Jiří Theiner award for Paul Wilson at Book World

The award was presented to the Canadian translator on 16 May.


Paul Wilson at Book World Prague

Paul Wilson at Book World Prague

Paul Wilson is an Ontario-born journalist, broadcaster and translator. He was educated at the University of Toronto and King’s College in London. In 1967 he came over to Czechoslovakia to teach English, staying until 1977 and working at a language school, a secondary school and the University of 17th November (now the Institute of Translation Studies at Charles University, Faculty of Arts) while learning Czech. After the 1968 Soviet invasion he was involved in the cultural underground and became a singer in the banned Plastic People of the Universe. At that time Wilson was helping a number of prohibited authors by translating their texts into English in order to give them a wider audience. Due to his connections with the dissident movement he was expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1977 and returned to Canada, but stayed in contact with the Plastics, producing and promoting their three albums, while writing for Canadian and American media, as a tireless advocate of Czechoslovak opposition activity and Charter 77.

He created radio documentaries and produced several radio programmes for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also worked as a senior editor on the Saturday Night Magazine and he was one of the founders of the Walrus magazine. His work was published in the Toronto press and in American periodicals such as the New York Review of Books, New Yorker,Gross Currents and Musician Magazine.

Paul Wilson is also a translator of Czech authors into English – he was the preferred translator for Josef Škvorecký and Václav Havel, and he also translated Bohumil Hrabal and Ivan Klíma. His translation of Škvorecký‘s Příběh inženýra lidských duší (Engineer of Human Souls) received the highest Canadian literary award in 1985. He also presented numerous Charter 77 and Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted documents to the West. After 1989 he occasionally translated important speeches by President Havel and his most recent activities include a translation of Havel’s Prosím stručně (Briefly, Please), followed by Škvorecký’s novella Obyčejné životy (Ordinary Lives).

In September 2008, Václav Havel‘s play Odcházení (Leaving), again translated by Paul Wilson, premiered in London. Paul Wilson now lives in Ontario and he is currently (April 2010) working inter alia on a new translation of Škvorecký’s first work Zbabělci (The Cowards). With Markéta Goetz-Stankiewicz he is preparing a new edition of Havel‘s essays on politics and drama. He won the Gratias Agit award in 2009 (from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs) for promoting the good name of the Czech Republic abroad. More here.

About the award

The award (named after the long-serving Index on Censorship journal Editor-in-Chief) was announced this year for the third time by Svět knihy s.r.o. and the Association of Czech Booksellers. It is for living individuals and institutions active abroad, whose activities or long-term endeavours make a significant contribution towards the dissemination and promotion of Czech literature outside the Czech Republic. It comes together with a prize of £1,000.