Stephen Spender Prize 2023
By Niina Bailey, Lucy Clark and Alice Reynolds
This week we’d like to bring an exciting translation competition to you from the Stephen Spender Trust. The Stephen Spender Prize challenges contestants to translate a poem from any language into English for publication and cash prize. It has become the leading annual prize for poetry in translation, with categories for pupils, teachers and individual young people in the UK and Ireland and is open for entries from Friday 12 May, with a deadline of Wednesday 14 July.
The trust was established in 1997 to honour Stephen Spender and his work as a poet and translator; he was a “champion of the rights of creative artists and writers to free expression.” The founding members involved poets Valerie Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Czesław Miłosz, playwright Harold Pinter and pianist Natasha Spender. Today the trust wants to uphold Spender’s spirit of cultural activism in international publishing and multilingualism through translation initiatives such as their Poetry in Translation Prize and Creative Translation in the Classroom programmes. They aim to “enrich intercultural awareness, while raising confidence and aspiration among young people” by empowering translators and teachers with ways to bring translation into schools.
This year there are five categories, two of which are new. For each category, you must submit a maximum sixty-line English translation of a published poem and a commentary of 300 words at maximum. The main category is the Open Entry, which is now open for adults anywhere in the world for the first time. Previously, it has only been open only for adults in the UK and Ireland. There are three winners, who will receive a cash prize and have their poems published in the 2023 Stephen Spender Prize booklet and on the website.
Another one of the categories is the Individual Youth Entry. It is open to people aged eighteen and under in the UK and Ireland. There are two categories: fourteen and under and eighteen and under, where there will be three winners for each.
One of the new categories is the Schools Laureate Prize Entry, which is designed for teachers submitting entries for their students. There are four age categories: one for primary schools, two for secondary and one for sixth form/further education. Each category will have three winners, all of whom will get a cash prize. If students do not know what poem to choose, the prize has a selection of suggested poems.
Every year the prize does a spotlight on a particular country, which this year is Ukraine. The Ukrainian Spotlight has three age categories: primary, secondary and sixth form/further education. The prize has a Ukrainian Spotlight Booklet curated by Hanna Leliv and Kateryna Mikhalitsyna that students should choose the poems from. There is one winner in each category, all of whom will receive a cash prize.
The other new category is the Teacher Laureate Prize Entry. It is open for all teachers at schools that have submitted entries for the Schools Laureate Prize or the Ukrainian Spotlight. There is one winner who will receive an annual print subscription to Modern Poetry in Translation and a Stephen Spender Prize workshop for their school.
The first judge, Taher Adel, is a British-Bahraini poet and spoken word artist. Moving to the UK at a young age, he discovered a love of poetry at school which he pursued further as he studied a masters in Creative Writing and Poetry. Adel says that his Bahraini background and heritage is the biggest influence on his writing, with his favourite genres being spirituality and self-reflections.
The next judge, Samantha Schnee, is a translator and the Founding Editor of the international magazine Words Without Borders. Schnee has translated a number of works, most recently working with leading Mexican novelist Carmen Boullosa. For Schnee, “each translation is both an adventure and an education” which speaks to the aims of the Stephen Spender Prize.
Jennifer Wong, born in Hong Kong and now living in the UK, will also be judging the prize this year. She is a translator, book reviewer and poet with her poetry collections including 回家 Letters Home and Summer Cicadas. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and she has taught creative writing at Oxford Brookes University.
Also judging is Keith Jarrett who is a poet, fiction writer, playwright and educator. Jarrett is a UK and international poetry slam winner and his commissioned work has included bilingual English/Spanish performances working with young poets in Spain. His work explores British and Caribbean history, sexuality and religion.
The final judge is Nina Murray, a Ukrainian-American poet and translator. She says that “as a young person, [she] dreamed of being a literary translator” and while completing her masters in Creative Writing, she looked for opportunities to translate and write critically about Ukrainian literature. She is also a member of The Association for Slavic, East European & Eurasian Studies and participates in their mentorship program as a mentor.