French Voices Awards Ceremony

March 1, 2016 | By French Culture

On Tuesday, February, 29, 2016, Deputy Cultural Counselor Thomas Michelon delivered the following words during the French Voices Award Ceremony which awarded American translators and editors for their work. The cocktail reception was held at Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. As Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, it is my great pleasure to welcome you here tonight as we honor an exceptional group of translators and publishers.

I am also very proud to announce that tonight’s ceremony marks the 10-year anniversary of the French Voices Award!

This award reflects the French Embassy’s deep commitment to translation and independent publishing. Since its inception in 2006, French Voices has worked to increase the availability of quality, contemporary French literature in the US.

Over the years, it has offered grants to more than 100 translators and American publishers. It has also boosted the exposure of countless French language authors—many of whom have gone on to find success in the US market. And in doing so, it has proven again and again, that great literature and commercial success are not mutually exclusive!

A huge thank you to each and every member of the jury for their commitment and acumen. I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Florence Gould Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, without whom this award would not be possible. And of course, I would like to extend a warm thank you to our partner, the FACE Foundation and its Chairman Patrick Pagni.

Tonight we honor 13 titles in translation, selected by an independent committee of experts. The translators—and eventual publishers—of these works will each receive a grant for their endeavors. And among the honorees, we offer one, outstanding translator-publisher-duo, the French Voices Grand Prize for their work in translation and publication.

This year's French Voices Grand Prize will be awarded to translator Helen Stevenson and The New Press for their work on the translation of Alain Mabanckou’s Lumières de Pointe-Noire, originally published in 2013 by Le Seuil. Stevenson's translation, The Lights of Pointe Noire, will be released in the US by The New Press on March 1st.

These honorees are no strangers to French literature in translation.

In a ceremony two years ago, French Voices recognized The New Press for their work with the late Andre Schifrin. The Press has recently published translations by Jean Echenoz, Julia Deck, Gregoire Chamayou and others.

Helen Stevenson has translated works by authors such as Marie Darrieussecq, Catherine Millet, and Antoine Bello, among others. Her own memoir, Love Like Salt will be published by Virago on March 3rd.

We are very proud to offer Helen Stevenson and The New Press the 2016 French Voices Grand Prize in recognition of their exemplary work.

Furthermore, it is my great honor to count among our guest-speakers this evening, the book's esteemed author. Welcome Alain Mabanckou!

Born in Congo, educated in France and now a professor of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA, Alain Mabanckou is one of the most widely read and discussed African writers today. His work has made him at once an Ambassador of the Congo and an Ambassador of France and French letters.

He is a fervent defender of world literature, while critical of the cultural and geographic divisions often implied by the term “francophone”:

"To be a francophone writer,” Mabanckou has stated, “is to be a depository of cultures, a whirlpool of worlds. It is to benefit from the heritage of French literature, but it is above all to bring a personal touch to a harmonious whole, one that dissolves borders, erases race, reduces the distance between continents in order to achieve a fraternity in language and the universe.”

Alain Mabanckou, in The Lights of Pointe Noire, you tell your own story for the first time. It is a deeply personal account of the experience of leaving your home town, Pointe-Noire, in 1989 only to return a quarter of a century later. The place you discover upon your return is at once unchanged and dramatically foreign, in some ways transformed beyond recognition. 

As your story unfolds, we gradually grow attached to the various characters, such as Grand Poupy, Gilbert and Bienvenue, Tonton Mompero—and of course, the central figure, always in the background—your mother. Your story leads readers to discover the distance between these characters, the family ties that draw them closer together or pull them apart, and ultimately, the complex codes that govern human relationships. I was moved by the careful attention you give to this unique way of presenting the world, and portraying its cultural complexity, which we can never fully grasp in all its intricacies: this very particular construction of reality that you so skillfully describe requires us to understand another kind of referential matrix, a different universe of values.

I would like to warmly congratulate your translator, Helen Stevenson, who so successfully conveys your style and tone. Unfortunately Mrs. Stevenson couldn’t join us this evening, but Carl Bromley, Editorial Director of The New Press, is here and will say a few words on her behalf.

Dear Carl Bromley, 

I would also like to congratulate you and The New Press for taking the initiative to publish The Lights of Pointe Noire.

Dear Alain Mabanckou, you have aptly stated, “If you want to understand the literature being written in French, you have to read African literature, literature from Belgium, from Quebec…those people, if they’re writing about their own country, they’re also writing about France, they’re writing about the Francophone world.”

This engagement with the diverse writers of the francophone world is paramount to our mission at the French Cultural Services. And it is demonstrated in both the breadth and depth of the many authors who have received support from French Voices such as Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Annie Ernaux, Pierre Bayard, Scholastique Mukasonga, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Luc Boltanski, Julia Kristeva and others.

Now, I would like to recognize the full list of 2015 French Voices Grantees. These novels and essays have demonstrated wit, originality and depth in subjects that range from personal memoirs, to philosophical and anthropological essays. They are an undeniable addition to the literary landscape and I am thrilled to celebrate them tonight.

Some of these titles are still looking for a publisher. If you are interested in supporting the publication of one of these works, we invite you to speak with the translators during our reception or to contact the book department for details.

And now, I would like to invite all honorees to step forward and accept your award as I call your name.

-  Les Lumières de Pointe-Noire/The Lights of Pointe-Noire by Alain Mabanckou. Translated by Helen Stevenson. It will be published by The New Press, 2016

- Le Crieur de nuit by Nelly Alard. Translation by Grace McQuillan. Seeking an American publisher.

- Travesti by David Dumortier. Translated by Ava Lehrer. Seeking an American publisher

- Réparateur de Destin by Cyrille Fleischman. Translated by Lynn E. Palermo and Catherine Zobal Dent. Seeking an American publisher

- Roland Barthes: Biographie  by Tiphaine Samoyault. Translated by Andrew Brown. To be published by Polity Press, January 2017

- Jean Renoir by Pascal Mérigeau. Translated by Bruce Benderson. To be published by Running Press, May 2016.

- Lettre à Zohra D. by Danielle Michel-Chich.Translated by Lara Vergnaud.  Seeking an American publisher

- Puissance de la douceur by Anne Dufourmantelle. Translated by Katherine Payne. To be published by Fordham University Press, April 2016

- Traduire comme Transhumer, by Mireille Gansel. Translated by Ros Schwartz. Seeking an American publisher

- Deleuze, les mouvements aberrants/Aberrant Movements: the Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze by David Lapoujade. Translated by Joshua David Jordan. . To be published by Semiotext(e)

- Nous sommes tous des cannibales/We are all Cannibals by Claude Lévi-Strauss.  Translated by Jane-Marie Todd. To be published by Columbia University Press, March 2016

- L'Autre Portrait/Portrait by Jean-Luc Nancy. Translated by Sarah Clift. To be published by Fordham University Press

- Bain de lune by Yannick Lahens. Translated byEmily Gogolak. Seeking an American publisher

In closing, I should mention that all of the 2015 French Voices Awards titles are—or will be—available at our very own Albertine Books. The bookshop will remain open after the ceremony, so please feel free to browse!

Have a wonderful evening! 

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