Pen/Heim grant

I am excited to announce that I have been awarded a Pen/Heim Translation Fund grant for my translation-in-progress of the Africanfuturist novel Walenisi by Katama Mkangi.

You can read about the other awardees here.

The judges’ citation reads: “A touchstone of Kenyan literature, Katama Mkangi’s Walenisi begins with a reimagination of events from the dictatorial Kenyatta and Moi regimes. The novel’s protagonist, sentenced to death for “talking too much,” miraculously escapes his fate by piloting the space ship intended as his grave to the utopian planet Walenisi, where a journey of self-discovery begins. Blending parable and science fiction, Mkangi, who was imprisoned for his pro-democracy advocacy, satirizes global capitalism and postcolonial authoritarianism while presenting a speculative vision of an egalitarian future. Richard Prins translates this thrilling ride with humor and verve — a rare chance for English-speakers to read an Africanfuturist work originally written in an indigenous African language.”

On a more personal note, I first read Walenisi about fifteen years ago while studying Swahili as an undergraduate. Though I wasn’t yet fluent in the language, I could easily discern what wild and courageous vision was at play in this novel. I didn’t get around to rereading the novel until I came across a copy in a bookstore in Dar es Salaam last summer. I didn’t even think about translating it, because at that point I was so immersed in Swahili songs and poetry. But through a set of serendipitous circumstances, I wound up translating the first chapter for an anthology of Swahili fiction that will be published by Two Lines Press next year – and now, with the encouragement of this grant, I am hopeful about taking on the rest of the novel.

Meanwhile, back on the poetry front, several of my translations of the 19th century Mombasan poet Muyaka bin Haji al-Ghassaniy have appeared lately, such as “He Shuns Me” in Rattle, “Days of Eating Junk” in Action, Spectacle and “What Would You Do For a Treat?” in Tampa Review.