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 2020Philip Boehm was chosen to receive the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize by a jury of five for his translation of Christine Wunnicke’s novel The Fox and Dr. Shimamura, published by New Directions Publishing in 2019.
Jury StatementThe jury for the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize is delighted to award the prize for 2020 to Philip Boehm for his translation of Christine Wunnicke’s The Fox and Dr. Shimamura. Wunnicke is a contemporary writer known for her historical characters drawn from eccentric corners of real life. Her sly novel is both subtle and startling: a retired Japanese psychiatrist, helped (or perhaps tricked) by the four women in his household, is remembering (or perhaps misremembering) his younger days when he struggled to master cases of both Japanese spirit-possession and Parisian hysteria under Charcot. Through all the surprising turns of the story, Wunnicke conveys Dr. Shimamura’s strange outer and inner life without exoticizing or overidentifying, in an ironic yet compassionate authorial voice. Boehm’s sensitive and versatile translation, making admirable choices of both tone and vocabulary throughout, captures all the sparkle and slanting energy of this fresh, original, and very modern novel.
The jury is especially pleased to honor Boehm as a translator this year since his superb retranslation of Arthur Koestler’s gripping masterpiece Darkness At Noon was a strong contender for the prize as well. Boehm has given English-language readers the many kinds of beauty, terror, and quiet flashes of wit and insight in these extraordinary works of literature.
About philip boehm© Traci Lavois Thiebaud Philip Boehm is a translator, playwright, and theater director whose career zigzags across languages and borders, artistic disciplines and cultural divides. He has translated more than thirty novels and plays mostly by German and Polish writers, including Herta Müller, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Hanna Krall. For this work he has received numerous awards including fellowships from the NEA and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. As a theater director and playwright he has staged dozens of professional productions at theaters in Poland, Slovakia, and the United States. Philip Boehm is also the founding artistic director of Upstream Theater in St. Louis.
Shelley Frisch, Princeton, NJ, Chair
Bettina Abarbanell, Potsdam, Germany
John Hargraves, New York, NY
Susan Harris, Chicago, IL
Damion Searls, New York, NY