Photo: Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach Photo: Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

The annual Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize is awarded each spring to honor an outstanding literary translation from German into English published in the USA the previous year. The translator of the winning translation will receive US $10,000. The prize was established in 1996 and was administered by the Goethe-Institut Chicago until 2014. Funded by the German government, the Prize has been administered by the Goethe-Institut New York since 2015.

Prize Recipient 2018

Isabel Fargo Cole has been chosen to receive the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize by a jury of five for her translation of Wolfgang Hilbig’s Old Rendering Plant published by Two Lines Press in 2017. The honor will be presented to her at the Goethe-Institut New York on June 7, 2018 by David Gill, the Consul General of Germany.

Jury Statement

The jury for the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize is delighted to award the prize for 2018 to Isabel Fargo Cole for her translation of Wolfgang Hilbig’s Old Rendering Plant.

Hilbig, who grew up in the German Democratic Republic and later moved to the West, has his narrator reflect on dark childhood memories over one extended monologue.

While the text itself is brief, the challenges of rendering this Rendering are daunting.

As the narrator himself muses early on in the book, "the relevant nouns at my command proved again and again to be treacherous tools, perpetually demonstrating the impotence of all descriptions." Isabel Fargo Cole's superb translation rises to the myriad challenges with stylistic pyrotechnics: alliterations and assonances, wordplay of all kinds, and inventive phrasings that capture the text's lyrical and sensual qualities.


Isabel Fargo Cole © Simona Lexau Isabel Fargo Cole is a US-born, Berlin-based writer and translator. Her most recent translations include Old Rendering Plant by Wolfgang Hilbig (Two Lines, 2017), At the Burning Abyss by Franz Fühmann (Seagull Books, 2017) and Gaslight by Joachim Kalka (NYRB, 2017). Her novel Die grüne Grenze (Edition Nautilus, 2017), written in German, was shortlisted for the 2018 Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair in the fiction category.

The Jury

Shelley Frisch, Princeton, NJ, Chair
Bettina Abarbanell, Potsdam, Germany
Ross Benjamin, Nyack, NY
John Hargraves, New York, NY
Susan Harris, Chicago, IL