One problem we continually confront in our mission to increase knowledge of and exposure to German culture in the United States is the lack of translations from the German. Americans who cannot read German literature in the original have only limited a possibility of forming an image of German literature, due to the small number of translations that are published. From January to May of this year, for example, a mere half-dozen titles of contemporary German literature appeared here in translation. (A look at the bestseller lists of the Spiegel reveals that the presentation of US literature in Germany is quite the opposite.) The Goethe-Institut has launched a number of initiatives designed to keep American publishers informed about German literature and to offer support for translations – and above all to translators. The success of a translation greatly depends, after all, on the quality of the translation. The Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, awarded by the Goethe-Institut Chicago, has for years honored the best translation from the German of the preceding year, and today it was announced that Jean M. Snook is to receive the 2011 Wolff Translator’s Prize.
To make publishers aware of new translators coming onto the scene, the Goethe-Institut New York has established the Frederick and Grace Gutekunst Prize for Young Translators, made possible by a generous gift from a private donor.
Between November 2010 and February 2011 we received an astonishing 192 requests for applications, and the winning entry was chosen from 51 applicants, each of whom submitted a translated sample from Georg-Büchner-Preis recipient Martin Mosebach's 2010 novel Was davor geschah published by Hanser Verlag. The jury voted unanimously to award the prize to Kári Driscoll, a graduate student at Columbia University. The jury stated in their decision:
"The jury of the Gutekunst Prize has chosen this application as the best of a very impressive and broad selection of entries for the competition's inaugural year. Fifty-one applicants submitted 15 pages from the novel Was davor geschah, by Martin Mosebach. The winning entry impressed the judges for its flowing, eloquent prose, its admirable accuracy, and its inventive rendering of Mr. Mosebach's lyrical passages and natural imagery. Like the nightingale that features prominently in the excerpted selection, this translator displays a gift for mellifluous, natural and unforced expression."
In applying for the Gutekunst Prize, Kári Driscoll stated:
"In some way, I suppose I have a material approach to language: I am fascinated by its building blocks, by the etymology of words, and especially by each language’s peculiar untranslatability. This approach to language has certainly fueled my interest in German, which has a uniquely geometric quality to it—its sentences, at their most magnificent, are like tiny cathedrals, perfect in their intricate construction. The challenge of making these structures accessible and intelligible to a foreign readership is one of the great pleasures of translation, and I hope that I have been equal to the task in this instance. It has certainly been both infuriating and rewarding to try to find solutions to the problems posed by Martin Mosebach's lyrical prose."
The inaugural Gutekunst Prize will be presented at the Wolff Symposium in Chicago on June 15. Kári Driscoll, this year’s recipient, will then have the opportunity to meet with those established translators and publishers who will be present.