Breon Mitchel won MLA’S Scaglione Prize for Literary Translation for Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum

MLA’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Translation of a Literary Work awarded to Breon Mitchell for The Tin Drum by Günter Grass. Mitchell discusses the re-translation on Two Lines and in a podcast on Arcade. Honorable mention goes to Lawrence Venuti for Edward Hopper (reviewed on Three Percent and Words Without Borders) by Ernest Farrés.

New York, NY-1 December 2010-The Modern Language Association of America today announced that it will award its ninth Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for an Outstanding Translation of a Literary Work to Breon Mitchell, of Indiana University, for his translation ofThe Tin Drum by Günter Grass, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Honorable mention will be awarded to Lawrence Venuti, of Temple University, for his translation of Edward Hopper by Ernest Farrés, published by Graywolf Press.

The Scaglione Prize for a Translation of a Literary Work is one of seventeen prizes that will be presented on 7 January 2011 during the association’s annual convention, to be held in Los Angeles. The prize is awarded each even-numbered year for a translation into English of a book-length literary work. In odd-numbered years the Lois Roth Award for a Translation of a Literary Work honors translations of works of literature published in the previous year. The members of this year’s selection committee were Michael Heim (Univ. of California, Los Angeles); Elizabeth Horan (Arizona State Univ.); Fabienne Moore (Univ. of Oregon); Kathleen Ross (Philadelphia, PA), chair; and Janet L. Smarr (Univ. of California, San Diego).

The selection committee’s citation for Mitchell’s book reads:

On virtually every page of Breon Mitchell’s new translation of The Tin Drum, the reader finds brilliant solutions to vexing problems. This meticulous work, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the original publication of Günter Grass’s classic novel, accomplishes precisely what one hopes for in a retranslation: it brings us closer to both source and target languages. Mitchell makes us aware that even good work, such as Ralph Manheim’s respected earlier translation, bears improvement, as great consistency, coherence, and tempo are achieved throughout the entire volume in rendering its obsessive drumming theme. The translator’s afterword, where Mitchell explains carefully and concisely all the “tools of the trade” available to twenty-first-century translators, performs an enormous contribution to the field by lifting the curtain on the translator’s craft and making clear to readers the huge challenges at hand.

Breon Mitchell is a professor of Germanic studies and comparative literature at Indiana University and director of the university’s Lilly Library, a repository of rare books and manuscripts from all ages. A past president of the American Literary Translators Association, he has received numerous national awards for literary translations, including the American Translators Association’s Ungar German Translation Award, the ALTA Translation Prize, and the Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award. In addition to Uwe Timm’sMorenga, for which he received the Kurt and Helen Wolff Prize, his past translations include a new version of Franz Kafka’s The TrialThe Silent Angel by Heinrich Boll, and the collected short stories of Siegfried Lenz. He has been a member of the MLA for many years and has served on both the William Riley Parker Prize selection committee and the editorial board of MLA’s Text and Translation Series.

The selection committee’s citation for the honorable mention reads:

Lawrence Venuti, one of our foremost translation theorists, has applied his principles of pragmatic and ethical translation to the contemporary Catalan poetry of Edward Hopper with superb results. Venuti’s translation of Ernest Farrés’s volume, written in a source language whose literature is little known in the English-speaking world, constitutes a beautiful triangulation of cultures and media. We read with fascination as the North American translator captures the Catalan poet’s meditations on the works of an iconic, popular North American painter. Venuti has not only accurately followed Farrés’s shifting styles through the progression of poems but also sought out some of Hopper’s own idiosyncratic vocabulary through excavation of the painter’s correspondence and diaries. This brilliant choice on Venuti’s part, explained in the volume’s introduction and demonstrated in the endnotes, results in an original translation strategy that redefines traditional fidelity to the source text.

Lawrence Venuti is a professor of English at Temple University. He received his PhD from Columbia University. He is the author of The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation and The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference and the editor of Rethinking Translation: Discourse, Subjectivity, Ideology and The Translation Studies Reader. He has received fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His translation of Antonia Pozzi’s Breath: Poems and Letters was a finalist for the PEN American Center Poetry in Translation Award, and his translation of Massimo Carlotto’sThe Goodbye Kiss was a finalist for an Edgar Allan Poe Award. His translation of Edward Hopper also received the Robert Fagles Translation Prize from the National Poetry Series. His current projects include the twentieth-century volume of The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English.

The Modern Language Association of America, the largest and one of the oldest of American learned societies in the humanities (est. 1883), promotes the advancement of literary and linguistic studies. The 30,000 members of the association come from each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia, as well as from Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. PMLA, the flagship journal of the association, has published distinguished scholarly articles for over one hundred years. The association’s annual convention is attended by approximately 9,500 members of the MLA and allied groups. The MLA is a constituent of the American Council of Learned Societies and the International Federation for Modern Languages and Literatures.

The Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for a Translation of a Literary Work was presented for the first time in 1994, when the winner was Estelle Gilson. Other winners of the prize have been David Ball (1996), Carol Maier (1996), Peter Cole (1998), Norman Shapiro (2000), E. H. Blackmore and A. M Blackmore (2002), Mary Hudson (2004), Wilson Baldridge (2006), and Timothy Billings and Christopher Bush (2008). Honorable mentions have gone to Harold Segel (1996) and Eliot Weinberger (2004).

The prize is awarded under the auspices of the MLA’s Committee on Honors and Awards. Other awards sponsored by the committee are the William Riley Parker Prize; the James Russell Lowell Prize; the MLA Prize for a First Book; the Howard R. Marraro Prize; the Kenneth W. Mildenberger Prize; the Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize; the MLA Prize for Independent Scholars; the Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize; the Morton N. Cohen Award; the MLA Prizes for a Distinguished Scholarly Edition and for a Distinguished Bibliography; the Lois Roth Award; the William Sanders Scarborough Prize; the Fenia and Yaakov Leviant Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies; the MLA Prize in United States Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural Studies; and the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prizes for Comparative Literary Studies, for French and Francophone Studies, for Italian Studies, for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures, for Studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures, for a Translation of a Scholarly Study of Literature, and for a Manuscript in Italian Literary Studies.

The Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Endowment Fund was established and donated by Aldo Scaglione to the Modern Language Association in 1987. The fund honors the memory of Professor Scaglione’s late wife, Jeanne Daman Scaglione. A Roman Catholic, Jeanne Daman was headmistress of a Jewish kindergarten in Brussels, Belgium. When arrests and deportations of Jews began in 1942, she worked with resistance units, helping to find hiding places for 2,000 children throughout Belgium. Jeanne Scaglione’s life and contributions to humanity are commemorated in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

Aldo Scaglione, a member of the MLA since 1957, is Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Literature at New York University. A native of Torino, Italy, he received a doctorate in modern letters from the University of Torino. He has taught at the University of Toulouse and the University of Chicago. From 1952 to 1968 he taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and from 1968 to 1987 he was W. R. Kenan Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In 1987 he came to New York University as professor of Italian and then served as chair of the Department of Italian. He has been a Fulbright fellow and a Guggenheim fellow, has held senior fellowships from the Newberry Library and the German Academic Exchange Service, and has been a visiting professor at Yale University, the City University of New York, and the Humanities Research Institute of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1975 he was named Cavaliere dell’ Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana. He has been president of the American Boccaccio Association and was a member of the MLA Executive Council from 1981 to 1984. His published books include Nature and Love in the Late Middle Ages (1963); Ars Grammatica (1970); The Classical Theory of Composition (1972); The Theory of German Word Order (1980); The Liberal Arts and the Jesuit College System (1986); Knights at Court: Courtliness, Chivalry, and Courtesy from Ottonian Germany to the Italian Renaissance (1991); and Essays on the Arts of Discourse: Linguistics, Rhetoric, Poetics(1998).

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About Erica Mena

Erica Mena is a boricua, genderqueer, latinx poet, translator, and book artist.
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