Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

NBCC Reads at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City: Why Translation Matters

By Jane Ciabattari

Podcast of the November 9 NBCC Reads event,  “Why Translation Matters,” at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City, with Sarah Fay, Christopher Merrill, Cole Swenson, Rudolph Valentino, and Robin Hemley. Robin Hemley recalls his father's translation of Isaac Singer (Robin's mother and father were both Singer translators, and ran the Noonday Press) and reads from “The Spinoza of Market Street,” Cole Swenson describes how important it is to somehow capture the sound of poetry in a translation, and reads from Beaudelaire;Russell Valentino speaks about translations of the bible, Christopher Merrill reads the chilling cobra scene from Kapuscinski's “Shadows of the Sun.” Details on the panelists:


Sarah Fay is an advisory editor at The Paris Review. Her work appears regularly in the New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, Bookforum, and The American Scholar, among others. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature at the University of Iowa.


Christopher Merrill has published four collections of poetry, including Brilliant Water and Watch Fire, for which he received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages, his journalism appears in many publications, and he is the book critic for the daily radio news program, The World. He now directs the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa.

Cole Swensen is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently Ours (University of California Press, 2008). Her work has been short-listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award and won the Iowa Prize, the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, and the National Poetry Series. A 2007 Guggenheim Fellow, she is the co-editor of the Norton Anthology American Hybrid and a professor at the Iowa Writers Workshop.

Russell Scott Valentino is a translator and scholar based in Iowa City, Iowa. He has published eight books and numerous essays and short translations of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from Italian, Croatian, and Russian. He is the publisher of Autumn Hill Books and Editor of The Iowa Review.He teaches in Iowa’s Translation Workshop.

Robin Hemley is the author of eight books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently Do-Over (Little, Brown). His work has been anthologized widely and he is the recipient of numerous awards including a 2008 Guggenheim, The Nelson Algren Award for Fiction, an Editor’s Choice Book Award for Nonfiction from The American Library Association, and two Pushcart Prizes. He currently directs UI’s Nonfiction Writing Program.