Tag Archives: Words Without Borders

Polish Literature News Digest!

Some recent news in Polish literature:

Mariusz Szczygieł’s reportage Gottland (which was written up here in March after it won the Prix AMPHI), has just been awarded the Europe Book Prize. The Prize, which is in its third year, was announced on December 9 and comes with an award of 10,000 euros for each of its two winners. According to euronews, it was founded in honor of former EU Commission President Jacques Delors in order “to promote European values and an understanding of the European Union as a cultural entity.”

Poems by Piotr Sommer and Andrzej Sosnowski appear in the December 14 issue of The Nation, translated by Christian Hawkey and Rod Mengham, respectively.

On November 28, Northwestern UP released The New Century, a delightful new selection of poetry by Ewa Lipska translated by Robin Davidson and Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska. (I wrote about Lipska and this book in a March post.) But the good news from Northwestern doesn’t stop there: editor Mike Levine recently acquired a new selection of poems by Julia Hartwig, translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter, which will be coming out in April 2010.

Words without Borders’ December international science fiction issue includes an excerpt from Stanisław Lem’s previously untranslated first novel Man From Mars (1946) along with a great overview of Polish speculative fiction and a novel excerpt (a first publication in English) by the younger author Tomasz Kołodziejczak. The October issue of WWB includes a review of Andrzej Stasiuk’s wonderful Fado.

Copenhagen-based poet Grzegorz Wróblewski, one of the more distinctive voices of the so-called “bruLion generation,” has just published a new chapbook of his poems in English: A Rarity, translated by Agnieszka Pokojska and released in October by Červená Barva press. Here’s eclectica.org’s review of his first full-length book Our Flying Objects, translated by Rod Mengham and others, and an earlier chap, These Extraordinary People. And here’s John Guzlowski’s blogpost on Our Flying Objects, which includes several of Wróblewski’s poems and links to more. It’s great to see so much of his work available now.

He is also, incidentally, a visual artist.

Yale University Press has announced a March 29, 2010 pub date for an important new collection of stories by Tadeusz Borowski (1922-1951). Here in Our Auschwitz and Other Stories, translated by Madeline Levine, offers “the first authoritative translation of Borowski’s prose fiction, including numerous stories that have never appeared in English before.” Borowski is one of the most important writers of the Holocaust, but for too long was represented in English by a single (crucial) collection of short stories, This Way For the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. Northwestern UP brought out a selection of his correspondence two years ago. This new and long-awaited collection of Borowski’s “stark, unsparing and self-tormenting narratives”—as Imre Kertesz described them in his 2007 Nobel Prize lecture—promises to be required reading for a new generation.

The new film Rewers (The Reverse, 2009), directed by the young Borys Lankosz and written by the novelist Andrzej Bart, won 7 Golden Lions at the Gdynia Film Festival in September and the FIPRESCI Prize for Best European Debut; it has been selected as Poland’s Best Foreign Film submission for the 2010 Academy Awards, and is getting a lot of jubilant press (Variety, cineuropa, The Krakow Post, among others). Bart’s screenplay was recast as a “film novella” and published by W.A.B. just last month. The Book Institute has a write-up about it by Dariusz Nowacki on its website.

For U.S. publishers, Andrzej Bart is definitely a Polish writer to watch. Born in 1951, he published his first book in the early 1980s, but his career as an author didn’t take off until his second book almost a decade later. He has been called “the most mysterious of Polish writers” and likened to Pynchon and Kafka. His popular novels, which are stylistically quite elegant, typically introduce a speculative element into a historical situation. The 2008 The Flypaper Factory, for example, is set in the Łódź Ghetto but revolves around an entirely fictional trial of Ghetto leader Chaim Rumkowski. It won the 2009 Gydnia Literary Prize and was nominated for this year’s NIKE Award, and Reverse director Lankosz has just announced plans for the film adaptation. In terms of his potential for the U.S. publishing market, Bart may very well be Poland’s answer to serious popular foreign authors like Stieg Larsson, Peter Hoeg, or Jostein Gaarder. The Book Institute has more information about him and his books on its website, along with an excerpt from The Flypaper Factory, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.


(Photos of Piotr Sommer and Andrzej Sosnowski © Elżbieta Lempp / Biuro Literackie.)


After Kapuściński: The Art of Reportage in the 21st Century, parts I & II

David Varno has just posted to Critical Mass, the National Book Critics Circle blog, a summary and downloadable podcast of the second panel of “After Kapuściński: The Art of Reportage in the 21st Century.”


This panel, titled “Literary Reportage Between Fact and Fiction, Self and Other,” was moderated by Lawrence Weschler and featured Random Family author Adrian Nicole LeBlanc; long-time New Yorker writer and Borges translator Alastair Reid; and Wojciech Jagielski, Gazeta Wyborcza journalist and author of the recent and much-acclaimed reportage about child soldiers in Uganda, Nocni wędrowcy (Night Wanderers, WAB 2009) and Towers of Stone: The Battle of Wills in Chechnya (which, translated by Soren Gauger, was just published by Seven Stories Press in the U.S.). One point made early on in the discussion is that the questionability of Kapuściński’s “fact-checking” itself needs to be called into question. At any rate, it seems to me to be a moot point, but one that is troublesome for many people and probably won’t ever be resolved.

Susan Harris’s recent podcast interview on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Here On Earth” show brings the issue up again. Harris is Editor of Words without Borders, and talks about the journal’s October issue on international reportage, specifically about the thin line between objectivity and confirmatory bias — mainly on the example of Swedish writer Peter Fröberg Idling’s remarkable book Pol Pot’s Smile — which is often considered an ineluctable feature of journalism, and not only of the literary or long-form variety.


Critical Mass also has Varno’s summary and a downloadable podcast available for the first panel of “After Kapuściński: The Art of Reportage in the 21st Century.” Titled “The Art of Reportage on the Ground and on the Page,” the discussion was moderated by NBCC President Jane Ciabattari. and focused on its participants’ practical experiences as reporters. Those participants were: Polish journalist Paweł Smoleński, author of Irak. Piekło w raju (Iraq: Hell in Paradise, 2004, for which he was awarded a 2005 Kurt Schork Award);  poet and current American Academy in Rome Fellow Eliza Griswold, whose reportage on the faultline between Islam and Christianity, The Tenth Parallel, is forthcoming with FSG; Arif Jamal, the Pakistani journalist and author of The Shadow War: The Untold War of Jihad in Kashmir (Melville House, 2009); acclaimed American journalist Elizabeth Rubin, just back from Afghanistan; and Joshua Clark, author of the Katrina memoir, Heart Like Water (Free Press, 2007).

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!

Literary Reportage: Forensics of Crisis podcast on WWB Blog

David Varno of the Words Without Borders blog has just posted a write-up and a podcast of the event we held on May 27th at Idlewild Books in New York. “Literary Reportage: The Forensics of Crisis” featured Polish journalist Wojciech Tochman (author of Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia), Guatemalan-American novelist Francisco Goldman (author of The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?, and outgoing Director of Yale UP/incoming Director of the Yivo Institute Jonathan Brent (author of Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia). It was moderated by critic and journalist Marcela Valdes, who is a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly and will be a Niemann Foundation Fellow at Harvard next year. I think the discussion was terrific and excellently moderated by Valdes. Although much of it did deal with differences and similarities between fiction and reportage, as Varno points out, by the end of the conversation, Valdes succeeded in uncovering some deeper currents linking the three books, which had to do with the issue of impunity and the writer’s ethical relationship to the victims and perpetrators of injustice. Thanks to David and Bud Parr and Words Without Borders for making the podcast available.

From left: Marcela Valdes, Francisco Goldman, Jonathan Brent, Wojciech Tochman (Photo: John Beckman)

From left: Marcela Valdes, Francisco Goldman, Jonathan Brent, Wojciech Tochman (Photo: John Beckman)

Olga Tokarczuk novel nominated for Leipzig Book Fair prize (after nabbing NIKE Award in 2008)

Esther Kinsky’s German translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s 2007 novel BIEGUNI (The Runners—translated into German as UNRAST—Restlessness) has just been nominated for the 2009 Translation Award of the Leipzig Book Fair.

bieguni2 unrast3

Published by the Kraków-based Wydawnictwo Literackie in 2007, BIEGUNI won the 2008 NIKE Award, the most prestigious literary prize in Poland. The book is, in the Polish Book Institute’s words:

…a collection of longer, shorter and extremely brief stories, [that] forms a carefully thought-out whole and is very artfully constructed. The theme of the stories is a way of life that involves non-stop travelling.

Schöffling & Co. released Kinsky’s translation on 11 March. Here’s a quick translation of the copy from their website:

A woman and her young son mysteriously disappear while on vacation; an Orthodox sect keeps wandering from one place to the next in their attempt to elude the devil; the female narrator is permanently on the move: in her new book RESTLESSNESS, the eminent Polish author Olga Tokarczuk deals with the wanderlust and nomadism of modern humans. Traversing a range of genres, from travelogue to mythological fable to philosophical observation, she captures the hectic pace of modern life in a finely woven narrative universe and irresistibly delightful prose.

The original is 297 pages. Translation rights are held by the Dutch publisher De Geus. Andrew Leader has very generously translated into English an interview with Tokarczuk about the book and made it available on his great Polish Writing site.

With seven books in German, Tokarczuk has quite a following there, but is unfortunately little known in English. Antonia Lloyd-Jones’s translation of her HOUSE OF DAY, HOUSE OF NIGHT was published by Granta Books in the UK and Northwestern UP in the US. But aside from that one book, her English incarnation is available mainly in periodicals, most online. Words Without Borders has published two short pieces of hers, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Jennifer Croft respectively. Polish Writing has published another story translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones as well as an excerpt of House of Day, House of Night and two interesting interviews. Chicago Review published a story translated by Kim Jastremski in its 2000 Polish issue.


Olga Tokarczuk will be reading tonight (actually, given the time difference, she’s probably reading as I’m writing this) in the Kunsthalle der Sparkasse Leipzig. It is the last of four “author evenings” sponsored by the Polish Book Institute. The three previous ones featured Magdalena Tulli (well known here through Bill Johnston’s translations for Archipelago), Sylwia Chutnik (a young author who was just awarded Polityka Magazine’s Paszport Prize for her book THE POCKET ATLAS OF WOMEN), and another young authoress named Katarzyna Sowula.


The other books nominated for the Leipzig Book Fair translation prize are listed here. True to the pattern of international translation written about recently on the Three Percent blog, three of the five nominees are translations from English (Maeve Brennan’s The Springs of Affection; Burroughs’s Naked Lunch; and Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift), one is from Spanish (Don Quixote), and Tokarczuk. All inequities aside, that’s not bad company at all.