Announcing the winner of the 2020 Medal for Excellence in Translation

One of Australia’s most renowned editors and translators of French, Ms Penny Hueston, is the recipient of the 2020 Medal for Excellence in Translation for Being Here: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker by Marie Darrieussecq (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2017).

Being Here is an account of the life of ground-breaking Expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker. Born in Germany in 1876, Modersohn-Becker was the first female artist to paint herself not only naked but pregnant. Darrieussecq describes Paula’s discovery of her style and choice of subjects—women, babies, domestic life. She tells the story of her fraught marriage and her ambivalence about combining her passion for her career as an artist with motherhood. And she recounts her tragic death at thirty-one, days after giving birth.

The members of the Expert Panel, Professor Emeritus Brian Nelson Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques FAHA (Chair), Professor Harry Aveling and 2018 recipient of the Medal for Excellence in Translation Ms Julie Rose Chevalier dans l’Orde des Arts et des Letrres FAHA, were impressed by Hueston’s skilful recreation of the subject’s vivid life, noting that her translation reads as sparklingly as the original. Chair Brian Nelson remarked that:

“The text contains a range of styles and sources, vividly condensing and re-imagining Modersohn-Becker’s life from written material (letters, diaries, poems, public records) as well as the paintings themselves. The challenges facing the translator of the text are considerable: the need to recreate the spare, stream-of-consciousness style, to move adroitly between tonal registers and changes of voice. These challenges are handled with rigour, subtlety and assurance by Hueston.”

Penny Hueston’s translations include novels by Emmanuelle Pagano (One Day I’ll Tell You Everything), Patrick Modiano (Little Jewel), Sarah Cohen-Scali (Max) and Raphaël Jerusalmy (Evacuation). She has translated six books by Marie Darrieussecq—All the Way, Men, Our Life in the Forest, The BabyBeing Here, and Crossed Lines. She has been shortlisted for the JQ-Wingate Prize, the Scott Moncrieff Prize, and twice for the New South Wales Premier’s Translation Prize.

Upon hearing of her award, Ms Hueston said “I’m thrilled and honoured to receive the 2020 Medal for Excellence in Translation. Marie Darrieussecq is one of the most significant contemporary French writers and I am privileged to be her translator. She not only challenges narrative forms, but tackles major subjects. In Being Here: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker, Darrieussecq explores the experience of an early 20th-century female painter, whose work has been overshadowed by that of her husband and other male artists. This award is an excellent initiative by the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and I hope it helps to encourage all Australian translators, without whom many marvellous works would not be available to us.”

Two other outstanding candidates were shortlisted for the prize – Paul Gibbard for his translation of The Dream by Émile Zola, and Omid Tofighian for his translation of No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani. We congratulate both candidates on this significant achievement.

About the Medal

The Australian Academy of the Humanities Medal for Excellence in Translation is a major national award that recognises outstanding achievement in translation and the vital role of translators and translation in Australian culture and scholarly discourse. It is awarded biennially for a book-length translation into English of a work of any genre (including scholarship), from any language and period.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian Academy of the Humanities recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and their continuous connection to country, community and culture.