June 9, 2023
On Tuesday, May 23, 2023, the French-American Foundation hosted its annual Translation Prize Awards Ceremony at Hearst Tower in New York City. For over 35 years, the Translation Prize has served to promote French literature in the United States and provide translators and their craft with greater visibility and recognition. The prize also seeks to increase the visibility of the publishers who bring these important French works of literature to the American market in translations of exceptional quality. Scroll below to read a debrief of the awards ceremony.
Photos from the ceremony
The evening served to celebrate exceptional French-to-English translations that were published in the 2022 calendar year. The winning translators in the fiction and non-fiction categories – selected from 10 finalists – received awards totaling $20,000, generously funded by the Florence Gould Foundation. The Foundation also had the honor of welcoming distinguished keynote speaker Alice Kaplan, Author, Translator, and Sterling Professor of French at Yale University.
After an opening cocktail reception, French-American Foundation Board Member, William R. Hearst III, welcomed the audience and reflected on the importance of honoring strides in the literary arts, particularly in the field of translation. FAF Program Director, Elizabeth McGehee, also welcomed guests and congratulated the eight finalists on their achievements before naming and applauding the winning translators: Juliet Sutcliffe in fiction, for her translation of The Music Game by Stefanie Clermont (Biblioasis), and Kieran Aarons and Cedrine Michel in nonfiction for their co-translation of Self Defense: A Philosophy of Violence by Elsa Dorlin (Verso Books). Read more about the winners and their translations here.
The audience then had the pleasure of hearing from distinguished keynote speaker Alice Kaplan, PhD, esteemed historian, author and translator, and Sterling Professor of French at Yale University. Dr. Kaplan’s keynote address explored the uniqueness of translator-author relationships, using the framework of an unlikely 40-year correspondence between French translator Marcelle Sibon and American writer Katherine Anne Porter. The two began exchanging letters in the 1930s after meeting through Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company – shortly before the 1940 occupation of France. What was particularly striking about this exchange, Dr. Kaplan pointed out, was the unguarded depiction we receive of Sibon’s personal life and work as a translator. In a time when translators continue to fight for representation and contractual rights, it is increasingly important that we know the names, faces and stories of translators who serve to negotiate cultural difference between linguistic worlds – francophone and anglophone, in the case of Sibon and Porter.
Elizabeth joined Alice on stage for a brief Q&A, where the two discussed Alice’s research on the Second World War, the Liberation, the Algerian War, and on the writers Céline, Proust, and Camus; the extent to which modern considerations of gender and feminism have influenced the field of translation; Alice’s current projects, which include a revision of her own translation from 2003 of OK, Joe by Louis Guilloux; her work as as founding member of the Yale Translation Initiative, and the the unique talents she sees among the next generation of translators; as well as Alice’s own journey that led her to pursue a career in literature and French language.
Following the keynote segment, Corine Tachtiris, PhD presented the awards in fiction and nonfiction. Corine is a translator, Assistant Professor of Translation Studies and Undergraduate Program Director of Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and member of the 2023 Translation Prize Jury. Upon presenting the fiction award to Juliet Sutcliffe, she commended Juliet’s ability to translate the nature and personalities of Clermont’s characters with tact and nuance, as this is often one of the greatest challenges of literary translation. Corine also pointed to the way Juliet’s translation skillfully conveyed the book’s satirical tone and gentle irony without devolving into cynicism. Juliet accepted the award, read an excerpt from the work, and shared a few words on the process of translating The Music Game and the ways in which she related personally to the story and its characters. The two took the stage for a Q&A, where they discussed Juliet’s process of translating the millennial voice of Clermont’s characters and dialogue, as well as the challenges that came with translating the “Canadianness” of the book, and how closely Juliet worked with the author.
Corine then presented the award in non-fiction to Kieran Aarons and Cedrine Michel, recognizing the breadth of historical material featured in Self Defense that Aarons and Michel had to work with both as translators and researchers. On behalf of himself and his co-translator Michel – who unfortunately could not attend the event – Kieran Aarons accepted the award and discussed the importance of books like Self Defense whose mission is to provide historical context and contemporary roadmaps for activist movements and resistance against imperialist power and fascist forces. In their Q&A segment, Corine and Kieran discussed the less common process of collaborative translation between himself and Cedrine, the consideration of one’s audience and who to produce a work that is intended both for academic and general readers, the challenges of translating Dorlin’s framing of U.S. social movements and discourse about race – from a French perspective – “back” into English.
FAF Program Director Elizabeth McGehee provided closing remarks and highlighted the importance of the Translation Prize – the only prize of its kind to give sole recognition to translators – and the vital role it plays in strengthening channels of cultural and intellectual exchange between France and the United States.
The French-American Foundation extends sincere thanks to all who make the Translation Prize and ceremony possible, and looks forward to celebrating with you again next year!