MLA‐Roth Award

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 Award Recipients.

The 2020 award went to Damion Searls for his translation from the German of Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl by Uwe Johnson. Set in 1967, the book follows the lives of Gesine Cresspahl, a German émigré to Manhattan and single mother to ten-year-old Marie, dedicating a chapter for each day of the year. Damion Searls is an American translator and writer who specializes in translation from German, Norwegian, French, and Dutch. According to Parul Sehgal of The New York Times, “Searls’s superb translation inscribes Johnson’s restlessness and probing into word choice and the structures of the sentences themselves, which quiver with the anxiety to get things right, to see the world as it is.”

This year, the jury also awarded two honorable mentions. the first went to Asselin Charles, a professor of Communication and Literary Studies at Sheridan College, for his translation from the French of Frankétienne’s Dézafi. Written in an experimental style, Dézafi follows the story of a Hatian plantation that is worked by zombies under the rule of a living master. When the master’s daughter falls in love with a zombie, allowing him to return to his human form, an uprising begins amongst the zombie workers to challenge their oppression. The novel provides a poignant commentary on Haiti’s history of slavery, and Charles’ translation brings it to English language readers for the first time.

The second honorable mention was awarded to Donald Rayfield for his translation from the Russian of Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Stories, Vol. 1. Kolyma Stories is a collection of short fictional stories based upon the fifteen years that Shalamov spent in a Soviet prison camp. According to Penguin Random House, “[Shalamov’s] stories are at once the biography of a rare survivor, a historical record of the Gulag, and a literary work of unparalleled creative power, insight, and conviction.” Rayfield, a professor of Russian and Georgian at the Queen Mary University of London, is an English author and translator and has written several acclaimed books examining Russian and Georgian history.