Persian Translation Prize

Born Upon the Dark Spear

Since 2001, the Roth Endowment has sponsored a Persian Translation Prize, juried by members of the American Institute of Iranian Studies (AIIrS). The Persian Translation Prize seeks to honor superlative English translations of both contemporary works and ancient Persian texts. This year, the jury focused on contemporary literature.

The 2016 Persian Translation Prize went to Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh for his translation of Born upon the Dark Spear: Selected Poems of Ahmad Shamlu (Contra Mundum Press, 2015). Known for his voice of resilient defiance and political dissent, Shamlu is one of the most prominent literary figures in twentieth century Iran, evidenced by his nomination for a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1984. While previous translations of Shamlu’s work have been limited in scope, leaving his poetry relatively unknown in the English-speaking world, Born upon the Dark Spear showcases 78 poems from throughout his career, honoring his use of poetry to respond to the political tyranny and social upheaval he observed in his country.

Mohaghegh’s translation is noteworthy not only for its groundbreaking collection of poems, however, but also for its exceptional quality. Born upon the Dark Spear expertly captures the tone and spirit of Shamlu’s poetry, enabling readers to engage with it not only as a piece of history, but also as an ever-relevant commentary on an individual’s response to inequality, oppression and indifference.

The jury found two other translations to be exceptionally meritorious of an Honorable Mention. Nastaran Kherad’s translation of The Neighbors (Austin, TX: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2013), by Ahmad Mahmoud, tells the story of a young man whose involvement in Iran’s oil industry in the 1950s leads him to discover that the world is bigger than the poverty surrounding him. Charand-o Parand: Revolutionary Satire from Iran, 1907-1909  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), translated by Janet Afary and John R. Perry, gives a new audience access to the essays and newspaper columns of Ali-Akbar Dehkhoda, which entertain as they offer a critical evaluation of Iran’s old political order.

For a complete list of recipients of the Persian Translation Prize, please consult Persian Prize Recipients.