Alison Dundy

May 29, 2014

Translation Prize winner in Nonfiction shares insights on literature & translation.


Alison Dundy

Alison Dundy, was awarded the 2013 Translation Prize in Nonfiction for her translation, alongside Nicholas Elliott, of The Falling Sky Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert (Harvard University Press).

Alison Dundy is a writer and translator from French and Italian into English.
She coordinates the translation and interpretation programs for New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. She lives in New York.
She co-translated The Falling Sky with Nicholas Elliott, a writer and translator living in Woodside, Queens, and raised in Luxembourg. Elliott has been a New York correspondent for French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma since 2009 and is a Contributing Editor for Film for BOMB.

The Falling Sky is a remarkable first-person account of the life story and cosmo-ecological thought of Davi Kopenawa, shaman and spokesman for the Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon. Representing a people whose very existence is in jeopardy, Davi Kopenawa paints an unforgettable picture of Yanomami culture, past and present, in the heart of the rainforest — a world where ancient indigenous knowledge and shamanic traditions cope with the global geopolitics of an insatiable natural resources-extraction industry. Bruce Albert, a close friend since the 1970s, superbly captures Kopenawa’s intense, poetic voice.




The Falling Sky is a very unique book that brings the voice of the Yanomami people, a native nation of Brazilian Amazon, to Westerners. What did you think of the book when you first read it and when Harvard Press asked you to translate it?




Davi Kopenawa told his story to Bruce Albert mostly in his native language, which is a spoken language only. Bruce Albert did an amazing job to transcribe his story into a French book and he says in the book “[He] propose[s] a translation that falls midway between a literal translation, which risked becoming a caricature, and a literary transposition that would have been much too far from Yanomami language constructions”. How did you deal with this aspect of rendering a spoken and poetic language that had already been translated into French when translating the text once again into English?




How closely did you work with Bruce Albert to get a better understanding of the Yanomami language and philosophy while translating Kopenawa’s words?




The Falling Sky is a first-person narrative which is uncommon for an academic work. What do you think that the use of the first person brings to the work?




You co-translated this work with Nicholas Elliott. What are the benefits or challenges of two or more people translating one work? Are there certain books that are better suited for co-translations than others?




How long does it take to translate a work like this?




What has been your past experience with the French-American Foundation and Florence Gould Foundation Translation Prize?




What does the Translation Prize mean to you and how do you think it benefits translation and the literary world?


Learn more about the Translation Prize