Dykstra poetry translations win ‘Oscar for books’

During NYC ceremony hosted by Seth Myers, 2020 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation went to The Winter Garden Photograph, a collection by the Cuban writer Reina María Rodríguez.

March 5, 2020
Faculty/staff report

On March 2, PEN America held its 2020 Literary Awards Ceremony at The Town Hall in New York City. It was hosted by Seth Meyers, who described the ceremony as “The Oscars for books.”

Kristin Dykstra PEN Awards

Kristin Dykstra of Saint Michael’s College, right, receiving her PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, along with her collaborator Nancy Gates Madsen during the recent awards ceremony in New York City. (Photo credit: Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images for PEN America)

The 2020 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation went to The Winter Garden Photograph, a collection by the Cuban writer Reina María Rodríguez. Its principal translator is Saint Michael’s College Distinguished Scholar in Residence Kristin Dykstra, who collaborated on part of the book with Professor Nancy Gates Madsen of Luther College.

Co-translation is a hot topic at conferences in the field at the present moment. Collaborations can take many specific forms. In this case, Dykstra and Gates Madsen previously co-translated an anthology featuring Rodríguez, Violet Island and Other Poems (2004). Gates Madsen then turned her focus to scholarship, focusing on Argentina and the Southern Cone, while Dykstra continued to translate more contemporary Latin American poetry, most often from Cuba. When Dykstra decided to complete the rest of The Winter Garden Photograph, they updated a set of co-translated poems that had appeared in the anthology, while Dykstra independently finished the rest of the book.

The judges for the 2020 Poetry in Translation Award were Michael Eskin, Forrest Gander, and Pierre Joris. In their citation for The Winter Garden Photograph, the judges wrote, “Almost impossibly, the translators negotiate the definitive peculiarities of Rodríguez’s unique phrasing with inspired English versions that neither normalize, dumb-down, nor exoticize the magic of the originals.”

Dykstra and Gates Madsen grew up together in Wooster, Ohio, where they attended Wooster Public High School together. In her portion of the acceptance speech, Dykstra thanked the teachers of language serving children in public schools all across the United States. She noted that translation is a bridge, and our education system is an essential support for the U.S. side of the bridge. Dykstra then dedicated the award to Nydia Roque (1931-2015), their beloved teacher of Spanish at Wooster High. Like Reina María Rodríguez, author of the prizewinning book, the Roque family is from Cuba.

The University of Alabama Press published four of Dykstra’s translations of contemporary Cuban writing, with her critical introductions, in 2014 and 2016. The authors included not only Reina María Rodríguez but Ángel Escobar, Juan Carlos Flores, and Marcelo Morales. The press ran this interview with Dykstra, “Why Cuban Poetry?,” in 2016: https://uapressblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/15/why-cuban-poetry-a-qa-with-kristin-dykstra/

See the complete PEN America press release about the ceremony here:


… and a write-up about the Poetry in Translation Award here:


Dykstra PEN Award wide shot

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 02: Nancy Gates Madsen and Kristin Dykstra accept an award onstage during the 2020 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony at The Town Hall on March 02, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for PEN America)

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