'Seven Empty Houses' Wins the National Book Award in Translation

Jessie Shohfi
November 17, 2022

Update: November 17, 2022

Seven Empty Houses, written by Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin and translated from the Spanish by Adjunct Assistant Professor Megan McDowell, has been awarded this year’s National Book Award for Translated Literature

Schweblin and McDowell accepted the award on November 16 at the 73rd National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner, held at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. 

““This is crazy,” McDowell said in her acceptance speech. “I’m not a person to whom words come easy. People often think that writers are people who have a way with words, but I think they’re people who question words, who distrust them, and who demand more from them. Writers are people who struggle with words and so are translators. I always say that any act of communication is an act of translation, and I’ve learned so much from the ways my writers communicate, and the ways that they translate. I’m grateful to Samanta for continually demonstrating the power words have to invoke, and I’m also grateful to her for trusting me with translating, with communicating, her work.”

Presenting them with the prize was the panel chair for Translated Literature, Ann Goldstein. She described her experience on the National Book Award judges panel, saying, “I found it exciting and inspiring to read so many works of translated literature from so many diverse places. In a way, what was most inspiring was the fact that these works exist in English at all. That in spite of low pay and low recognition, translators are working on such a wide variety of books in such a wide variety of languages and a wide variety of styles, enabling all of us in the English-speaking world to enter worlds we might not otherwise know. While it’s almost a cliche to say that translators are the forgotten voices of literary culture, it’s also true that they’ve become more visible recently, thanks in part to prizes. I think we’re all grateful to the National Book Foundation for having added, or rather revived, the prize for Translated Literature.”

The awards ceremony is free to stream online, and Seven Empty Houses is available now for purchase


Original: November 3, 2022

Seven Empty Houses, written by Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin and translated from the Spanish by Adjunct Assistant Professor Megan McDowell, has been named a finalist for the National Book Award in Translation.

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are conferred by the National Book Foundation. The Awards currently honor the best Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature, published each year.

From works submitted by publishers—a total of 146 this year in Translated Literature—a distinguished panel of judges selects a longlist of ten titles per category, which is then narrowed to five finalists. Each finalist receives a prize of $1,000, a medal, and a Judge’s citation. The winners will receive $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.

Seven Empty Houses features stories about families who exist in a state of wanting, coping with the absence of something essential, be it a person, a piece of furniture, or something less easily defined. Featuring unexpected twists and uncanny events, the collection confronts unsettling truths about family, home, and belonging. My Parents and My Children, a story from the collection, is available to read on LitHub.

Oprah Daily praised the book, and McDowell’s translation, saying, “That sense of dreamlike menace infuses the linked fictions in Samanta Schweblin’s Seven Empty Houses, beautifully translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell… These stories pulse with blood and lust, ego and id, as Schweblin punches above her weight.”

The New York Times Book Review says of the collection, “Rejoice! Just when we’re settling into fall, all cozy on the couch with a Netflix show queued up, a new short story collection from Samanta Schweblin is here to spit in your pumpkin spiced latte and drag its nails down the wall. Seven Empty Houses . . . takes aim at the place we feel safest: home. Darker and more tinged with terror than her breakthrough novel, Fever Dream, this is Schweblin at her sharpest and most ferocious.”

Prior to the Awards Ceremony, the National Book Awards Finalists Reading, in which all the finalists will read from their work, will be hosted at New York University on the evening of November 15. Enrollment for this event, including both in-person tickets and free registration for online streaming, is available now.

The winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 16 at the invitation-only 73rd National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. The event will also be broadcast live online. Information about streaming the ceremony, which will be hosted by Padma Lakshmi, will be shared on the National Book Awards website

Seven Empty Houses is available for purchase now

Megan McDowell translates many of the most important Latin American writers working today, including Samanta Schweblin, Alejandro Zambra, Mariana Enriquez, and Lina Meruane. Her translations have won the English PEN award, the Premio Valle-Inclán, and the Shirley Jackson Prize, and have been short- or long-listed four times for the International Booker Prize, and shortlisted once for the Kirkus Prize. Two stories she translated won O. Henry Short story prizes in 2022. In 2020 she won an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her short story translations have been featured in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Paris Review, Tin House, McSweeney’s, and Granta, among others. She is from Richmond, KY and lives in Santiago, Chile.