By Hannah Johnson
When you look at a list of books translated from German into English and published by Carol Brown Janeway, it becomes immediately clear why the organizers of this year’s Festival Neue Literatur awarded her the inaugural Friedrich Ulfers Prize on Thursday night, along with $5,000 and a trophy sponsored by Swarovski Gems.
The prize, named for Professor Friedrich Ulfers of New York University, was established this year to honor “a leading publisher, writer, critic, translator, or scholar who has championed the advancement of German-language literature in the United States.” It is awarded by the Deutsches Haus at NYU, along with the other organizers of the Festival Neue Literatur, including the Austrian Cultural Forum, Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, Consulate General of Switzerland, Deutsches Haus at Columbia University, German Book Office, Goethe-Institut New York, and Pro Helvetia.
Janeway is a translator, author and senior executive at Alfred A. Knopf. She has published an impressive number of German books for American readers, many of which she translated herself. The list includes The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, Measuring the World and Fame by Daniel Kehlmann, Perfume by Patrick Süskind, Guilt by Ferdinand von Schirach, and others.
The awards ceremony, held at the Goethe-Insitut, began with a speech by German author Daniel Kehlmann (whose books, Measuring the World and Fame, Janeway translated and published). I want to express my gratitude to Carol, he said, for “turning my books into her books, making them our books.”
Stepping up to the podium, Janeway recalled the legendary Alfred A. Knopf. Ten of his first twelve books, she told the audience, were translations. His authors won 25 Nobel prizes and 65 Pulitzers. “As a young editor starting out, how could you not want to be in the middle of that,” she said. After landing a job with Knopf, Janeway’s first translation was Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s Das Boot. Though a British translation was already in the works at the time, Janeway’s commitment to the art of translation led her to seek out a better translation that did justice to the original text. The UK translation was “a failure,” she said. It read like a “WWII B-movie.” But the American translation — Janeway’s translation — went on to become a bestseller and a classic.
“It’s a wonderful time to be chasing German writers,” Janeway told the audience. “The translations that I do are one small way of saying thank you.”
This reception kicked off this year’s Festival Neue Literatur, a weekend of events featuring up-and-coming authors from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and the USA. This year’s authors include Joshua Ferris (USA), Tim Krohn (Switzerland), Leif Randt (Germany), Silke Scheuermann (Germany), Clemens Setz (Austria), Justin Taylor (USA), Cornelai Travnicek (Austrian) and Ulrike Ulrich (Switzerland). Visit the festival website for a schedule of events or to read sample translations of the authors’ recent books.