2018 Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize Shortlist Announced

The Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize honors an outstanding literary translation from German into English published in the U.S. and comes with a purse of $10,000 for the translator. The prize used to be administered by the Goethe-Institut Chicago, but since 2015 it’s been awarded under the auspices of the Goethe-Institut New York. And last year the Goethe-Institut started publishing a shortlist for the prize rather than just announcing the winner in late spring. Shortlists are interesting, they reveal a jury’s deliberation process, and I’m always glad to see them, particularly as they can generally also be understood as reading recommendations. This year’s jury includes Shelley Frisch (chair), Bettina Abarbanell, Ross Benjamin, John Hargraves, and Susan Harris.

Here are the translators on this year’s Wolff Prize shortlist:

  • David Dollenmayer, for his translation of Rüdiger Safranski’s Goethe. Kunstwerk des Lebens (Goethe: Life as a Work of Art, Liveright, 2017)
  • Isabel Fargo Cole, for her translation of Wolfgang Hilbig’s Alte Abdeckerei (Old Rendering Plant, Two Lines Press, 2017)
  • Stefan Tobler, for his translation of Arno Geiger’s Der alte König in seinem Exil (The Old King in His Exile, Restless Books, 2017)

This shortlist rights a wrong one often sees in lists of this sort: shortchanging nonfiction, which is all too often overlooked for prizes like this one, which typically goes to the translator of a work of fiction, although the prize is officially open to works of any genre. One disappointing thing about this particular shortlist is that – like the 2017 Wolff Prize shortlist – it contains exclusively works by male authors, and indeed the Wolff Prize has gone to the translators of books written by men in all but two of the 22 years of its existence. What does that mean? I was sorry not to see Sophie Seita shortlisted for her translation of Uljana Wolf’s Subsisters, which seemed to me an exceptional feat of translingual artistry (though I certainly have no beef with any of the books that were put forward as finalists). Come to think of it, the prize has never gone to the translator of a book of poems, either. Hmm.

For more information about the prize and the shortlisted books, see the Wolff Prize page on the Goethe-Institut website.

The winner of the 2018 Wolff Prize will be announced in early May. Congratulations and toi toi toi to all the shortlisted translators!

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