Euphrase Kezilahabi

Euphrase Kezilahabi’s Rosa Mistika is one of the works given a translation grant by PEN America. The revelation was made on September 15, 2021.

PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants were established by PEN America following a gift of $730,000 by Michael Henry Heim, a noted literary translator in 2003. Heim believed that there was a ‘dismayingly low number of literary translations currently appearing in English. The Grants’ purpose is to promote the publication and reception of translated world literature in English.

The winners of the grants for 2022, juried by panels of esteemed, award-winning writers, editors, translators, and critics who are committed to recognizing their contemporaries, were revealed on Wednesday, September 15.

For the second time, there was a translation grant given for a writer who had produced in Swahili, or rather Kiswahili. The first grant was given for Euphrase Kezilahabi’s collection of poems translated by Annmarie S. Drury in 2011. The grant for 2022, worth $3,700, was given for writing for the same writer (who passed away in 2020) in Rosa Mistika and the translator is Jay Rubin.

From the judges’ citation: “Jay Rubin’s supple translation of this foundational work of literature in Swahili by the Tanzanian writer Euphrase Kezilahabi brings to vivid life the inhabitants of the village of Namagondo. Traces of its recent colonial past are many in this island village in Lake Victoria, yet the local culture and its customs are rife with exploitation and misogyny. Kezilahabi’s portrayal of the weak and defenseless is unflinching, yet he unfailingly accords them dignity, agency, even humor. Published in 1971 and temporarily banned for its direct depictions of the abuse of schoolgirls by their teachers and women by their fathers, husbands, and brothers, Rosa Mistika is now standard reading in schools across Tanzania and Kenya.”