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University of Iowa News Release

July 23, 2004

Swensen, UI Writers' Workshop Faculty Member, Wins PEN Center USA Award

Poet Cole Swensen, a faculty member in the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, is the winner of the 2004 PEN Center USA Award for translation. The award honors Swensen's translation from French into English of "Island of the Dead" by Jean Frémon.

Also, UI associate professor of history Paula Michaels was named a finalist in the Research Nonfiction category of the competition for her work: "Curative Powers: Medicine and Empire in Stalin's Central Asia" (University of Pittsburgh Press).

The judges noted that the book's "polymorphous pleasures have been superbly recreated by translator Cole Swensen: It reads as if it had been written in English, even as it brings us a voice unlike anything English has produced."

Swensen commented, "My initial response was that it's the first time I've been given an award, not for what I did, but for what I didn't do -- in this case, for not screwing something up. The original book is particularly strong, just lovely, so the project seemed, above all, not to block that original loveliness."

Frémon runs Galerie Lelong, a prominent art gallery in Paris and New York. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and poetry.

In addition to translating French poetry and prose, Swensen has published nine volumes of poetry, including "Try," which won the 1998 Iowa Poetry Prize and the 2000 San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, and, most recently, "Goest." Her poetry has been chosen for the National Poetry Series, a New American Writing Award and a Pushcart Prize.

PEN Center USA's annual awards program, established in 1982, is a unique regional competition that recognizes literary excellence in 10 categories, including nonfiction, fiction, poetry and screen and theatrical plays. Distinguished panels of judges comprised of writers, editors and journalists selected this year's winners and finalists from more than 500 entries.

Each winner will receive a $1,000 cash prize at PEN's Literary Awards Festival, a gala dinner to be held in Los Angeles at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel on Oct. 20.

PEN was founded in London in 1921 in the aftermath of World War I, in a period of hatred between nations. The founder, Catharine Amy Dawson Scott, was convinced that if the writers of the world could reach out to each other, then the nations of the world could eventually learn to do the same.

She was joined by eminent writers of her day, including Joseph Conrad, George Bernard Shaw and John Galsworthy, PEN's first president. The early founders of PEN realized that for any community of letters to thrive, the freedom of the individual writer must also be protected. Before Amnesty International began, PEN was working for the release of writers around the world who were prisoners of conscience.

Today, PEN is composed of 130 centers in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas with a total membership of approximately 15,000.

PEN Center USA, one of two centers in the United States and the third largest in the world, was founded in 1943 and incorporated as a nonprofit association in 1981. PEN USA's membership of more than 1,200 writers includes poets, playwrights, essayists, novelists (for the original letters in the acronym PEN), as well as television and screenwriters, critics, historians, editors, journalists and translators.

PEN Center USA strives to protect the rights of writers around the world, to stimulate interest in the written word, and to foster a vital literary community among the diverse writers living in the western United States. Among PEN's activities are public literary events, a mentorship project, literary awards and international human rights campaigns on behalf of writers who are censored or imprisoned.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

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