‘Devastating … complex and simple’ – Morgan Giles and editor Saba Ahmed win TA First Translation Prize

Martin Reed

Martin Reed

Martin leads the SoA's Communications team. He oversees our strategic communications and campaign-based activities, including PR, social media, events and partnerships.
The £2,000 prize, shared jointly with editor Saba Ahmed, was awarded at the Society of Authors’ annual Translation Prizes ceremony on 12 February.

Literary translators shared £20,000 in prizes at the Society of Authors’ annual Translation Prizes this evening (12 February 2020), with Morgan Giles’ debut translation from the Japanese of Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station scooping the third annual TA First Translation Prize.

In a ceremony sponsored by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) at the British Library’s Knowledge Centre eight awards were made for translations from the Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Spanish and debut translations from any language.

The TA First Translation Prize, founded by translator Daniel Hahn, who donated half his winnings from the International Dublin Literary Award in 2017 to establish it, and supported by The British Council, is awarded for a debut literary translation into English published in the UK. The prize is shared between the translator and editor.

Speaking on behalf of fellow judges, Daniel Hahn and Ellie Steel, Shaun Whiteside said: ‘This novel is devastating, both complex and simple, a study of forgotten lives and a portrait of a city, building to a wrenching and unforgettable conclusion. A marvellous book, beautifully written and beautifully translated.’

‘…the soft power of diverse cultures…’

In her speech introducing the evening Society of Authors’ Head of Prizes and Awards Paula Johnson described the prizes as a ‘special celebration and a vivid display, undiminished, of the soft power of diverse cultures, amid the particular miracles that translation can deliver … evidence of the latest and best translations into English from around the world’. She thanked ‘all translators for continuing to sweep away barriers and expand our cultural connections’.

The winners

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for translation from Arabic

The £3,000 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize, first awarded in 2006, is presented annually. The prize was established by Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature.

WINNER: Leri Price for a translation of Death is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa (Faber & Faber)

The judges said:

‘A beautifully written and subtly translated piece of fiction, which feels almost one of dual authorship and in which lyrical prose combines with the forensic nature of reportage.’ (Catherine Taylor)

‘Leri Price’s translation is both sharp and unobtrusive while maintaining the vividness and intense style of this compelling novel by Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa.’ (Ghazi Gheblawi)

Sponsored by the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature and the Saif Ghobash family. This year’s judges were Ghazi Gheblawi (chair), Dr Jan Fortune, Abla Oudeh Mahmoud, and Catherine Taylor.

The Goethe-Institut Award for new translation

The Goethe-Institut Award, presented since 2010, is a biennial award of €1,000 for the best translation from a chosen text – this year Die Fahrt by Sibylle Berg. The winner is invited to attend the Leipzig Book Fair, and the International Translators’ meeting in Berlin

WINNER: Kay McBurney for a translation of an extract from Die Fahrt by Sibylle Berg

The judges said:

‘A lucid and engaging style that encapsulates what literary translation should be: it reads like an original text and not a translation.’ (Oliver Kamm)

‘This translation is not simply sure-footed: the translator has a fantastic ear for the rhythms of speech and a real gift for capturing the wry humour of the original.’ (Karen Leeder)

‘I thoroughly enjoyed reading this spirited and confident translation, full of felicitous turns of phrase and with a great sense for Berg’s humour.’ (Charlotte Ryland)

Sponsored by the Goethe-Institut. This year’s judges were Oliver Kamm, Prof. Karen Leeder, and Charlotte Ryland.

The Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from German

The Schlegel-Tieck Prize of £3,000 has been awarded annually since 1965 and takes its name from two great poets of the Romantic period. August Wilhelm Schlegel and his friend Ludwig Tieck, also a noted translator. This year’s judges were Prof. Emily Jeremiah and Dr Caroline Summers.

Winner: Iain Galbraith for a translation of River by Esther Kinsky (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

The judges said:

‘Galbraith’s translation is meticulous but it also allows the text to meander and breathe as it should. He captures the distinctive sensibility of this work, with its movements back and forth in time, and through and between landscapes, with poetry and insight – a marvellous accomplishment.’ (Emily Jeremiah)

Runner-up: Karen Leeder for a translation of Thick of It by Ulrike Almut Sandig (Seagull Books)

Sponsored by the Goethe-Institut.

The Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from French

The Scott Moncrieff Prize of £1,000 has been awarded annually since 1965 and is named after C. K. Scott Moncrieff, the celebrated translator of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. This year’s judges were Prof. Susan Harrow and Dr Sudhir Hazareesingh.

Winner: Linda Coverdale for a translation of The Old Slave and the Mastiff by Patrick Chamoiseau (Dialogue Books)

The judges said:

‘The challenges of translating such a complex work were numerous, and Linda Coverdale overcomes them all to convey fully the range and emotional depth of this remarkable novel.’ (Sudhir Hazareesingh)

‘A stellar achievement.’ (Susan Harrow)

Runner-up: David Warriner for a translation of We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard (Orenda Books)

Sponsored by the Institut français du Royaume-Uni and the Society of Authors.

The TA First Translation Prize for debut translation from any language

The TA First Translation Prize, established in 2017, is an annual £2,000 prize for a debut literary translation into English published in the UK. The prize is shared between the translator and the book’s editor. This year’s judges were Daniel Hahn, Ellie Steel, and Shaun Whiteside.

Winner: Morgan Giles for a translation of Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri, and edited by Saba Ahmed (Tilted Axis Press) translated from the Japanese.

The judges said:

‘This novel is devastating, both complex and simple, a study of forgotten lives and a portrait of a city, building to a wrenching and unforgettable conclusion. A marvellous book, beautifully written and beautifully translated.’ (Shaun Whiteside)

Runners-up: Charlotte Whittle for a translation of People in the Room by Norah Lange, and edited by Bella Bosworth (And Other Stories). Translated from the Spanish.

Sponsored by Daniel Hahn and the British Council.

The TLS-Risa Domb/Porjes Prize for translation from Hebrew

The TLS-Risa Domb/Porjes Prize of £2,000 has been awarded triennially since 1998 and recognises the English translation of a full-length Hebrew book, fiction or non-fiction, of general interest and literary merit. This year’s judges were Boyd Tonkin (Chair), Dr Yaron Peleg, and Dr Tsila Ratner.

Winner: Peter C. Appelbaum for a translation of Hell on Earth by Avigdor Hameiri (Wayne State University Press)

The judges said:

‘Avigdor Hameiri depicts shocking hardship and cruelty – tempered by compassion – among captors and captives in prose that has a visceral power and raw vigour. In Peter Appelbaum’s version, it rises too to peaks of poetic intensity.’ (Boyd Tonkin)

Sponsored by The Edith and Ferdinand Porjes Charitable Trust and administered by the Jewish Book Council.

The Premio Valle Inclán for translation from Spanish

The Premio Valle Inclán is an annual prize of £2,000 for translations into English of full-length Spanish language works of literary merit and general interest. This year’s judges were Prof. Peter Bush and Dr Laura Lonsdale.

Winner: Jessica Sequeira for a translation of Land of Smoke by Sara Gallardo (Pushkin Press)

The judges said:

‘This volume of short stories marks an important rediscovery…Jessica Sequeira’s sensitive translation captures the rawness and strangeness, brevity and lightness of Gallardo’s prose, allowing both the humour and pathos of the stories’ dreamy, disconnected, yet very human situations to shine through.’ (Laura Lonsdale)

Runner-up: Sophie Hughes for a translation of The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán (And Other Stories)

Sponsored by ALCS and the Society of Authors.

The Vondel Prize for translation from Dutch

Named after the most prominent Dutch poet and playwright of the 17th century, Joost van den Vondel, the Vondel Prize of €5,000 was established in 1996 and is awarded biennially. This year’s judges were David Colmer, Jane Draycott, and Anthony Paul.

Winner: Michele Hutchison for a translation of Stage Four by Sander Kollaard (Amazon Crossing)

The judges said:

‘Hutchison captures Kollaard’s humane and searching portrait of a marriage with an elegance and sensitivity which seem a perfect match for the novel’s psychological delicacy and sense of scene. In her consistent alertness to tone and phrasing, Hutchison has achieved a translation of fine insight and poetic attentiveness.’

Runner-up: David Doherty for a translation of Monte Carlo by Peter Terrin (MacLehose Press)

Sponsored by the Dutch Foundation for Literature.

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If you missed the 2022 Translation Prizes award ceremony, you can watch the live stream, find out the winners and see photographs from the event at The British Library here