Karen Emmerich wins PEN Award for poetry translation

Karen Emmerich
Karen Emmerich

UO professor Karen Emmerich has won a PEN Literary Award for a translation of Greek poet Yannis Ritsos’ “Diaries of Exile.”

Emmerich is a faculty member in comparative literature who has received grants from PEN, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Modern Greek Studies Association for her translations. Previously, her translation of “Poems (1945-1971)” by Miltos Sachtouris was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry.

Emmerich shares the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation with co-author Edmund Keeley, a professor at Princeton University. The award is bittersweet, as Emmerich will leave the UO in December to join Keeley at  Princeton, where she will teach comparative literature.

“Diaries of Exile,” which the Los Angeles Review of Books described as "a beautiful translation,” is a collection of poems written between 1948 and 1950 by Ritsos while he was a political prisoner during the Greek Civil War. Ritsos was considered one of the greatest Greek poets of the 20th century; he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature nine times.

“These (poems) were written in prison conditions, so that held interest for us both in terms of poetry and also as a document to those times,” said Emmerich, explaining her initial interest in “Diaries of Exile.”

Emmerich added, “It was just such a wonderful experience to work with (Keeley) that it feels really, really lovely to have his work recognized and the collaboration recognized and also to have Greek literature coming to the forefront … at a time when all the press about Greece is really bad.”

Winners of the PEN awards will be honored at a ceremony in New York on Sept. 29.

The PEN America Foundation, established in 1922 in New York, has strived to “ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature.” The group originally was named for the poets, playwrights, essayists, editors and novelists who were its members.

For the last 18 years the PEN Foundation has given out the poetry in translation award. Emmerich and Keeley are only the second co-translators to win the award.

―By Nathan Stevens, Public Affairs Communications intern