‘Writer and translator in powerful harmony’ – Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri wins John Florio Prize for translation

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.
Author takes the 2020 John Florio Prize for her ‘exceptional’ and ‘agile’ translation from Italian of Trick by Domenico Starnone, in the Society of Authors’ annual Translation Prizes. Editor Saba Ahmed wins the TA First Translation Prize for the second year running.

Literary translators shared £13,000 in prizes at the Society of Authors’ annual Translation Prizes today, with Jhumpa Lahiri’s translation from the Italian of Domenico Starnone’s Trick scooping the John Florio Prize.

In a series of short online films, generously sponsored by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), and featuring speeches and readings from winners and judges, six awards were made for translations from Arabic, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Turkish.

The John Florio Prize is a biennial award of £2,000 for translations into English of full-length Italian works of literary merit and general interest. This year’s judges were Robert Gordon and Rosa Mucignat.

Commenting on Lahiri’s translation, Rosa Mucignat said:

Jhumpa Lahiri has given us not so much a translation as an English double of Starnone’s humorous, unpredictable and formally sleek novel … Her English is as responsive and as agile as Starnone’s Italian prose.

We welcomed editor Saba Ahmed back as joint winner of the TA First Translation Prize. Last year she won the Prize alongside translator Morgan Giles for their work on the English edition of Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station. This year she took the same award for her work with translator Nicholas Glastonbury for the English edition of Sema Kaygusuz’s Every Fire You Tend. The TA First Translation prize is an annual £2,000 prize for a debut literary translation into English published in the UK. It is shared between the translator and their editor. The Prize is sponsored by translator and writer Daniel Hahn and the British Council.

‘the power of translated words’

Commenting on the winning works, SoA Head of Prizes and Awards Paula Johnson said:

It is wonderful to be celebrating the SoA’s Translation Prizes just now. They have been awarded annually since the 1960s and they have always seemed to hold a special relevance for our times. This year’s 13 winners and runners-up and 35 short-listees are no exceptions – each a compelling example of the power of translated words.

The winners

The John Florio Prize for translation from Italian

A biennial award of £2,000 for translations into English of full-length Italian works of literary merit and general interest. This year’s judges were Robert Gordon and Rosa Mucignat.

WINNER: Jhumpa Lahiri for a translation of Trick by Domenico Starnone (Europa Editions)

Commenting for the judges, Robert Gordon said:

Writer and translator work in powerful harmony here, with Starnone knowingly nodding to Henry James among others, and Lahiri in both her preface and her translation picking up on this, adapting to and reworking the original to make for a rare synergy. Both text and translation are exceptional.

Runner-up: Jenny McPhee for a translation of The Kremlin Ball by Curzio Malaparte (New York Review Books)

Sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute and the Society of Authors.


The Premio Valle Inclán for translation from Spanish

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 are Imogen Choi and James Womack.

WINNER: Katherine Silver for a translation of The Word of the Speechless by Julio Ramón Ribeyro (New York Review Books)

Commenting for the judges, James Womack said:

This is an astounding book, bringing into English an undeservedly little-known Peruvian writer, whose mastery of tone – there is horror here, resignation, wild humour – is entirely matched by his translator Katherine Silver’s skill in finding the right word, the right turn, to carry these complex and world-spinning stories into English.

Runner-up: Anne McLean for a translation of Lord of All the Dead by Javier Cercas (MacLehose Press)

Sponsored by ALCS and the Society of Authors.


The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for translation from Arabic

An annual award of £3,000 for published translations from Arabic of full-length works of imaginative and creative writing of literary merit and general interest. This year’s judges were Paul Starkey, Omar al-Qattan, Justine Jordan and Nii Ayikwei Parkes.

WINNER: Kay Heikkinen for a translation of Velvet by Huzama Habayeb (Hoopoe – an Imprint of AUC Press)

On behalf of the judges, Paul Starkey said:

We were impressed by the way in which Kay Heikkinen’s translation has succeeded in conveying not only the sense, but also the mood and emotion of the original. It brings to life a narrative that vividly portrays the repressive life of ordinary Palestinian women. It is a translation which deserves to enjoy the same success in English as it has already done in Arabic.

Sponsored by the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature and the Saif Ghobash family.


The Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from German

An annual award of £3,000 for translations into English of full-length French works of literary merit and general interest. This year’s judges were Steffan Davies and Dora Osborne.

WINNER: Martyn Crucefix for a translation of These Numbered Days by Peter Huchel (Shearsman Books)

On behalf of the judges, Steffan Davies said:

This is an absolutely superb translation of Huchel’s poems: a clear, outstanding winner even among such strong competition. It reads as poetry throughout, never ‘feeling translated’ and yet always also an accurate capturing of Huchel’s German. The poems are beautiful, economical poetry in themselves. This is translation at its very best: deep, sympathetic comprehension, inspired creativity, confident composition, fine judgement. Congratulations to a very deserving winner.

Runner-up: Jamie Bulloch for a translation of You Would Have Missed Me by Birgit Vanderbeke (Peirene Press)

Sponsored by the Goethe-Institut.


The Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from French

An annual award of £1,000 for translations into English of full-length French works of literary merit and general interest. This year’s judges were Aude Campmas and Peter Dunwoodie.

Winner: Aneesa Abbas Higgins for a translation of A Girl Called Eel by Ali Zamir (Jacaranda Books)

On behalf of the judges, Aude Campmas said:

Aneesa Abbas Higgins’s outstanding translation artfully captures the syntactical complexity of this timely novel. It is a vibrant translation conveying the musicality and originality of the original.

Runner-up: Frank Wynne for a translation of Animalia by Jean-Baptiste del Amo (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

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


The TA First Translation Prize for debut translation from any language

An annual £2,000 prize for a debut literary translation into English published in the UK. The Prize is shared between the translator and their editor. This year’s judges are Maureen Freely, Daniel Hahn and Max Porter.

Winner: Nicholas Glastonbury for a translation of Every Fire You Tend by Sema Kaygusuz and edited by Saba Ahmed (Tilted Axis Press) translated from the Turkish.

On behalf of the judges, Max Porter said:

I feel genuinely honoured to have read it. It is everything I look for in a translated novel. A testament, a message, a gesture towards the forgotten, a memorial, a living breathing set of linguistic and political decisions, unswervingly taken on and engaged with by the translator and the publisher. The humanity in this book, in what it sets out to do, and the care with which that intent is rendered in English, is startling. A mighty work of literature, which English readers should be profoundly thankful to encounter.

Runners-up: Nicholas Royle for a translation of Pharricide by Vincent de Swarte, and edited by Tim Shearer (Confingo Publishing). Translated from the French.

Sponsored by Daniel Hahn and the British Council.

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