ALTA Fellow: Claire Van Winkle

Claire Van Winkle is currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts degree at Queens College of the City University of New York, where she is following a dual track in Poetry Writing and Literary Translation.  She has been studying French language and literature for sixteen years. These studies—which had begun as an indulgence of her francophile mother—became a passion in her undergraduate university years and beyond.

Claire graduated with a BA from New York University. Some years later a job with the fashion design program at the Parsons School of Design gave her occasion to work in Paris, where she lived briefly before commencing her graduate studies. Her time in France further enamored her of the language and deepened interest in francophone poetry and prose.

A poet and essayist, Claire entered the realm of literary translation only recently. In applying to graduate programs she learned that there was an active and creative academic community dedicated to refining translation skills into literary art. The translator has the unique task of acting as a medium for the writers she most admires—a task that can be daunting for those new to such a dynamic apprenticeship. Claire’s early translation attempts moved from dabbling to discipline at Queens College, where her talented and motivating peers and teachers gave her the confidence necessary to see translation as accessible.

Claire has recently completed her translation of a book of prose poems written by Jean Blanquet and entitled God is a Tree Inhabited by Cats. She is at the moment seeking publication for this book, eager to give Blanquet’s cats—currently inhabiting a position of honor on the poet’s website—their first run in print.

In upcoming translation projects Claire hopes to mine the wealth of French language poetry and prose, revisiting the greats but also embarking on a search for works new to speakers of English—and perhaps unknown even to readers of French. She is especially interested in discovering new female voices in francophone literature past and present and exploring history through the translation of letters and journals. She also hopes to deepen her Polish language studies so that she might one day bring a few of the many gems of the Polish literary tradition into English.

She is honored to have been the recipient of merit scholarships at and New York University and Queens College CUNY. Over the past several years her work has been recognized with an Academy of American Poets Prize, a Mary F. Fay Poetry Award, a Hunter College Memoir Prize, and a Lenore Lipstein Memorial Poetry Award for Formal Verse.

The faculty and visiting professors of the MFA program at Queens College have played a crucial role in Claire’s development as a writer and translator—both in helping her to refine her skills and by encouraging her to share her work. She is beyond grateful for the wisdom and encouragement imparted on her by Nicole Cooley, Kimiko Hahn, Roger Sedarat, and Susan Bernofsky.

She would also like to express her thanks to Abby Russell for keeping her off the streets when, on occasion, Claire found herself between countries, Yves Cloarec for his willingness to advise her in the mysterious arts of email politesse, and Scott Hightower for a decade of support, guidance, and inspiration.

Claire Van Winkle is a freelance writer and editor. She teaches Creative Writing at Queens College and directs a Creative Writing Recreational Therapy Workshop at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. She currently lives in Rockaway Park, Queens.


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