Everything you need to know about the controversy over a new translation of Amanda Gorman’s poetry.
The Associated Press has reported that Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, the Dutch poet appointed by the Dutch publisher Meulenhoff to translate Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” and her first poetry collection into Dutch, has stepped down after criticism that a white author was selected for the task.
Rijneveld, who in 2020 became the youngest author to win the International Booker Prize, announced the decision to step down in a Twitter post on Friday. Said Rijneveld, “I am shocked by the uproar around my involvement in the dissemination of Amanda Gorman’s message, and I understand people who feel hurt by [Meulenhoff’s choice].”
Here’s how it went down: On the 23rd, spoken word poet and activist Zaire Krieger tweeted about the choice of Rijneveld as translator: “How salty on a level from one to the Dead Sea am I going to sound when I say that tons of female spoken word artists of color (Babs Gons, Lisette Maneza etc.) could have done this better?” The post gained traction with Krieger’s followers, and Meulenhoff initially responded with a statement noting Gorman and Rijneveld’s similarities: they’re young writers who’ve received international recognition, and (said Meulenhoff) Rijneveld’s focus on gender and mental health speaks to their struggle to create an inclusive society, like Gorman. (Rijneveld is nonbinary.) Said Meulenhoff, “The fact that Amanda Gorman and her team immediately responded positively to our proposal was confirmation for us that we had found the ideal translator in in Marieke Lucas Rijneveld.”
In the statement, Meulenhoff also mentioned they would use sensitivity readers for the translation, which sparked further concern as it implied Rijneveld was missing the necessary context to translate Gorman’s work alone.
On the 25th the conversation came to a head when activist/journalist Janice Deul wrote an opinion piece for de Volkskrant (the Netherlands’ national daily newspaper) condemning Meulenhoff’s pick. Said Deul, “Why not choose a writer who is—just like Gorman—a spoken word artist, young, female, and unapologetically Black?” Questions were also raised about Rijneveld’s fitness as a translator, as they are not an experienced translator and have spoken self-deprecatingly about their English skills, though this was secondary to the race-based controversy. Rijneveld stepped down that day.
After Rijneveld stepped down, Meulenhoff released a new statement expressing their desire to learn from the experience. The statement also indicated Meulenhoff is looking for a team of translators to translate Gorman’s work rather than a single translator.
There you have it!