French Voices Award Ceremony

March 1, 2017 | By French Culture

On Thursday, February 23rd, 2017, the French Voices Award Ceremony took place at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. In 2006, the French Cultural Services and FACE Foundation created French Voices, a program that supports the translation of contemporary French titles into English and support their publication in the United States.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening. It is my pleasure to welcome you tonight as Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy for the 2017 French Voices Award Ceremony, honoring 11 exceptional literary pieces and their translators and publishers. 

French Voices was created in 2006 by the French Cultural Services, and FACE Foundation to encourage the translation of contemporary French titles into English and support their publication in the United States. French Voices awards wishes to honor the quality of French to English translations and the commitment of publishers to printing them.

Since 2006, the program has supported close to 120 titles, broadening the exposure of French and Francophone authors. Please feel free to discover all of them in our updated brochure, freshly printed! The program has contributed to the success of many translations in the US market.

For instance The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, published by Europa, sold more than 1 million copies. In another genre, Zone was published by Open Letter before Mathias Enard won the Goncourt Prize. Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, published by Deep Vellum, was nominated in 2016 for a Man Booker International Prize and won the first pan-African Etisalat Prize for Literature. Our Lady of the Nile, by Scholastique Mukasonga, published by Archipelago, went on to sell extremely well and was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 2014. We just learned today that her second novel published in the US, Coackroaches, is shortlisted for a LA Times book award.

The books in the French Voices collection have been introduced by well-known American writers. Martin Scorsese, no less, wrote the foreword for Pascal Mérigeau’s biography of Jean Renoir. Henri Atlan’s Les Etincelles de hasard was introduced by Elie Wiesel.

Some of the awards were given to translators in search of a publisher, and we’d love to think that this award contributed to making the publication of their project happen. It’s the case, for example, of Moonbath, by Haitian author Yanick Lahens, to be published by Deep Vellum in a translation by Emily Gogolak who is here with us tonight; and also of Traduire comme Transhumer, to be published by Lauren Hook at Feminist Press, who is also with us.

French Voices rewards truly outstanding works in translation that illustrate the diversity and depth of writing in both France and Francophone countries and allow these books to reach new audiences.

This drive to share the best of Francophone literature with Anglophone communities would not be possible without the dedicated group of translators, publishers, agents, and professors who come together multiple times a year to review the titles received. I would like to thank the past and present members of the jury for their time of insightful deliberations and for their devotion to the mission of French Voices.

We’re especially proud of this year’s list of honorees, both in fiction and non fiction. : In non-fiction: Badiou’s seminar on Lacan; Catherine Chalier’s Lire La Torah, in a translation by Michael Smith who is here in the room; Emmanuelle Loyer’s acclaimed biography on Levi-Strauss; Dominique Kalifa’s Les Bas-Fonds, and Global Gay, by Frédéric Martel. In fiction: Joseph, by Marie-Hélène Lafon, in a translation of Laurie Postlewate who is here tonight; La vengeance du traducteur, by Brice Matthieussent, Achab, by Pierre Senges, Mémoires d’outre Mer, by Michel Ferrier all show the creativity of French fiction today. And last but not least, a beautiful visual art book that shows a collage narrative drawn from photographic archives, personal letters, propaganda posters: Eternal Friendship, by Anouck Durand, to be published by Lisa Pearson at Siglio Press, who is here tonight.

Among the 11 honorees tonight, one translator-publisher-duo has been selected to receive the Grand Prize: As a work of exceptional quality, Daewoo, by François Bon, in Youna Kwak’s translation has been chosen by the jury.

Daewoo portrays the daily lives of a group of women workers from Lorraine, an industrial region facing the prospect of their factory’s shutdown. Its narrative is expertly weaved and now artfully translated. It will surely appeal to American readers faced with similar issues in our shifting economy. I’m sure this outstanding text, mixing theater, documentary research and fiction, will resonate with today’s political and social context.

A poet, writer, and teacher, Youna Kwak manages to capture the subtleties of Daewoo’s French text seamlessly. Her translation is to be published in 2019 by Dialogos, an imprint of Lavender Ink devoted to the publication of works of cross-cultural significance. Kwak and Dialogos have previously collaborated on another French Voices Award: Véronique Bizot’s Les Jardiniers (Gardeners, in English). This first collaboration will be published this year in May.

Bill Lavender, the founder and the publisher of Lavender Ink/Dialogos, came all the way from New Orleans tonight. A poet, novelist, editor, Bill Lavender launched his publishing house in 1995 and is a strong advocate of literature in translation through his work and involvement in the New Orleans Poetry Festival. We’re honored to have him with us tonight.

Emmanuelle Ertel, will be moderating the conversation. She is an Associate Professor of French at NYU and directed the Master of Arts in Literary Translation there. As a translator from English to French and a long-time member of the French Voices committee, she immediately saw Daewoo’s potential and pushed for its American translation.

It is our great pleasure to offer the 2016 French Voices Grand Prize tonight to Youna Kwak and Dialogos in their common endeavor

Before we start, I’d like to thank one last time the Florence Gould foundation and the French American Exchange Foundation, for their continuous support of the French Voices program. 

I’d like to leave the floor to our guests, who will further share their enthusiasm for Daewoo and invite you all for a drink afterwards.

Bénédicte de Montlaur