10.10.2023 Events, Literature

Wiesław Myśliwski with Bill Johnston

S3E10 and all video recordings are available on our YouTube.

Encounters with Polish Literature is a video series for anyone interested in literature and the culture of books and reading. Each month, host David A. Goldfarb will present a new topic in conversation with an expert on that author or book or movement in Polish literature. More about the Encounters with Polish Literature series and the timeline.

Wiesław Myśliwski, novelist, essayist, and playwright, was born in 1932 in the village of Dwikozy in southeastern Poland, near the city of Sandomierz.  He is the leading figure of the “peasant current” in postwar Polish literature, elevating the language of the countryside to the measure of the epic, recounting the clash of old ways with the forces of war, history, and technological progress.  His early novel The Palace (1970), in which a shepherd explores the palace of his master following a bombing during an unspecified war, appeared in an English translation by Ursula Phillips in 1991 and was made into a film.His magisterial novel, Stone Upon Stone translated by Bill Johnston in 2011, is considered a masterwork of Polish postwar literature.

In an era of writers much better known outside of Poland, he is the only writer to have twice won Poland’s highest literary award, the NIKE Prize, in 1996 for The Horizon and in 2006 for A Treatise on Shelling Beans also translated by Bill Johnston for Archipelago.  In 2011 he received the Golden Sceptre award for lifetime achievement in the arts joining such luminaries as Stanisław Lem, Roman Polański, Sławomir Mrożek, composers Wojciech Kilar and Krysztof Penderecki, and poet Tadeusz Różewicz.

In this episode, we look mainly at Stone upon Stone and the next novel that Bill Johnston is translating for Archipelago, Needle’s Eye, published originally in 2018 and due out in English in the next year, which is Myśliwski’s most experimental work from the point of view of narrative. In addition to the author’s familiar combination of wisdom and images of everyday life in the Communist period, the novel offers some raucous satire. We cover a number of issues pertaining to the process of translation, what it is like to work with the author and what it is like to work with Jill Schoolman, publisher and editor in chief at Archipelago Books.

Wiesław Myśliwski in English Translation

Needle’s Eye. Tr. Bill Johnston. New York: Archipelago Books, forthcoming 2024.
The Palace. Tr. Ursula Phillips. London: Peter Owen, 1991.
Stone upon Stone. Tr. Bill Johnston. New York: Archipelago Books, 2013.
A Treatise on Shelling Beans. Tr. Bill Johnston. New York: Archipelago Books, 2010.

Bill Johnston

Bill Johnston has published over forty book-length translations from the Polish, including Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz (Archipelago Books, 2018), which won the National Translation Award in Poetry, and for which he received a Guggenheim Fellowship; Wiesław Myśliwski’s Stone Upon Stone (Archipelago Books, 2010), which received the PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award, as well as the same author’s A Treatise on Shelling Beans (Archipelago Books, 2013), shortlisted for the National Translation Award; Tomasz Różycki’s Twelve Stations (Zephyr Press 2015), awarded the Found in Translation Award; and Julia Fiedorczuk’s Psalms (University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming), the runner-up for the inaugural Wisconsin Prize for Poetry in Translation. Johnston’s translation of Wiesław Myśliwski’s 2018 novel Needle’s Eye (Ucho igielne) is in press with Archipelago Books. Johnston is at present engaged in a translation of Maria Dąbrowska’s 1932-34 novel cycle The Nights and the Days (Noce i dnie). He teaches literary translation at Indiana University, where he is currently Michael Henry Heim Chair in Central and East European Letters.

Lead image: Courtesy Znak, from writer’s private archives

Bio image: Courtesy of Bill Johnston.

Bartek Remisko, Executive Producer
David A. Goldfarb, Host & Producer 
Natalia Iyudin, Producer

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