2020 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony

Kristin Dykstra (right) accepting the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Nancy Gates Madsen was co-translator for some of the works in the translation of Spanish writer Reina María Rodríguez’s “The Winter Garden Photograph.”

“And the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation goes to …”

… Kristin Dykstra of Hinesburg.

She has won a PEN Award for one of her translations.

This isn’t just any award that the St. Michael’s College Distinguished Scholar in Residence took home for her English translation of Cuban writer Reina María Rodríguez’s collection of poetry “The Winter Garden Photograph.”

Host Seth Meyers called the PEN Awards “the Oscars for books” at the ceremony on March 2, at Town Hall in New York City.

Meyers, the veteran of Saturday Night Live and host of Late Night with Seth Meyers, has hosted the Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe awards.

Dykstra accepted the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation with her co-translator Nancy Gates Madsen, of Luther College in Iowa.

While Dykstra wasn’t wearing the kind of designer dress that parades up the red carpet when the actual Oscars are handed out, she said she did buy a new dress for the event. Formal cocktail dresses aren’t much in demand for poetry translators who are also the mother of twin boys, students at Hinesburg Community School.

She had the opportunity to make an acceptance speech and she took that opportunity to surprise her co-translator by using her time at the podium to thank their high school Spanish teacher.

Not only did they go to Wooster Public High School in Ohio together, they’ve known each other since pre-school.

“This year you got 60 seconds and I think I took about 50 seconds,” said Dykstra.

She said her husband Brian Collier, who is also at St. Michael’s where he’s an associate professor of art, was thrilled about the win. He’s put in a lot of work, too, helping with their boys, particularly during her travels to Cuba to work with Rodríguez.

“Almost impossibly, the translators negotiate the definitive peculiarities of Rodríguez’s unique phrasing with inspired English versions that neither normalize, dumb-down, nor exoticize the magic of the originals,” the PEN Award judges said.

Dykstra has translated at least four works by Rodriguez, and the pair have become close enough that Dykstra’s boys refer to the poet as Auntie Riena.

Part of her process of trying to recreate Rodriguez’s phrasing is reading as much as she can of the writers the poet reads. So, Dykstra hasn’t been afraid to read a lot of Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner and Samuel Beckett.

“It’s sort of recreating her process but in translation,” Dykstra said, “being faithful not only to the vocabulary words, but being faithful to someone else’s fascination with world literature.”

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