Lawrence Venuti wins Global Humanities Translation Prize

March 29, 2018

Lawrence VenutiIn partnership with Northwestern University Press, the Global Humanities Initiative has selected Lawrence Venuti (right) as the winner of its second annual Global Humanities Translation Prize. The goal of the prize is to encourage new translations of important literary, scholarly, and other humanistic books from around the world. Venuti will translate Daybook 1918: Early Fragments by Catalan poet J.V. Foix.

Venuti is a prolific and award-winning translation theorist and historian, as well as a translator from Italian, French, and Catalan, and his work has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, PEN America, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the government of Italy. Daybook 1918 will be his second translation from Catalan.

Foix was a major figure in 20th century Catalan literature and a supporter of Catalan nationalism. He was also instrumental in introducing the European avant-garde movement to Catalonia and saw avant-garde experimentalism as a means of developing Catalan culture. In writing Daybook 1918, Foix emerged as one of Europe’s most influential avant-garde poets and intellectuals.

Venuti’s fluid and accessible translations of poems, prose poems, letters, diary entries, and essays from Catalan are bound together with a careful scholarly apparatus of contextualization and annotation. And given Catalonia’s controversial independence referendum in 2017, his work is timelier than ever.

We asked Venuti why he chose Daybook 1918 for his translation work:

Why did you choose Foix for your translation?

Although he is a major literary figure translated into many languages, Foix has been neglected by Anglophone translators and publishers. My translation is designed to perform a work of cultural restoration, to call attention to a canonical writer who was important for the development of a modern Catalan literature.

I have always been sensitive to the nationalist investment in the Catalan language, and so the recent moves toward secession from Spain have not surprised me. The Foix project was partly a way to write the cultural history of the present in Catalonia, to understand the origins of the current political turmoil and to recognize how a nationalistic writer like Foix avoided notions of cultural purity and chauvinism by advocating international cultural exchange.

The book creates a context in which to understand not only Foix’s writing in that early period, but also the sources of Catalan nationalism in the present.

What is the significance of translating a work of Catalan literature into English?

Daybook 1918 by J.V. Foix

In relation to major languages like English and French, Catalan is a minor language with relatively less prestige and resources. Unfortunately, minority means marginality, defined by narrow circulation and restricted knowledge, which can in turn prevent a translation of a minor literary work from being published. 

My translation is designed to break this vicious circle by anticipating what an Anglophone reader might need to know to appreciate Foix’s achievement. I juxtapose his literary works to his nonfiction, essays that show him connecting literature to politics.

Major languages limit their contact with the foreign: they translate less, they study foreign languages less, and their insularity risks stagnation and worse, ethnocentrism and self-congratulation. I am interested in what the minority of Catalan tells us about how literatures develop through contact with foreign cultures. Foix’s writing emerged out of his engagement with various literatures, French, English, and Italian, which he translated and imitated.

About the Translation Prize

The Global Humanities Initiative is jointly supported by the Buffett Institute and the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and is co-led by Weinberg faculty and Buffett affiliates Laura Brueck (Asian languages and cultures) and Rajeev Kinra (history).

“Our goal is to bring much-needed attention not only to the rich humanistic traditions of underrepresented world cultures, but also to the relevance of those traditions for discussions and debates surrounding global development, public policy, and politics generally,” Brueck and Kinra said in a statement.

The selection committee for this year’s prize included Brueck and Kinra, as well as César Braga-Pinto (Spanish and Portuguese), Andrew Way Leong (English); and Francesca Tataranni (classics).

The committee also awarded honorable mentions to Emily Drumsta, who translated and edited selected poetry and prose from Nazik al-Malaika’s Revolt Against the Sun, and Eliana Vagalau, who translated and edited Manhattan Blues by Jean Claude Charles.

The winners of the 2017 translation prize will be published by Northwestern University Press. The Tale of the Missing Man by Manzoor Ahtesham, translated from Hindi by Jason Grunebaum and Ulrike Stark, will be out in August 2018. Carl Ernst’s translation of Hallaj: Poems of a Sufi Martyr will be published in July. Visit nupress.northwestern.edu for more information on their release.

The Global Humanities Translation Prize will begin accepting submissions for the next round of competition in August 2018. For details and submission instructions, visit the Global Humanities Initiative website or email ghi@northwestern.edu.

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