Saturday, February 28, 2009

Warwick Prize for Writing

Naomi Klein this week won the inaugural 2009 Warwick Prize for Writing for her book The Shock Doctrine, a study of the rise of “disaster capitalism”, when moments of collective crisis with people traumatized, such as 9/11 or the tsunami, are used to usher in radical social and economic change beneficial to Wild West corporations. Naomi Klein is a Canadian journalist and filmmaker.

The Warwick Prize for Writing is an international cross-disciplinary award given biennially for an excellent and substantial piece of writing in English on a theme that changes with every award. The theme for 2009 was Complexity. It is awarded by the University of Warwick in England with a price tag of £50000 or $70000.

Also on the shortlist were: Mad, Bad and Sad by Lisa Appignanesi, The Art of Political Murder by Francisco Goldman, Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart A. Kauffman, The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross and Montano’s Malady by Enrique Vila-Matas (tr. Jonathan Dunne, the only book of fiction).

The theme for the 2011 Warwick Prize is Colour.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Europa Editions Part II: The Translator

I agree that Europa Editions make lovely books and they have an excellent editor in Michael Reynolds (let us not underestimate the role of the editor in producing good books). But my experience with them as a literary translator was the worst I have had. They are the only publisher not to give the translator copyright in his work. The copyright in my translation of Death Rites by Alicia Giménez-Bartlett belongs to Europa Editions, not to me. And I never understand this, since it costs the publisher nothing (even if they grant the translator royalties of, say, 0.5%, these will never be payable since they will never exceed the fee he received and royalties are payable against that fee).

They are the only publisher I have worked for not to pay an advance, as if the translator, while working, needed no money. Half the fee was paid two months after delivery of the translation, the other half six months after delivery of the translation.

And, because I live in Bulgaria and there is no labour agreement between Bulgaria and the United States, they then applied a 30% withholding tax, so that I only received 70% of an already modest fee. I was not told about this tax until after delivery, when there was nothing I could do.

These are old values only in that they confirm the precarious position the literary translator is forced to work in! If we understand the other, we are far less inclined to want to punch them and this is something literary translators, as well as editors of literary magazines such as Absinthe, are fighting to achieve. According to WikiAnswers, a US military bomb costs $25000. How much better this would be spent on experienced translators and functioning literary magazines!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Europa Editions

The New York Times had an article yesterday about one of my favorite publishers: Europa Editions.

In the article Jonathan Galassi of Farrar, Straus & Giroux notes that Europa is "preserving the old values of it’s-all-about-the-book and connecting the book with readers."

It's too bad those are considered "old values."

If you're not familiar with Europa Editions check out their web site.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

2009 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist

Over at ReadySteadyBook the 2009 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist has been announced.

So far I've only read two of the titles (A Blessed Child by Linn Ullmann and How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Sasa Stanisic--both were very good) but several others are on my to-read list.

The longlist includes:

Voiceover by Celine Curiol (trans. Sam Richard)
A Blessed Child by Linn Ullmann (trans. Sarah Death)
The Blue Fox by Sjón (trans. Victoria Cribb)
Friendly Fire by A.B. Yehushua (trans. Stuart Schoffman)
My Father's Wives by Jose Eduardo Algualusa (trans. Daniel Hahn)
The White King by Gyorgy Dragomán (trans. Paul Olchvary)
The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (trans. Anne McLeane)
Homesick by Eshkol Nevo (trans. Sondra Silverstein)
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (trans. Flora Drew)
The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa (trans Stephen Snyder)
Novel 11, Book 18 by Dag Solsted (trans. Sverre Lyngstad)
The Director by Alexander Ahndoril (trans. Sarah Death)
The Armies by Euelio Rosero (trans. Anne McLean)
How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Sasa Stasic (trans. Anthea Bell)
The Siege by Ismail Kadare (trans. David Bellos, from the French of Jusuf Vrioni)
Night Work by Thomas Glavinic (trans. John Brownjohn)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Attila Bartis’s "Tranquility" wins 2009 Best Translated Book Award

If you haven't heard:

Attila Bartis’s Tranquility, translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein and published by Archipelago Books, and Takashi Hiraide’s For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut, translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu and published by New Directions, are the recipients of the 2009 Best Translated Book Awards for fiction and poetry respectively. The announcement was made at a special award party that took place at Melville House Books in Brooklyn, and was hosted by author and critic Francisco Goldman. Organized by Three Percent at the University of Rochester, the Best Translated Book Award is the only prize of its kind to honor the best original works of international literature and poetry published in the U.S. over the past year.

Tranquility was a good choice and definitely one of the best books I read last year. You can purchase a copy from Archipelago Books here.

While it snows and snows and snows ...

If I haven't recommended this sites in the past let me do so now. The first is the blog A Journey Round my Skull, which always features fascinating information about writers and publishers from Europe, along with a lot of great images.

Also check out Calque, an excellent journal about translation published by Brandon Holmquest and Steve Dolph. They also post interesting supplementary material (additional translations, interviews, etc.) on their web site and if you dig around you just might find an interview with an Absinthe editor.

Thursday, February 12, 2009




Last night I took an icy February walk on Copenhagen’s wild north side, had a pint or three at the Blue Yard Drugstore on Blue Yard Square. Then I dined on lamb curry at Kate’s Joint on Blue Yard Street, amidst the primitive faces of the paintings, where the waitress – a striking young woman with skin the color of pale chocolate – did wonders for my self-esteem by saying she had enjoyed hearing me read my Dan Turèll translations at the Poetic Bureau the week before.

That went straight to the refurbishment of my feel-good shield which protected me in the freezing dark night as my Giglio leather running shoes led me through dark side streets. Wandering boys in hooded jackets chucked empty bottles like hand grenades which exploded against brick walls in a rain of glass. Past Eve and Adam’s by a commodious vicus of recirculation etc., I entered through the banged-up face of a serving house whose name I did not note on a street whose name I do not recall.

Here I could smoke my little cigars and enjoy bottled beer at a modest tariff – straight from the bottle since the glass provided was not something I would want near my lips.

From my table against the wall, I could see around the elbow of the bar a slender woman in a blue beret, eyes closed beatifically above her smiling mouth, dancing ethereally with her hands and arms to Eva Cassidy’s “Autumn Leaves” which seeped moodily from the juke box. Normally, I would attack a student sentence that included as many adverbs as that, but must admit at times, after all, that adverbs do assist the lonely hunter of the heart in its quest.

The juke box was just beside me, and the dancing woman in the blue beret drifted across the floor to select more tunes, speaking softly to the machine in Norwegian-accented Danish: “I am old,” she told the juke. “I must find old music.”

“You’re by no means old!” I said. And she was not.

She beamed at me. “Is my music okay?”

“Your music is perfect.” Which earned my hand a warm clasp from hers.

“I am Norwegian,” she said.

“I thought you might be.”

“You thought I might be,” she repeated, eyes sparkling, as though I had said something truly witty.

She selected Santana and Leonard Cohen and stood a little away from my table, dancing in a trance-like state which did not preclude sly glances toward where I sat, presumably (I fancied) to see if I was watching. How could I not?

“Do you mind that I dance here all alone?” she asked.

“You are a pleasure to watch.” Which she was. She had a kind of scarf wrapped alluringly about her hips, tied at the waist to fall away at the front, and she moved with grace, turning to allow me (I fancied) a view from all alluring angles, throwing in the occasional discreet bump or grind, and my mind, in analytical mode, produced the thought, She is really quite pickled.

Whereupon a tall, broad-shouldered man with large hands and a young face approached my table and plopped down in an empty chair, saying, "Mind if I..?" Tattoos showed on every exposed area of his skin. On the fingers of either hand were tattooed letters spelling out, on the right, R O C K, and on the left, R O L L. Elaborate tattoos crawled out of his shirt collar to wrap about his neck, and from the thin skin of his inner wrist smiled the cocked lip of Elvis Presley.

He lit a nonfiltered Cecil and said to me, “I'm a young rock and roller, and you're an old rock and roller.” Enough of a speech to display a hefty slur. “I got these words tattooed on my fingers when my father died. I was fifteen. He was an old rock and roller, too. So I'm second generation. I'm 25 now."

Moved, I thought to share with him one of my most cherished stories about the day in 1959 when I was taking the GG subway home to Queens from my high school in Brooklyn, and the door between the subway cars slid open; in stepped a tall black man of perhaps forty years. His white shirt was unbuttoned, shirt tails untucked, revealing the black skin of his chest, and he was carrying a white handkerchief, flapped out and dangling from one hand.

In a melodious growl, he announced to the subway car - which was full of boys and girls on their way home from two adjacent Catholic high schools, one for each sex -- "Ever' body on this train: Do rock an' roll!"

And he began to dance along the aisle to the rhythm of the train’s shuttling, screeching wheels against the tracks, the rhythms of the cars racketing against one another, dancing to the music his body made from all those sounds, and pointing to each boy or girl as he passed, directing, "You there, boy: Do rock an' roll! And you there, girl: Do rock and roll!"

Dancing, twisting, hopping, landing lightly on the toes of his black leather wingtips until he had traversed the length of the car and disappeared out the door at the far end, leaving all of us Catholic boys and girls smiling at one another and wishing, just wishing, we could rock and roll like that man, just one little piece of his infectious, hypnotic set of moves.

One of the most beautiful, unexpected interludes of my life, a gift from a stranger, a glimpse of wild beauty.

That was in 1959 -- 50 years ago. And I thought to impart this tale to this young Danish rock and roller in this wild north side Copenhagen bar where the barmaid looked like she might have done some time in the ring and the lovely pickled Norwegian woman swayed ethereally to Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man," treating me to shy, sly glances from her shining eyes, and the drunken young Danish rock and roller’s response to my story was, "How long you been living in Denmark? You got a fucking terrible accent! How come you won't learn to speak Danish right?!"

I shrugged, smiled, folded shut the petals of my story and shoved it deep back into my pocket, feeling sad for this young fatherless guy.

While telling my story, I was vaguely aware of last call being called, of the Norwegian woman leaning close beside me to murmur at my ear, “Last call, last music, last dance,” of people filing out, her blue beret disappearing with one last glance back through the door.

Young man, take a look at your life. You’re a lot like I was.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy

Copyright Thomas E. Kennedy

Saturday, February 7, 2009



Although the MySpace profile shows me as 100 years old, I am only 64. Only! In 1961, when I was 17 and learned that Ernest Hemingway had killed himself, I remember thinking, Well, he was 61; he lived a good, long life. 61 is not a good, long life. And 64 is what I would call the start of advanced late youth. Of course, we’re all going to die, but I say later, much later – in fact, as the old saying goes, never.

Trying to keep myself fit to fiddle, most mornings I rise at six and drag my butt over to the local fitness center to swim a kilometer. When I say “most mornings,” that is hyperbole. Let’s say two to four times a week. This week I only managed to crawl out of the sack twice – on Monday and on Friday, leaving three days in between where, due to a surfeit of social events which included a good deal of food and drink, emphasis on the latter, I slept in. When, in disgust, I finally threw off the covers and limped out to brew coffee, I felt every single year carrying me toward mortality, and later started to seem not so very much later after all.

So today, Friday, with some sense of urgency – the eternal footman’s chill breath down my neck – I sprang out of bed and hoofed it over to the pool by quarter to eight. I was the only swimmer there. I love it when I am the only swimmer. I get the lane I like, far side of the pool by the high windows and can let my mind roam free without the intrusion of splashers or erratic lane shifters or heedless back strokers who whack you on the snout, can sense the Danish winter gloam opening slowly to light the morning toward spring.

Stretch and scoop water, stretch and scoop and paddle the legs with my self-styled slow-motion crawl, I did my 50 lengths in as many minutes, then breached out of the pool, did some stretching on the wet tiles to keep my leg muscles and back from cramping and, feeling virtuous and good, jogged down the stairs to the men’s locker where I stripped for the shower.

In the shower room were two naked men with whom I have a nodding acquaintance. They were not swimmers – they used the gym, treadmill, stationery cycles, weights, machines, stuff I can’t use because it gets to my back. As I attempted to allocate the customary nod and mumbled greeting, I noticed that both of them were looking strangely at me, eyes large, mouths open, as though they might be seeing a ghost. Odd, to stand there, naked, being stared at by two naked men as though your face was hanging out.

Finally, the younger of the two said, “Good thing it wasn’t you who drowned.”

I asked, “Did someone drown?” flashing weirdly on the fact that the book I am reading at the moment is titled Drown by Junot Diàz.

“Sank like a stone,” the man said. “Bottom of the pool. There was another man swimming with him and he yelled and waved through the windows. Two other men came running from the gym, and one of them – an Egyptian guy, a writer, strong swimmer – dove right in and got him up out of the water. He was dead.”

“He was dead?”

“Yeah,” said the other guy. “But the other man from the gym knew first aid and resuscitated him. Weird. To be dead. And then alive again. We didn’t know who it was, didn’t see him. They carried him out on a stretcher. We figured it must have been you. You usually swim at that time. Good thing he wasn’t alone in the pool. He’d really be dead.”

The other man said, “Figure he must have had a stroke or something when he was swimming. He was an old guy. Seventy.”

“I’m 64,” I said.

“Still. Thought it was you. Good thing it wasn’t.”

I swallowed. I looked from the one naked man to the other, and my voice was hushed as I murmured, “Thanks.” Then I went in to shower, feeling an odd mixture of fear and elation.

Ten minutes later, dressed, headed for the door, I nodded more elaborately than usual to my two locker mates, said, “Have a good weekend.”

“Good weekend,” the one said, knotting his tie. And the other, buckling his belt, echoed, “Good weekend.”

Outside on the street I stopped to gaze in at the big pool, its surface still and glassy, no one in the water. Behind the tall broad window, beneath the high spotlight-speckled ceiling, the tiled floor empty under the dim light, water reflecting the color of the aquamarine pool bottom, the big empty space looked like something from a David Lynch film – menacing in its stillness, lifeless matter that somehow might have absorbed and smothered whatever vitality had been in its proximity, ready to absorb more – like if you looked too long, it might suck you in.

The day was cold and clear. I flung my long grey-striped woolen scarf over my shoulder and strolled off briskly, legs easy, stomach tight, still alive, wondering how I would use the day.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy

Copyright Thomas E. Kennedy