Posted by: jbwuk | January 12, 2011


At the end of this month, poet and translator Peter Cole will be awarded this year’s TLS-Risa Domb/Porjes Translation Prize from Hebrew into English for The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain. JBW decided to take advantage of his visit to organise an event with him and his wife, the writer Adina Hoffman, winner of the 2010 JQ-Wingate Prize at the Tricycle Cinema on Sunday 30 Januray at 1.30 pm . The conversation will be moderated by the poet, essayist, and scholar Eric Ormsby. To book your tickets at the Tricycle, click here.

Titled “Writing East and West,” the discussion will range across a variety of subjects—from Cole’s own poetry to his medieval and modern translations of Hebrew and Arabic, to Hoffman’s work as essayist and biographer, most recently of the Palestinian poet  Taha Muhammad Ali, whose primary English translator is … Peter Cole. In anticipation of the Tricycle event, I asked Cole and Hoffman if they could say a few words about their work. They have already answered countless interviews I highly recommend you read about translating, writing poetry, the art of the biographer, etc…. But being a bit nosy, I was curious to know how the two combined their working lives with their married lives, how Peter’s translating fed into Adina’s writing, whether they influenced each other and how they had launched into publishing as well. Being very private and sensible, they only gave me this short answer, so I am even more looking forward to their event at the Tricycle on the 30th!

Here’s what they said:

“When he married us, Rabbi Bernie Schechter—a wonderfully Borscht Belt-styled joker of a New Jersey rabbi, now of blessed memory—made a point, under the chuppah, of halting the proceedings to groan: “Two writers! Oy!!” Then he offered the bride- and groom-to-be a quick bit of spiritual counsel: “My one piece of advice is this: Don’t show each other your work.”

If he could only see us now. For better or worse, almost every day for the last twenty years we have, in fact, written in close proximity and under the same roof, and not only do we read each other’s work, we often erase it, and sometimes we even write it! Or so it seems….  And we’ve also read and been involved in a word-by-word, nitty-gritty way with the work of many other writers—through our own writing and that which we edit together at Ibis Editions. To date, the books that have come of this marriage amount to almost forty—and that’s to say nothing of the many essays and assorted occasional pieces and poems we’ve been involved with, or our most recent project, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, a book that we composed together and which will bear both our names when it emerges from Schocken Books in a few months. Oddly enough, one of the heroes of this book is also a Rabbi Schechter—not Bernie, but Solomon. And while Bernie would, most likely, once again offer up a big Jewish sigh at the prospect, Solomon—we’d like to think—would be pleased.”

To read more about Peter Cole, see and Adina Hoffman

We have another prize-winner: Jonathan Schneer has won the 2010 National Jewish Book Award in the category of writing based on archival material for his excellent book, The Balfour Declaration. We are absolutely delighted for him. His book gives an extremely well documented insight into the period and all the negotiations that went on with conflicting sides. I have to confess that in my ignorance and naivety, I was totally amazed to see how the same piece of land could have been promised to so many people at the same time. I can’t wait to hear Jonathan discuss his book at JBW on Sunday 6 March. Read more about his event here. I also recommend the TLS excellent review by Neil Caplan.

David Ruderman has won the National Jewish Book Award in the History category for his remarkable book on Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History. His talk at JBW will concentrate on the impact of the printing press on the formation of Jewish culture, a topic relevant and parallel to our internet age. And Hillel Halkin has won the Award in the Sephardic culture section for his excellent biography of Yehuda Halevi which he will discuss at JBW with Anthony Julius.

Last but not least, we will have to wait until the 25th January to know who is the overall winner of the Costa Book Awards. We obviously hope it is Edmund de Waal for his exquisite Hare with Amber Eyes. Judging from the response to the programme, there is no doubt that the Jewish Book Week crowd does agree with us. Don’t wait to book your tickets if you want to avoid disappointment…. Go to his event here.

Needless to say, this is also true for our favourite Booker winner, Howard Jacobson, who will have the last word of the festival on Sunday 6 March.


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