November 3, 2015

Winners of the 2015 National Translation Award announced


New Waw, Saharan Oasis, translated by William M. Hutchins and Breathturn in Timestead, translated by Pierre Joris

Last week, the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) named the winners of the 2015 National Translation Award (NTA), an honor the organization has awarded annually to translators of book-length works since 1998.

In the prose category, William M. Hutchins was recognized for his translation of the Libyan novel New Waw, Saharan Oasis by Ibrahim al-Koni (Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin). A statement prepared by fiction category judges Jason Grunebaum, Anne Magnan-Park, and Pamela Carmell praised Hutchins:

William M. Hutchins’ translation of New Waw, Saharan Oasis masterfully channels the poetic rhythms of Ibrahim al-Koni’s tale of a group of Tuareg, struggling with their evolution from a nomadic tribe to a settled community andthe tensions that inevitably arise. Legends, fables, prophecies and tribal laws, expressed in lyrical, metaphorical language, give a glimpse into the group’s traditions and the Tuareg mythical paradise oasis, Waw.

Hutchins is well known in the world of Arab letters for having translated Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy (Anchor Books), as well as work by Tawfiq al-Hakim, Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Mazini, Muhammad Salmawy, al-Jahiz, Nawal El-Saadawi, Muhammad Khudayyir, Fadhil Al-Azzawi, and Hassan Nasr. In 2013, he was awarded the Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of A Land Without Jasmine by Wajdi al-Ahdal (Garnet Publishing).

Additionally, in poetry, Pierre Joris was honored for his translation of Breathturn in Timestead: The Later Poetry of Paul Celan (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), from the German. Breathturn in Timestead is Joris’s sixth volume of Paul Celan translations, having previously published Threadsuns, Breathturn, Selections, Meridians, and Lightduress, which received the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.

The poetry judges — Lisa Rose Bradford, Stephen Kessler, and Diana Thow — described the translator’s ongoing work with Celan:

More than a monumental work of scholarship, Pierre Joris’s 40-year project in translation of the later poetry of one of the twentieth century’s most original and “untranslatable” poets is an extraordinary work of poetry in contemporary English. With seeming ease, Joris conveys the complexity and inventiveness of the original German without oversimplifying or domesticating its difficulty, its dark beauty, or the depth of its ideas. His commentary is also of great value in illuminating the background, sources and meanings of Celan’s singular voice.

The National Translation Award is the oldest literary prize designated for translated works in both poetry and prose. In addition to the prestige that comes with such an award, winners are awarded $5,000.

View the shortlist for both categories here.


Chad Felix is the Manager of Direct Sales and Library Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.