NSW Premier’s Translation Prize past winners

YearWinnerJudges' comments
2015Brian NelsonBrian Nelson’s translations from the French are distinguished by their fluency and linguistic scope. Focusing on Emile Zola, he has to date published five novels from the Rougon saga, Zola’s encyclopedic investigation of hidden territories of contemporary French life: The Ladies’ Paradise, The Belly of Paris, The Kill, Pot Luck and The Fortunes of the Rougon.Each of these novels explores a different world in exhaustive detail, and Nelson’s command of each is impressive, reproducing the full visual and sensual impact of settings as diverse as the central Paris market, with its acres of flesh and vegetables, and the opulent department-store world of laces and fabrics. He captures Zola’s exuberant satirical style with sustained sensitivity to nuance, reviving the erudition without missing any of the humour. Zola’s descriptions are realities valid in themselves, but also politically charged symbols in a polemic so scandalous and subversive at the time that some works were banned, dealing as they do with such taboo themes as rampant sexuality, bourgeois hypocrisy and the savageries of the new mercantile realities. Packing a punch, Nelson’s Zola is fun to read.
2013Peter Boyle

Peter Boyle’s sensitive but rigorous translations of poetry over many years from French and Spanish have covered well-known classics by René Char, Federico Garcia Lorca and Cesár Vallejo as well as poets whose works are contemporary classics in their own languages but are less familiar in English. Boyle’s translation of the Venezuelan Eugenio Montejo is the first book-length selection of his work in English, while his translation of the expatriate Cuban José Kozer’s difficult but breathtaking poem cycle Anima is an adventurous choice — both enrich the English-reading audience’s access to these landmark poets. These translations have been internationally recognised and praised.

Perhaps the translator’s art is more conspicuous in the case of poetry — there are fewer words to hide behind, fewer words to convey the nature and scope of the original. There is the poet’s overt play with language and structure. Peter Boyle’s translations are the works of a poet, never mere echoes of poems in another language, never merely ‘straitjacketed by the literal meaning’. Boyle is utterly at home in his own language, and his translations bring the poems home too, producing works of art in English while skilfully staying true to the spirit, preoccupations and beauty of the originals.