It is with great pleasure that PEN announces today that the 2015 PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation will be awarded to scholar and translator of Chinese and Japanese literature Burton Watson. One of PEN’s most prestigious lifetime achievement awards, the medal is given every three years to a translator whose career has demonstrated a commitment to excellence through the body of his or her work, and has been previously awarded to such distinguished translators as Gregory Rabassa, Edith Grossman, and Edmund Keeley, among others.
The winner of the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal is chosen by the members of the PEN America Translation Committee, who are dedicated to highlighting the art of literary translation and advocating on behalf of translators. As the committee's citation states, “Burton Watson is the inventor of classical East Asian poetry for our time.” Among other writers, Watson has translated the works of Chuang Tzu, Han-shan, Su Tung-P'o, and Po Chü-i.
Credited with making many classical Chinese and Japanese works accessible to the English-reading public for the first time, Watson’s translations also span a wide array of genres, from poetry and prose to histories and sacred texts. The committee's citation continues, “For decades his anthologies and his scholarly introductions have defined classical East Asian literature for students and readers in North America, and we have reason to expect more: even at his advanced age, he still translates nearly daily.”
In 1982, Watson was a recipient of the PEN Translation Prize for his translation of From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Hiroaki Sato (Anchor Press/University of Washington Press), and in 1995 for his translation of Selected Poems of Su Tung–p'o (Copper Canyon). PEN is thrilled to now recognize Watson for his valued and longstanding commitment to the art of translation, bringing great creativity and precision to his work and introducing exceptional works of literature to a wider audience.
Watson will be honored, along with all 2015 PEN award winners, at the PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on June 8 at The New School in New York City.