Richard Zenith Wins Landon Translation Award, Brings Major Brazilian Poet to English Readers

Posted on

Mar 13 2006

New York City, March 13, 2006—The work of the late Brazilian poet João Cabral de Melo Neto, Education by Stone: Selected Poems (Archipelago Books), translated Richard Zenith, has been selected as the winner of the 2006 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. The award recognizes the most outstanding book published in the past year and is given annually to an American for a published translation of poetry from any language into English. Noted translator Willis Barnstone served as judge. Mr. Zenith will receive $1,000. On selecting this volume for the award, Mr. Barnstone wrote:

In the last century Robert Fitzgerald gave us Greek and Latin poetry in English....For our time Richard Zenith has become the archeologist of Portuguese Pessoa and the recreater of Brazlilian Cabral. Zenith has not only dug the modest Portuguese phenomenon out of scattered archives and wayward boxes in the city of Lisbon, but he also edits their Portuguese editions, giving authority to unknown writing. In like manner he has rescued the internationally known poet João Cabral de Melo Neto from earlier defective presentation. At last we have Cabral. As with his Pessoa, he has added another major voice to world poetry through the felicity and cunning of his English verse. Before him, they were “famous” names. Now they are song.

Born in Washington, DC, Richard Zenith lives in Lisbon, where he works as a freelance writer, translator, and researcher in the Fernando Pessoa archives. His Fernando Pessoa & Co. – Selected Poems (Grove Press, 1998) won the 1999 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation and was followed, in 2001, by The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa (Grove). In 2001 he also published a new translation of Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet (Penguin), which won the 2002 Calouste Gulbenkian Translation Prize (in the UK). He has rendered a number of other Portuguese and Brazilian poets into English, as well as novels by Portugal’s António Lobo Antunes and Angola’s José Luandino Vieira. He is editor of the Portuguese website poetryinternational.org, where many of his translations from Portuguese poets can be found. His own poetry appears in American literary reviews, and in Portugal he has published short stories, including a collection titled Terceiras Pessoas (2003).

João Cabral de Melo Neto (1920–1999) was born and raised in northeastern Brazil, whose arid landscape and severe poverty became the setting and subject matter for some of his greatest poems. A career diplomat, he lived for many years in Spain, the other geographical pole around which his poetry flourished. Numerous national and international prizes – including the 1992 Neustadt International Prize for Literature – were awarded to João Cabral, one of the most original poets of the 20th century.

This year's judge, Willis Barnstone, was born in Lewiston, Maine, and educated at Bowdoin, Columbia, and Yale. He taught in Greece at the end of the civil war (1949–51), in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War, and during the Cultural Revolution went to China, where he was later a Fulbright Professor of American Literature at Beijing Foreign Studies University (1984–1985). His literary translation of the New Testament The New Covenant: The Four Gospels and Apocalypse was published by Riverhead Books in 2002. Other publications include To Touch the Sky (New Directions, 1999), The Secret Reader: 501 Sonnets (New England University Press, 1996), and a memoir biography With Borges on an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires (Illinois University Press). A Guggenheim Fellow and Pulitzer Prize finalist in poetry, Barnstone is Distinguished Professor at Indiana University.