National Translation Award in Poetry Goes to Robyn Creswell for Translation of Iman Mersal’s ‘The Threshold’

November 12, 2023 — Yesterday, the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) announced the winners of their 2023 prose and poetry awards, as part of the organization’s annual conference.

This year’s National Translation Award in Poetry went to Iman Mersal’s The Threshold, translated by Robyn Creswell, chosen from an initial longlist of twelve titles and a shortlist of six by poetry judges are Pauline Fan, Heather Green, and Shook.

In a prepared statement, ALTA’s Executive Director Elisabeth Jaquette said:

“ALTA is incredibly proud to recognize Nguyễn An Lý [winner of the prose award] and Robyn Creswell for their masterful translations from Vietnamese and Arabic respectively, in this the 25th year of the National Translation Award. We are also pleased that, thanks to a generous gift from an ALTA member, the prize amounts have been increased to $4,000 each, starting this year. We celebrate these two winners, as well as all the translators, authors, and presses on this year’s shortlists and longlists, who expand the landscape of literature available in English. As readers, and as members of a global community, we are all richer for their skill and artistry.”

In their citation, the judges wrote:

“Robyn Creswell writes that the poet Iman Mersal,  “Egypt’s—indeed, the Arab World’s—great outsider poet” finds her politics “not in the public square or at the checkpoint, but rather in the realm of sexual relations, commonplace idioms, and hierarchies of power that are more durable because mostly unacknowledged.” It is in his straightforward, lyrical rendition of such scenarios that the translator succeeds. An abiding skepticism animates The Threshold, of collective identities, political mobilization, modernization, family relations, and much more. In the title poem, “one long-serving intellectual screamed at his friend / When I’m talking about democracy / you shut the hell up.” “CV,” which catalogues the conspicuous absence of wasted days and empty hours, ends by defining the vita’s relationship to life itself as “proof that the one who lived it / has cut all ties to the earth.”

The winning translators receive a $4,000 cash prize.