BROOKLYN-BORN POET RIKA LESSER is well known in the realm of Swedish and German literary translation, and has to her name a nearly year-by-year record of grants, prizes and awards for her work. She has written and translated continuously over the course of several decades, although, as she says with a laugh, “When your job is translating the Swedish language, nothing is ‘steady.’”
Lesser pursued German when she became tired of French, one of a few foreign languages offered at Midwood High School, and because after devouring the few Hermann Hesse books already in English translation, she wanted to read more. At Yale (where she graduated summa cum laude in the second class of freshman women) Lesser asked a professor if he would give her a tutorial translating Rainer Maria Rilke, at a time when Rilke wasn’t yet a household name. He agreed, also encouraging her to take up Swedish for the rich literature she would find.
The year after graduation, she was the Amy Lowell Travelling Scholar Poet of ’74–’75. During that time, she lived, wrote and conducted research in Gothenburg, Sweden.
“Languages are what keep me sane,” says Lesser, who also reads Italian and French.
Born in Brownsville in 1953, now a longtime resident of Brooklyn Heights, Lesser is also a prodigious poet who has published three collections of her own poetry. Her fourth, “Questions of Love: New and Selected Poems,” is due for release in November, although she has already seen the final copy and is thrilled with the results.
So are the critics, including distinguished American poet Richard Howard and fellow Yale alum and poet translator Rosanna Warren.
“Fearless, clear-minded, and harrowing, Lesser’s poems match their wrenched prosody to their wrenching subject: the way people blunder, torture and are tortured in the name of love,” wrote Warren. “And yet these poems have room, too, for wit and for great tenderness. This is a full-hearted collection, as rich in light as in darkness.”
Last year Barnes and Noble Classics published her translation of Hesse’s “Siddhartha.” She is also finishing a Swedish translation of Goran Sonnevi’s “Mozart’s Third Brain” for Yale University Press that has been four years in progress. She has previously published a selection of his poems with Princeton, “A Child is Not a Knife,” and has twice received the translation prize from the American-Scandinavian Foundation for work from both manuscripts.
Now she primarily translates living authors, although her name is often associated with a magnificently illustrated translation of “Hansel and Gretel” she created with illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky, for which he received his first Caldecott Honor. (He later won the Caldecott Prize.)
In 1982, Lesser was awarded the Landon Poetry Translation Prize from the Academy of American Poets for a translation of Gunnar Ekelof’s “Guide to the Underworld.” She received the Poetry Translation Prize of the Swedish Academy in 1996.
She has periodically lectured and taught in some top New York schools, at Yale, and in Stockholm, Sweden.
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MORE NOTES ABOUT PEOPLE:
SUSAN FOX, FOUNDER AND LEADER of the online community forum Park Slope Parents Association, received so many repeat questions about employment practices for nannies that she decided a survey was necessary to try to understand the standards of the community.
While other groups have done surveys in the past, this was the most comprehensive survey in the NYC area, says Fox. Some of the most common questions from parents addressed are “How much to you pay when you have a second child?” and “What’s the going rate for a nanny?”
New York magazine picked up an illustrated (and truncated) version of the survey in this week’s issue, giving it the inside back page placement.
“It turns out it was a bigger project than New York reported because I contacted both DC Urban Moms and Dads as well as Berkeley Parents Network, each of whom have over 10,000 members, and they also ran their surveys in their respective areas,” says Fox. “The DC and BPN data showed more folks pay their nannies on the books than NYC, but there were very similar responses to things such as the ‘rules.’”
She added, “From what I’ve heard, the survey has become something that both nannies and employers are using as the yardstick by which to make hiring decisions.”
Fox has a Ph.D. in Interpersonal Communication and has spent 18 years doing social science and market research, so this kind of project is typical of what she does as a consultant for businesses. She also teaches part-time at NYU.
It turns out that six in 10 parents feel it’s okay for their nanny to nap while kids are napping, do personal shopping with kids, run their own errands and make personal phone calls from the employer’s phone. To see the full survey, visit www.parkslopeparents.com.
THIS HAS BEEN A BIG YEAR FOR artist, curator and educator MERIDITH McNEAL, who has lived and worked in Clinton Hill for 20 years. Since January, she has exhibited at South Street Seaport and in two Brooklyn galleries, TRA Gallery and Alphabeta. In the spring of 2008, she was selected as an Artist in Residence at the American Academy in Rome, and her latest exhibition, “Magical Things,” is a product of this experience.
Consisting of paintings, pictures, and hand-sewn creations, the art showcased in “Magical Things” was inspired by her daily experiences during her journey. St. Joseph’s College Council for the Arts is presenting McNeal’s show as the first of its fall series, in a solo show from Sept. 3 to Oct. 8, in the college’s Alumni Room Gallery, Tuohy Hall, 245 Clinton Ave. A gallery talk with the artist will be held Sept. 8 at 12:40 p.m.
McNeal is the director of education for the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to providing both disadvantaged urban youth with access to the arts and exhibition opportunities to underrepresented artists. McNeal says her work is about memory and the cultural, physical and social history of a place or individuals. “‘Magical Things’ is about the wonder and magic inherent in everyday objects and events,” she says.
“Each day of my residency, my camera tucked in a pocket, I set out on a long walk exploring the city. The photographs of these journeys were the key visual element for an emailed, time-based exhibition, ‘Love From Rome’ which I emailed everyday to my friends.”
Meridith has curated more than 70 exhibitions and is on the artist advisory boards of Kentler International Drawing Space, the Coney Island Museum and the Curatorial Committee of the Brooklyn Public Library.