In collaboration with the Modern Language Association, the MLA‐Roth Award for translation of literary work into English has been given since 2000. As of January 2018, it started being given every year, instead of on a biennial basis. This award, like very few of the other translation prizes given at the annual MLA convention, is not limited to the translation of literary works written in a specific language. Recipients have translated works in languages from all over the globe. For a complete list, please see MLA-Roth Translation Award Recipients.
The 2020 award went to Robert and Elizabeth Chandler for their translation from the Russian of Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad. Set in Russia in the midst of WWII, the novel follows the Shaposhnikov family as they grapple with the nearing German invasion, providing an intimate portrait of humanity in the face of disaster. According to the Modern Language Association, “Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler’s historical understanding and archival research made it possible to produce a book that salvages the novel from the fate of its mangled original, censored in the process of writing, editing, and production.” The Chandlers’ translation makes Grossman’s masterpiece available to English language readers for the first time.
This year, the jury also awarded two honorable mentions. The first went to Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps for their translation from the Ukranian of Serhiy Zhadan’s What We Live For, What We Die For: Selected Poems by Serhiy Zhadan. The collection includes selected works detailing the haunting realities of life in war-torn Ukraine from seven of Zhadan’s previous publications, released between 2001 and 2015. According to Dzvinia Orlowsky of the Solstice Literary Magazine, “These eloquent translations read as if the poems were conceived in English. Every poem transports readers to an authentic, emotional destination.” Tkacz and Phipps have been collaborating since 1989, and are codirectors of the Yara Arts Group in New York.
The second honorable mention was awarded to Jonathan Wright for his translation from the Arabic of Sinan Antoon’s fourth novel, The Book of Collateral Damage. The novel follows Nameer, an Iraqi scholar studying in the United States, as he attempts to document and come to terms with the devastating aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Based on Antoon’s own experiences in witnessing the destruction when returning to his hometown of Bhagdad after the invasion, the novel offers important commentary on both the human and environmental costs of war. Wright is a celebrated British journalist and literary translator, specializing in Arabic translation.