Word for Word: Columbia University School of the Arts Writers Collaborate with German Writers in a Pilot Exchange Program in Literary Translation
Emerging German and American writers will come together at Columbia University’s Deutsches Haus in New York City on April 12th for a public reading and presentation of Word for Word / Wort für Wort, a bilingual collection of collaborative translations of poetry, prose, and creative nonfiction.
New York, NY, March 28, 2012 – Six young writers—three American, three German—have learned that the medium of literary translation can have a transformative effect on their own work and perspective as literary artists. For the past six months they have worked closely together translating each other’s work into each other’s native language. In the process, they have not only discovered deeper levels of engagement with the written word, they have participated in the launch of an innovative international exchange program, Word for Word, that has deepened their engagement with, and strengthened the ties between, each other’s culture and literature.
All six writers are currently graduate students at preeminent American and German creative writing programs: Ariell Cacciola (fiction), Joshua Edwin (poetry) and Katherine Sanders (nonfiction) from Columbia University’s School of the Arts Writing Program are paired with Bettina Suleiman (fiction), Dagmara Kraus (poetry), and Jörn Dege (nonfiction) from the University of Leipzig’s Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig (DLL). Professor Mark Anderson, Director of Deutsches Haus, has described the DLL as “a unique institution in Germany, which in the last fifteen years has launched the careers of a number of the best young writers in the German-speaking world.”
The writers’ translations of each other’s work have now been published in Word for Word / Wort für Wort, a limited-edition collection of facing-page translations. In mid-March, the book was presented by the six writers at readings and events at the Leipzig Book Fair, and now will be presented in New York on April 12th at an event co-presented by Columbia’s School of the Arts and Deutsches Haus. The six writers will gather at 7 p.m. at Deutsches Haus (located at 420 West 116th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive) to read their work in German and English. Following the reading, there will be a Q&A session with the audience and a reception celebrating the launch of the book. The event is free and open to the public.
“Word for Word was conceived in the belief that if young writers were to engage in the art of literary translation and to collaborate on the translations of each other’s poetry and prose, the experience would expand and enrich their linguistic imaginations,” said Binnie Kirshenbaum, Chair of the Columbia Writing Program. “This project has engaged them with their own writing in a myriad of ways. Re-creating voice and tone in another language, remaining true to poetic form, and conveying humor and beauty, require a special mastery of one’s own language, and when writer/translators work in concert, they are inspired to examine their own words and work from new perspectives.”
The project was initiated in the spring of 2011, when the writers were selected and paired by their respective faculties. They began to exchange their work last September, and in October the Columbia students traveled to Leipzig for a week to meet their partners, taking part in a special workshop with translator Katy Derbyshire, and participating in the DLL’s annual student orientation. Meeting and working together in person, their collaborative translations began in earnest, and continued through the remainder of the semester via the Internet. In January, the completed texts were submitted for publication, and the presentations in Leipzig and New York of the resulting book, Word for Word / Wort für Wort, celebrate the culmination of the project. The day after the April 12th presentation, the writers will gather for a final session in which they will review and discuss their translations with Susan Bernofsky, an eminent American translator of German literature.
The conclusion of this year’s translation exchange is in fact a beginning, not an end, in more than one way. The School of the Arts and the DLL have entered into a partnership both institutions hope will attract outside support in order to continue year-to-year. The writers themselves have clearly benefited, and have affirmed that they plan to continue to work together translating each other’s work (Joshua Edwin, for instance, has embarked on an English translation of Dagmara Kraus’s first book, kummerang, which was published in Germany this year).
For Columbia’s School of the Arts, Word for Word is intended to inaugurate a series of similar exchanges in partnership with Columbia’s Global Centers in various locations around the world, in the belief that bridging cultures and languages through the medium of literary translation and the work of talented young writers is important—not only to any writer’s education, but to the future of international literature in a time when too few works of literature are translated and published in America, and ultimately to broadening and deepening the relationship of American culture to world culture. The School of the Arts and the DLL are deeply grateful to Goethe-Institut New York for supporting the publication of Word for Word / Wort für Wort, to the U.S. Consulate Leipzig for supporting the October workshop in Germany, to Columbia’s Deutsches Haus for hosting the April 12th presentation, and to Matvei Yankelevich of Ugly Duckling Presse for the design of Word for Word /
Wort für Wort.
About the DLL
The German Creative Writing Program Leipzig (Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig / DLL) is a central institution at Universität Leipzig, providing the only degree course for writers in the making in Germany since 1995. Alongside the three-year BA in Creative Writing, focusing on poetry, prose and drama, an MA in Creative Writing has also been on offer from the winter semester of 2009. This is a two-year degree designed as a novel workshop. The aim of the program is to provide students with highly professional writing skills and creative competence, along with knowledge of literary history and theory.
About Deutsches Haus
Deutsches Haus at Columbia University was established in 1911 to encourage academic, cultural, and social exchange between members of the Columbia community and the public with an interest in German affairs. Cultural programs and social activities sponsored by Deutsches Haus include lecture and film series, conferences, recitals, and informal gatherings run by and for undergraduates and interested others, formally known as Kaffeestunde (coffee hour). Frequent events throughout the autumn and spring terms offer students opportunities to practice their German.Deutsches Haus programs are free and open to the public. Our programs cover a range of Germanic languages and cultures, providing a cultural resource for the wider intellectual and professional community of New York City. Deutsches Haus has academic ties to Columbia University's distinguished faculties in Germanic and other languages and literatures, and to the prestigious scholarly journal, New German Critique.
The Goethe-Institut is the cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany with a global reach. They promote knowledge of the German language abroad and foster international cultural cooperation, conveying a comprehensive picture of Germany by providing information on Germany's cultural, social and political life. Through their network of Goethe-Instituts, Goethe Centers, cultural societies and reading rooms, alongside examination and language learning centers, they perform the principal tasks of cultural and educational policy abroad. The Goethe-Institut works in partnership with public and private cultural bodies, the German federal states and municipalities, and the corporate sector.