In collaboration with the Modern Language Association, the MLA‐Roth Award for translation of literary work into English has been given on a biennial basis since 2000. In January 2018 it will start being given every year. This award, like very few of the other sponsored translation prizes given at the annual MLA conference, is not limited to the translation of literary works in a specific language. Recipients have translated works in languages from all over the globe. For a complete list of recipients of the MLA‐Roth Award, please see MLA-Roth Award Recipients.
The 2018 award went to Liam Mac Com Iomaire and Tim Robinson for their translation of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Irish classic, Graveyard Clay/Cré na Cille: A Narrative in Ten Interludes (Yale University Press, 2016). In critical opinion and popular polls, Graveyard Clay is invariably ranked the most important prose work in modern Irish. It is a novel of black humor, reminiscent of the work of Synge and Beckett. The story unfolds entirely in dialogue as the newly dead arrive in the graveyard, bringing news of recent local happenings to those already confined in their coffins. Avalanches of gossip, backbiting, flirting, feuds, and scandal-mongering ensue, while the absurdity of human nature becomes ever clearer. This bold new translation is the shared project of two fluent speakers of the Irish of Ó Cadhain’s native region.
The jury additionally awarded two Honorable Mentions:
The first went to EstherAllen, for her translation of Zama, by Antonio Di Benedetto. First published in 1956 and available in English for the first time, Zama (New York Review Books, 2016) takes place in the last decade of the eighteenth century and describes the solitary, suspended existence of Don Diego de Zama, a highly placed servant of the Spanish crown who has been posted to Asunción, the capital of remote Paraguay. Eaten up by pride, lust, petty grudges, and paranoid fantasies, Don Diego does as little as he possibly can while plotting an eventual transfer to Buenos Aires, where everything about his hopeless existence will, he is confident, be miraculously transformed and made good. As Benjamin Kunkel wrote in The New Yorker: “The belated arrival of Zama in the United States raises an admittedly hyperbolic question: Can it be that the Great American Novel was written by an Argentinean? It’s hard, anyway, to think of a superior novel about the bloody life of the frontier.”
The second honorable mention went to Amy Baram Reid for Mount Pleasant, by Patrice Nganang. Mount Pleasant (Macmillan, 2017) tells the astonishing story of the birth of modern Cameroon, a place subject to the whims of the French and the Germans, yet engaged in a cultural revolution. According to Kirkus Reviews, “Cameroonian writer Nganang delivers a modern epic, tinged with liberal doses of magical realism, of life in his country’s colonial era . . . An elegantly drawn and engaging world of a sort unknown to most readers—but one they’ll be glad to have visited.” Born in Cameroon, Nganang is a novelist, a poet, and an essayist. His novel Temps de chien received the Prix Littéraire Marguerite Yourcenar and the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire; he is also the author of La Joie de vivre and L’Invention d’un beau regard and teaches comparative literature at Stony Brook University.