Aviya Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home in New York. She is the author of Wolf Lamb Bomb (Orison Books, 2021), named a New & Noteworthy title by the New York Times and shortlisted for the Chicago Review of Books Award in Poetry,and The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible (Spiegel & Grau/ Penguin Random House, 2015), a National Jewish Book Award Finalist, Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature Finalist, and one of Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year. She is The Forward’s language columnist as well as an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago and a core faculty member at the Randolph College MFA program. She is a member of the Third Coast Translators Collective and serves on the board of the American Literary Translators Association. The art of translation is central to her life.
To support the translation from the Hebrew of selected poetry by Yudit Shahar, who grew up in Tel Aviv and began writing poetry at the age of seven. The poems will be taken from Shahar's three collections of critically acclaimed poetry: It's Me Speaking (2009), A Mad Woman on Every Street (2013), and Holy Illusion (2021)—all of which tackle economic injustice.
I started translating Yudit Shahar’s poems after the director of a translation institute called me again and again, insisting that I had to read Shahar’s work. She was sure Shahar would be a good fit for me. I was scrambling to meet my own book deadline, but I finally agreed to look at a few poems. I quickly realized this was poetry I both loved and needed; it was by a woman and a rebel, someone who shared some biographical details with me—we had both grown up in religious homes and fought hard for a life in poetry. Shahar wrote about economic inequality, and I had started my career in financial journalism; I knew just how much money mattered. When I finally met Shahar, I realized that we communed.
Working on these translations in cafes on two continents, reading and rereading the Hebrew and trying to make poems in English out of poems in Hebrew, I realized that I have two creative lives—and that my happiest moments live in the space between languages. My life has widened through friendships with the writers I translate and through deep connections with other translators all over the world. Yet I found myself scrambling to continue, and I funded my translating with my writing.
Along the way, I published dozens of translations in literary magazines. Yet still felt I had to whisper the words “I am a writer and a translator.” This fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts will allow me to speak those words and not whisper them. It will give me the tremendous gift of time to complete The Selected Poems of Yudit Shahar and to present Shahar’s entire body of work to the entire world. It will let Shahar’s passionate cry for economic justice be heard.