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Another Top Literary Award?

Northwestern professor is finalist for National Book Critics Circle Award

January 31, 2011 | by Wendy Leopold
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University Professor Clare Cavanagh was confused when she received an email from the editor of a British literary magazine telling her she was a finalist for a highly prestigious 2010 National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award.

That was news to her. Shocked, she quickly went to the NBCC website, where she found her name among the five finalists for the award in criticism. Until she’d verified the good news, the professor of Slavic languages and literatures waited to tell others.

Cavanagh’s “Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland and the West,“ which the judges called “rigorously thoughtful,” is a finalist for criticism. The book, published by Yale University Press, explores the very different literary traditions of Eastern Europe and the West.

The NBCC, an organization of some 600 active book reviewers, gives yearly awards for the best literature in six categories.

Cavanagh, who teaches in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, is widely known as one of the best translators of Polish literature.

“I love experiencing poetry from the radically different perspective you get as a translator and opening up great literature to audiences who otherwise would never be able to read it,” she says. Her essays and translations have appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, New Republic, New York Review of Books and other publications.

Among other honors, Cavanagh has earned the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize for Outstanding Literary Translation, the Modern Language Association’s William Riley Parker Prize, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim Foundation and election to PEN, a worldwide association of writers.

If precedence has anything to do with it, Cavanagh just may clinch the award. Last year, Eula Biss, who teaches in the English at Northwestern, was awarded the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism for “Notes from No Man’s Land.”

When Cavanagh attends the March 10 awards ceremony in New York she will be among authors Jonathan Franzen (“Freedom”), Patti Smith (“Just Kids”) and Christopher Hitchens (“Hitch 22”) who also are NBCC finalists.

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