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PEN USA literary honors go to Chernoff and Hoover

December 2 , 2009 -- Professors of creative writing Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover won the prestigious 2009 PEN USA translation award for "Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin."

Book cover image of Selected Poems of Friedrich Holderlin.

The literary couple received the award on Dec. 2 at a ceremony hosted by PEN USA, a membership organization established to recognize the work of writers living west of the Mississippi.
"We both had a long-time love of Hölderlin's poetry," said Chernoff who first encountered Hölderlin's work in college when she minored in German at the University of Illinois, Chicago. "I read his heartbreaking poem, 'Half of Life,' and I was compelled by the language and rich imagery. I was only 18 or 19, but I knew it was great work."
Born in 1770, and unappreciated during his lifetime, the poet Hölderlin is now considered by some scholars to be as important as, if not surpassing, Goethe and Schiller. Praised for his ideas as well as his writing, Hölderlin is regarded as the most important precursor to the modern period.
"Hölderlin is a great lyric poet," said Hoover. "And he appears very human in his work and as one who has suffered. He went mad at the age of 35 and began to write in a completely different, and somewhat naïve style."
The collaborators hadn't planned a major translation project, but once they started, they couldn’t stop. "The power and literary greatness of the poems pulled us along," Hoover said. "Once we had translated 100 pages, we realized that we were destined to complete a collection."

The couple, whose professional collaboration predates their 35-year marriage, have edited and published the literary journal, New American Writing since 1974. Chernoff, chair of the Creative Writing Department, previously won a PEN Book Award for a book of her poetry, "New Faces of 1952" (Ithaca House, 1985).

Since 1982, the PEN Literary Awards have honored excellence in all categories of writing. Previous winners include Barbara Kingsolver, Maxine Hong Kingston and Paul Thomas Anderson.

For more information about "Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin" visit the publisher, Omnidawn Press.


-- Denize Springer


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