About John Felstiner

John Felstiner was born July 5, 1936 in New York. He received his A.B., magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 1958, spent three years on the USS Forrestal in the Mediterranean, and returned to earn his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1965. He has been teaching Modern poetry, Jewish literature and literary translation at Stanford Univesity since 1965. His special interests are literature, art and music of the Holocaust, and, most recently, poetry and ecology.

His first book, The Lies of Art: Max Beerbohm's Parody and Caricature (1972) concerns itself with parody. Teaching North American poetry in Chile for a year led to Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu (1980) which won the Commonwealth Club Gold Medal and led him to an interest in literary translation. After a year of teaching in Israel, Felstiner began to study and teach the literature that emerged from the European Jewish catastrophe. His biography of the German-speaking Jewish poet, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (1995) was named a Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, the MLA's James Russell Lowell prize, and it won the Truman Capote Prize for Literary Criticism.

He co-edited the Norton Anthology of American Jewish Literature (2001) and edited Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan (2001) which won the Modern Language Association's biennial Lois Roth Award for Translation of a Literary Work, the American Translators Association's biennial award for German translation, PEN West's prize for literary translation, and was a Finalist for American PEN's translastion award and for the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize.

"The Selected Poems and Prose" are the fruit of more than two decades of Celan study. Reviewing the work for the L.A. Times, Mark M. Anderson described Felstiner's "respectful, nuanced translations" as steering a "middle course between Joris's literalism and the daring liberties that Celan took in his own translations of Mandelstam, Dickinson and Valery." Gathering poems from all periods of Celan's life, Anderson compares the Selected to Felstiner's earlier "indispensable biography" of Celan. "In a sense these translations offer a second biography, distilled down to its essential poetic utterances and to what Felstiner sees as their biographical core of suffering and loss." The inclusion of prose works, particularly the speeches, gives the reader Celan's poetic aesthetic and his not unlimited hope for the role of poetry in the world.

Compiled by Mary Rakow


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