Of Death. Minimal Odes

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Best Translated Book Awards Spotlight: The Millions Interviews Laura Cesarco Eglin

Laura Cesarco Eglin’s fantastic translation of Hilda Hilst’s Of Death. Minimal Odes won this year’s Best Translated Book Award in poetry. A week after the prize was announced, Englin and I corresponded about the depth of Hilst’s work and the process of translating Of Death.

The Millions: First of all, congratulations. It was such a pleasure to read and discuss your translation with the other judges this year. How did you first begin to read Hilst’s work? Do you have other favorite books of hers?

Laura Cesarco Eglin: I became acquainted with Hilda Hilst more than seven years ago when a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where I was doing my PhD, suggested I read her work. The first text of hers that I read was Kadosh because the Hebrew word in the title caught my attention. Whenever I read a book by Hilst it becomes my favorite book. Her work is profound, and it requires commitment and thought. Therefore, after choosing to include Hilst’s poetry in my doctoral dissertation, I soon realized that in order to fully engage with her work, reading would not be enough. I needed another way to go deeper into her work. I decided to translate her poetry as a way to live with her poems and ideas. That is: translation as reading, translation as re-reading, translation as inquiry, translation as interpretation, and translation as conversation.

TM: I’m so impressed by the way you’ve maintained the conversational tension in these poems—or maybe it’s better to call it intensity. Did you have particular translation strategies that helped to maintain this kind of spare forcefulness?

LCE: I don’t know if I would call it a strategy, but I understood from the very beginning that Of Death. Minimal Odes is not simply a collection of poetry, it is a treatise, a poetics on death, life, the self, and the other. It is philosophical and sociological in nature. I think that I was able to maintain its intensity because I was paying attention to both the poetry and the poetics. The tension, in part, comes from the nature of the book itself.

TM: I’m curious—does the original also open with the watercolors? Did you rearrange the poems at all, or is this the order Hilst chose? How does opening with those images set the tone for you?

LCE: The original, Da morte. Odes mínimas, does open with the watercolors. Of Death. Minimal Odes follows Hilst’s order. The watercolors add to the complexity of the book. The images, with their colors, already subvert the typical imagery and color palette associated with death in the Western world. The reader is already confronted with unconventional ideas: death as colorful, death as part of ourselves, death as an integral part of life.

TM: The phrase “the problematic of death” from your translator’s note gets to the heart of the energy I feel in these poems. It offers a kind of lyric that’s actually a dialogue, but where only one voice is heard. Could you say a little more about how Hilst’s problematic operates, and how you captured it in English?

LCE: This “problematic” points to something unresolved. Hilst did not align herself with the Western view of death as a single moment at the end of life, or death as the negative counterpart of life. Through her poetry she looked at her perceptions of death, and placed them at the focus of her investigations, and from there, she started developing a worldview that made more sense to her. I say research and investigation because Hilst always took her work very seriously. For her, fiction and poetry were intertwined with other disciplines. In and from this poetry book she is in conversation with philosophical ideas regarding time, physics theories, and so on. Writing and dialogue are the speaker’s modus operandi in Of Death. Minimal Odes. Yes, she does not hear death’s answers to her questions and negotiations, but even so, readers feel that she gains further understanding of death, time, life, and herself in the book. The speaker remains open to different forms of receiving “answers” and communication. At the same time, Hilst shows us that life-death is not something that can be cracked and completely grasped or dominated. Of Death. Minimal Odes embraces this kind of knowledge, the discomfort of inhabiting a world and a body without knowing all the answers.

TM: What was the hardest part of translating this volume?

LCE: I see this question being related to the last part of the previous question. The hardest part of translating Of Death. Minimal Odes was being attentive to the depth, the inquiries, the sounds, the musicality of the poems, all at the same time. That was my way of being true to Hilst. Translating this book was hard, challenging, and exciting. I feel that I would have done Da morte. Odes mínimas a disservice if I had only obsessed about one aspect of this book. The book is complex and that is what it required of me as a translator and what it requires of the readers: complexity, being able to enjoy the language, question the status quo, entertain possibilities, understand and connect to the poems at different levels.

TM: What are you working on now?

LCE: I’m working on several things at the same time, as usual: I’m translating the Galician poet Lara Dopazo Ruibal’s latest poetry book, I’m editing a chapbook of poems that I wrote on the experience of having melanoma repeatedly, and I’m finishing an article on poetry and political activism in the work of the Argentine Juana Bignozzi.

LM: If you had to pick, which three books of poetry are at the top of your list right now? What should we read next?

LCE: That’s a hard question. Those three books, and lists in general, are in a constant flux. I would say: poetry books by the Galician Chus Pato are high up there (Erín Moure has translated her), Härte by LaNay Sade, and The Territory Is Not the Map by the Brazilian Marília Garcia (translated by Hilary Kaplan).

LM: Lastly, what was your revision process like as you worked on translating these poems? How long did you end up spending with them?

LCE: I’ve been living with these poems for a few years now: reading them, translating them, editing the translation. The editing part is difficult because as you are working on it, you know it’s the prelude to letting go of this dwelling, this companionship.

And the Winners of the 2019 Best Translated Book Awards Are…

The 2019 Best Translated Book Awards were given to Slave Old Man and Of Death. Minimal Odes this evening at a ceremony at the New York Rights Fair in Manhattan.

Slave Old Man, written by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated by Linda Coverdale, and published by The New Press, won for fiction. Of Death. Minimal Odes, written by Hilda Hilst, translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin, and published by co-im-press, took the prize for poetry.

Slave Old Man is translated from the French and Creole. It is the first BTBA win for a book from the French. It is also the first victory for an author from Martinique.

Of Death. Minimal Odes is translated from the Portuguese. It is the second time poetry from Brazil has claimed the prize, after Rilke Shake won the 2016 award.

It is the first victory for both translators, and for The New Press and co-im-press. Linda Coverdale and The New Press were previously finalists for Jean Echenoz’s The Lightning.

Here is the jury’s statement on Slave Old Man:
In turns biblical and mythical, Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man is a powerful reckoning with the agonies of the past and their persistence into the present. It is a modern epic, a history of the Caribbean, and a tribute to Creole languages, all told through the story of one slave old man. Linda Coverdale’s translation sings as she beautifully renders language as lush and vividly alive as the wilderness the old man plunges into in his flight to freedom. It is dreamy yet methodical prose, vivid, sensual but also a touch strange, forcing you to slow down and reread. Thoughtful, considered footnotes provide added context and explanation, enriching the reader’s understanding of this powerful and subversive work of genius by a master storyteller. Slave Old Man is a thunderclap of a novel. His rich language, brilliant in Coverdale’s English, evokes the underground forces of resistance that carry the slave old man away. It’s a novel for fugitives, and for the future.
And here’s the jury statement on Of Death. Minimal Odes:
The first collection of Hilda Hilst’s poetry to be appear in English, Of Death. Minimal Odes is masterfully translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin. Hilda Hilst’s odes are searing, tender blasphemies. One is drawn to Of Death in the way we’re drawn to things that might be dangerous. These are poems that lure readers well beyond their best interests, regardless of whatever scars might be sustained. In language that is twisted, animalistic, yet at times plain, Eglin reveals another layer in the work of this Brazilian great.
The fiction jury included Pierce Alquist (BookRiot), Caitlin L. Baker (Island Books), Kasia Bartoszyńska (Monmouth College), Tara Cheesman (freelance book critic), George Carroll (litintranslation.com), Adam Hetherington (reader), Keaton Patterson (Brazos Bookstore), Sofia Samatar (writer), Elijah Watson (A Room of One’s Own). The poetry jury included Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (EuropeNow), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Aditi Machado (poet and translator), and Laura Marris (writer and translator).

We announced the longlists and finalists here at the site earlier this spring.

Thanks to grant funds from the Amazon Literary Partnership, the living winning author and the translators will each receive $2,000 cash prizes. Three Percent at the University of Rochester founded the BTBAs in 2008, and since then, the Amazon Literary Partnership has contributed more than $150,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA. For more information, visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter. 

Best Translated Book Awards Names 2019 Finalists

The Best Translated Books Awards today named its 2019 finalists for fiction and poetry. The award, founded by Three Percent at the University of Rochester, comes with $10,000 in prizes from the Amazon Literary Partnership.

In the past seven years, the ALP has contributed more than $150,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA.

This year’s BTBA finalists are as follows—and be sure to check out this year’s fiction and poetry longlists, which we announced last month.

Fiction Finalists

Congo Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament by In Koli Jean Bofane, translated from the French by Marjolijn de Jager (Democratic Republic of Congo, Indiana University Press) 

The Hospital by Ahmed Bouanani, translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud (Morocco, New Directions)

Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (Martinique, New Press)

Pretty Things by Virginie Despentes, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, (France, Feminist Press)

Moon Brow by Shahriar Mandanipour, translated from the Persian by Khalili Sara (Iran, Restless Books)

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire (Germany, Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Japan, Grove)

The Governesses by Anne Serre, translated from the French by Mark Hutchinson (France, New Directions)

Öræfï by Ófeigur Sigurðsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Iceland, Deep Vellum)

Fox by Dubravka Ugresic, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac and David Williams (Croatia, Open Letter)

Poetry Finalists

The Future Has an Appointment with the Dawn by Tanella Boni, translated from the French by Todd Fredson (Cote D’Ivoire, University of Nebraska)

Moss & Silver by Jure Detela, translated from the Slovenian by Raymond Miller and Tatjana Jamnik (Slovenia, Ugly Duckling)

Of Death. Minimal Odes by Hilda Hilst, translated from the Portuguese by Laura Cesarco Eglin (Brazil, co-im-press)

Autobiography of Death by Kim Hyesoon, translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi(Korea, New Directions)

Negative Space by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika (Albania, New Directions)

The winners will be announced on Wednesday, May 29 as part of the New York Rights Fair.

Best Translated Book Awards Names 2019 Longlists

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Celebrating its 12th year of honoring literature in translation, the Best Translated Book Awards named its 2019 longlists for both fiction and poetry.

Announced here—with a write-up tomorrow from BTBA founder Chad Post at Three Percent—the lists include a diverse range of authors, languages, countries, and publishers. It features familiar presses—Ugly Duckling Presse, Coffee House, New Directions—along with presses appearing for the first time, such as Song Cave and Fitzcarraldo.

Nineteen different translators are making their first appearance, while last year’s winning team of author Rodrigo Fresán and translator Will Vanderhyden returns. The lists feature authors writing in 16 different languages, from 24 different countries. The books were published by 26 different presses, the majority either independent or university presses.

Thanks to grant funds from the Amazon Literary Partnership, the winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000. The finalists for both the fiction and poetry awards will be announced on Wednesday, May 15.

Best Translated Book Award 2019: Fiction Longlist

Congo Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament by In Koli Jean Bofane, translated from the French by Marjolijn de Jager (Democratic Republic of Congo, Indiana University Press) 

The Hospital by Ahmed Bouanani, translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud (Morocco, New Directions)

A Dead Rose by Aurora Cáceres, translated from the Spanish by Laura Kanost (Peru, Stockcero)

Love in the New Millennium by Xue Can, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (China, Yale University Press)

Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (Martinique, New Press)

Wedding Worries by Stig Dagerman, translated from the Swedish by Paul Norlen and Lo Dagerman (Sweden, David Godine)

Pretty Things by Virginie Despentes, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, (France, Feminist Press)

Disoriental by Negar Djavadi, translated from the French by Tina Kover (Iran, Europa Editions)

Dézafi by Frankétienne, translated from the French by Asselin Charles (published by Haiti, University of Virginia Press)

Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresán, translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden (Argentina, Open Letter)

Bride and Groom by Alisa Ganieva, translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio (Russia, Deep Vellum)

People in the Room by Norah Lange, translated from the Spanish by Charlotte Whittle (Argentina, And Other Stories)

Comemadre by Roque Larraquy, translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary (Argentina, Coffee House)

Moon Brow by Shahriar Mandanipour, translated from the Persian by Khalili Sara (Iran, Restless Books)

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire (Germany, Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Japan, Grove)

After the Winter by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey (Mexico, Coffee House)

Transparent City by Ondjaki, translated from the Portuguese by Stephen Henighan (Angola, Biblioasis)

Lion Cross Point by Masatsugo Ono, translated from the Japanese by Angus Turvill (Japan, Two Lines Press)

The Governesses by Anne Serre, translated from the French by Mark Hutchinson (France, New Directions)

Öræfï by Ófeigur Sigurðsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Iceland, Deep Vellum)

Codex 1962 by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland, FSG)

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft (Poland, Riverhead)

Fox by Dubravka Ugresic, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac and David Williams (Croatia, Open Letter)

Seventeen by Hideo Yokoyama, translated from the Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai (Japan, FSG)

This year’s fiction jury is made up of: Pierce Alquist (BookRiot), Caitlin L. Baker (Island Books), Kasia Bartoszyńska (Monmouth College), Tara Cheesman (freelance book critic), George Carroll (litintranslation.com), Adam Hetherington (reader), Keaton Patterson (Brazos Bookstore), Sofia Samatar (writer), Ely Watson (A Room of One’s Own).

Best Translated Book Award 2019: Poetry Longlist

The Future Has an Appointment with the Dawn by Tenella Boni, translated from the French by Todd Fredson (Cote D’Ivoire, University of Nebraska)

Dying in a Mother Tongue by Roja Chamankar, translated from the Persian by Blake Atwood (Iran, University of Texas)

Moss & Silver by Jure Detela, translated from the Slovenian by Raymond Miller and Tatjana Jamnik (Slovenia, Ugly Duckling)

Of Death. Minimal Odes by Hilda Hilst, translated from the Portuguese by Laura Cesarco Eglin (Brazil, co-im-press)

Autobiography of Death by Kim Hyesoon, translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi (Korea, New Directions)

Negative Space by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika (Albania, New Directions)

Scardanelli by Frederike Mayrocker, translated from the German by Jonathan Larson (Austria, Song Cave)

the easiness and the loneliness by Asta Olivia Nordenhof, translated from the Danish by Susanna Nied (Denmark, Open Letter)

Nioque of the Early-Spring by Francis Ponge, translated from the French by Jonathan Larson (France, Song Cave)

Architecture of a Dispersed Life by Pable de Rokha, translated from the Spanish by Urayoán Noel (Chile, Shearsman Books)

The poetry jury includes: Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (EuropeNow), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Aditi Machado (poet and translator), and Laura Marris (writer and translator).

For more information, visit the Best Translated Book Award site, the BTBA Facebook page, and the BTBA Twitter. And check out our coverage from 2016, 2017, and 2018.

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