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New Literature Prize

New German-Language Literature Prize

The Friedrich Ulfers Prize is Deutsches Haus NYU & Festival Neue Literatur’s testimony to the rising importance of Germanlanguage literature in America. The prize will be awarded in conjunction with the opening of the festival each February, and will go to a leading publisher, writer, critic, translator or scholar who has championed the advancement of German-language literature in the United States. The prize will be awarded annually by Deutsches Haus NYU and the winner will be selected by a committee comprised of the organisations which host Festival Neue Literatur each year.

The prize is made possible by Professor Friedrich Ulfers, Associate Professor of German at New York University. In the past he has served as Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Science, the German Department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies, Director of the NYU in Berlin Summer, and Director of Deutsches Haus NYU. He has taught not only in the German Department, but also in NYU’s interdisciplinary programs, offering courses that engage a range of interests, including literary theory, continental philosophy, and the relationships between science, literature and philosophy.

The first recipient of the Friedrich Ulfers Prize was Carol Brown Janeway, a translator, author and senior executive at Alfred A. Knopf. She has published a large selection 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, among others.
From left to right: Martin Rauchbauer, Director, Deutsches Haus NYU, Carol Brown Janeway, Friedrich Ulfers, Daniel Kehlmann Photo: Isabelle Duverger
Martin Rauchbauer, the current Director of Deutsches Haus NYU, was delighted that Janeway was chosen, commenting that her ‘legendary translations and publications of writers such as Bernhard Schlink, Daniel Kehlmann, and Thomas Bernhard show how a single person can shape the perception of contemporary German-language literature in an entire country,’ giving some insight into the lengths to which she has gone to promote German literature in the US.

At the opening reception for the Festival Neue Literatur 2013, which was held at the Goethe-Institut New York’s SoHo office, Janeway was presented with a certificate signed by Professor Ulfers, a beautifully cut trophy sponsored by Swarovski Gems, and a $5,000 cash prize sponsored by Deutsches Haus NYU and Professor Ulfers.

Daniel Kehlmann, two of whose books Janeway has translated, gave a moving laudatio in her honor, and introduced her to the crowd by saying, ‘Some of us, those who neither write nor work in publishing, might not know it: Carol Brown Janeway is first and foremost a publisher. She translates for her own – and our – pleasure. She translates on the side and for recreation, translating is how she spends her holidays.’

He also praised her for the fact that ‘she creates a voice, which is close to the author’s original voice, but is an English version of it, something not equal, but equivalent.’ Janeway aims to preserve the feel of an author’s book through translation, instead of trying to remind readers that they are reading something that was first written in another language. Kehlmann emphasised this point by stating that ‘when it comes to translation theory, Carol is a dilettante, she is just incapable of understanding why it should be good for a writer to become unreadable in the process.’ He stressed the difference between what he called an ‘academic translator’ and Janeway, saying that academic translators are encouraged to maintain the syntax of the original language, whereas Janeway aims to maintain the content and voice of the original language.

He praised her ability to create something that is truly collaborative by ‘invent[ing] her own sentences alongside the writer’s sentences,’ which is part of her effort to create an ‘English version’ of the author’s voice. He also spoke about Janeway’s willingness to tackle a challenge: a chapter of his book Fame included a ‘skaz-language’ that he created in the novel, which he said he thought could be translated into pretty much any language except English, but he was able to convince Janeway to create an English equivalent of the ‘internet nerd chapter,’ which was filled with ‘her own ideas and jokes.’
Daniel Kehlmann presents his laudatio to the audience at the Festival Neue Literatur opening reception Photo: Gudron Olthoff
Janeway spoke at the reception as well, mentioning that the first author she acquired was a German author, Lothar-Günther Buchheim, who wrote Das Boot. The book went on to be a bestseller and was made into a film. In fact, several of Janeway’s books – be they translations of hers or books she has acquired – have been made into films, including The Reader and Perfume.

The evening was a celebration of translation and of the beginning of yet another wonderful Festival Neue Literatur. There were over 150 publishing and media professionals in attendance at the reception, and there was lively conversation preceding and following the speeches.

The 2014 winner of the Friedrich Ulfers Prize will be announced at the opening reception of the fifth annual Festival Neue Literatur in late February 2014.

By Grace Moss, German Book Office New York