. Sławomir MROŻEK (149)
7. Ryszard KAPUŚCIŃSKI (146)
8. Karol WOJTYŁA (Pope John Paul II) (133)
9. Joanna CHMIELEWSKA (123)
10. Wisława SZYMBORSKA (92)

Of them, only the popular writer Chmielewska has never been translated into English. Which is interesting, but would require doing some research to figure out why.