Shelley Frisch’s magnificent English translation of Reiner Stach’s German-language biography of Franz Kafka, entitled Kafka: Die Jahre der Erkenntnis (Kafka: The Years of Insight) has been named the 2014 winner of the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize. The award, established in 1996 by the Goethe-Institut Chicago, is given each spring to an outstanding German-to-English literary translation published in the U.S., with an accompanying prize of $10,000 funded by the German government.
Of her translation, the Goethe-Institut Chicago says that, “Frisch sustains Stach’s voice over hundreds of pages, finding fresh, compelling, and often witty ways to render his German to English,” and that even without a complete edition of Kafka’s work in English, “Frisch made the risky and courageous decision to provide her own translations of all the biography’s [Kafka] quotations.” The book examines the final years of Kafka’s life and is monumental in scope, detailing disease, romance, and war in the wake of the collapsed Austro-Hungarian empire.
Shelley Frisch holds a PhD in German literature from Princeton University, and has taught at Columbia University while working as the Executive Editor of The Germanic Review. She also chaired the Haverford/Bryn Mawr Bi-College German Department prior to her transition into a full-time translator. Frisch’s second volume of the Kafka series, Kafka: The Decisive Years (Princeton), was awarded the Modern Language Association’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize. She is a prolific translator of other German books, including biographies of Nietzche and Einstein.