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Bill Johnston
Department of Comparative Literature

Last modified: Thursday, December 9, 2010

IU Professor Breon Mitchell's translation of 'The Tin Drum' earns MLA prize

Dec. 9, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Professor Breon Mitchell has been awarded the Modern Language Association of America's ninth Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for an Outstanding Translation of a Literary Work, it was announced this week.

Breon Mitchell

Breon Mitchell

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Mitchell, a professor of Germanic studies and Comparative Literature in the IU College of Arts and Sciences, received the honor for his translation of The Tin Drum by GŁnter Grass, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Mitchell is the director of the Lilly Library, a repository of rare books and manuscripts from all ages. A past president of the American Literary Translators Association, he has received numerous national awards for literary translations, including the American Translators Association's Ungar German Translation Award, the association's Translation Prize and the Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award.

The Scaglione Prize will be presented Jan. 7 during the association's annual convention in Los Angeles.

The prize is awarded each even-numbered year for a translation into English of a book-length literary work. The Modern Language Association of America, established in 1883, is the largest and one of the oldest of American learned societies in the humanities. It exists to promote the advancement of literary and linguistic studies.

The selection committee's citation for Mitchell's translation expressed that it gives the reader "brilliant solutions to vexing problems" while marking the 50th anniversary of the original publication of GŁnter Grass's classic novel.

"This meticulous work . . . accomplishes precisely what one hopes for in a retranslation: it brings us closer to both source and target languages," reads the citation. "Mitchell makes us aware that even good work, such as Ralph Manheim's respected earlier translation, bears improvement, as great consistency, coherence, and tempo are achieved throughout the entire volume in rendering its obsessive drumming theme. The translator's afterword, where Mitchell explains carefully and concisely all the 'tools of the trade' available to 21st-century translators, performs an enormous contribution to the field by lifting the curtain on the translator's craft and making clear to readers the huge challenges at hand."

"Breon Mitchell is a treasure of Indiana University and of the Department of Comparative Literature," said Professor Bill Johnston, chair of IU's Department of Comparative Literature. "His magisterial translation of Gunter Grass's novel constitutes the high point of an outstanding career as a literary translator; we are proud to have him as a colleague and salute his achievement and this richly deserved award."

A few years ago, Mitchell and GŁnther Grass shared the stage in a discussion on the challenges of translation of Grass' work. A video clip from that discussion is online at YouTube.