Nov. 30, 2009 by Olivia Drake
The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) has presented the 2009 National Translation Award to Norman Shapiro, professor of romance languages and literatures, for French Women Poets of Nine Centuries: The Distaff and the Pen (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).
The prize was announced on Nov. 12 at the organization’s annual conference in Pasadena, Calif. Shapiro has been one of the foremost translators of French literature for almost four decades. Also a writer-in-residence at Adams House, Harvard University, he has translated numerous works of fiction, theater, and poetry, including Four Farces by Georges Feydeau, which was nominated for the National Book Award for Translation, and One Hundred and One Poems by Paul Verlaine, which won the Scaglione Translation Prize from the Modern Language Association.
His recent volume The Complete Fables of Jean de La Fontaine was recipient of the MLA’s Lewis Galantière Award. Shapiro noted that “translation is a perfect compromise between total freedom and total responsibility: with none of the angst of the blank page [when one writes creatively], and yet with an almost limitless choice within the givens of the text.”
In reflecting on his selection as this year’s NTA recipient, he added that “since literary translation is basically a solitary pursuit–something we (or at least I ) do as a form of creative self-expression–it is especially rewarding when our fellow translators appreciate our efforts.”
French Women Poets of Nine Centuries is the first anthology of its kind, containing over six hundred poems by almost sixty poets. Ranging from the late twelfth to the late 20th century, the voices and styles of these poems convey the changing as well as constant features of French women’s poetry over the last eight hundred years. Introductions to the historical eras, brief biographies of each poet, and a bilingual format add even more depth to this monumental compilation. ALTA’s National Translation Award honors each year the translator whose work, by virtue of both its quality and significance, has made the most valuable contribution to literary translation.
The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) is a broad-based organization dedicated to the promotion of literary translation through services to literary translators, forums on the theory and practice of translation, and collaboration with the international literary community.