Newswise — EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s preeminent translator of Polish literature, Clare Cavanagh, is among eight writers to receive The American Academy of Arts and Letters 2018 Award in Literature, given for exceptional accomplishment in writing.

The honor, awarded for past work, will be presented in May in New York.

“I always dreamed of making some kind of contribution to literature, to readers and writers as well as scholars, through my work,” said Cavanagh, who chairs the department of Slavic languages and literature at Northwestern. “But studying and translating Eastern European poetry seemed like a pretty roundabout route, so I never saw this coming.”

Widely regarded as the best English translator of Polish poetry, Cavanagh has translated, or co-translated, 17 volumes of poetry and prose by Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska, Adam Zagajewski, Ryszard Krynicki and other poets.

Cavanagh became good friends with Szymborska, who died in 2012 and whose works Cavanagh translated to great praise. The Swedish Academy cited Cavanagh’s translation, with Stanislaw Baranczak, of Szymborska’s selected poems in their press release announcing Szymborska’s Nobel Prize in 1996. In a New York Times review of her final Szymborska translation, fellow translator Richard Lourie said that if a Nobel Prize for translators existed, Cavanagh would surely have earned it.

She received the National Book Critics Circle Award for her most recent book, “Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland and the West” (Yale University Press, 2010.)

She is currently working on an authorized biography of another Nobel Prize winner, poet Czesław Miłosz, who died in 2004.

In addition to Cavanagh’s published books of translation, more than 60 of her translations have been published in The New Yorker, The New Republic and The New York Review of Books.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters seeks to foster and sustain interest in literature, music and the fine arts by administering more than 70 awards and prizes, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater and purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country.

The academy was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country's leading architects, artists, composers and writers. Its 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues. 

Early members of the academy include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Julia Ward Howe, Henry James, Edward MacDowell, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent and Edith Wharton.