Skip to main content
Indiana University Bloomington

Give Now facebook The College of Arts & Sciences

Bill JohnstonBill Johnston

Professor of Comparative Literature

(812) 856-0500

Ballantine Hall 904

billj at

My passion is literary translation. When I’m not translating from the Polish, I read extensively in international literature; I’m also deeply involved in ALTA, the American Literary Translators Association.

In Comparative Literature, among other things I teach workshops in literary translation. What I most enjoy is getting to grips with the translation of specific texts, and so a large part of our classes involves workshopping translations from a wide range of languages into English. We also spend time comparing often radically different translations of major works of literature and discussing the consequences of different approaches to the job of translation. It quickly becomes apparent that there’s no such thing as a “perfect translation,” and that the translator’s work is creative in a very profound way—however “faithful” a translation may be, it still involves the production of a new and different work of literature.

As a translator I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity of translating works from many different periods and genres. This has included recent novels by such authors as Magdalena Tulli and Wiesław Myśliwski; contemporary poetry by Tadeusz Różewicz, Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki, and Tomasz Różycki; earlier 20th-century authors such as Witold Gombrowicz; and “classics” by Stefan Żeromski, Jan Kochanowski; and Juliusz Słowacki. I encourage students to experiment too, and in class we work on prose, poetry, and drama. It’s been wonderful to see students publishing their own translations and presenting their work at conferences.

My own training is in applied linguistics, not in comparative literature. This means I bring a somewhat different perspective to the work of literary translation and to the teaching of literature. I only recently became a full-time member of this department, and I’m excited to be developing new classes, amongst other things on linguistics and literature.

Selected Translations:

Wiesław Myśliwski: A Treatise on Shelling Beans. New York: Archipelago Books. In progress.

Tomasz Różycki: Twelve Stations. Brookline, MA: Zephyr Books. In press.

Magdalena Tulli: In Red. New York: Archipelago Books. 2011.
(shortlisted for Best Translated Book Award 2012: Fiction)

Andrzej Stasiuk: Dukla. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive. 2011.

Stanisław Lem: Solaris. Newark, NJ: Audible. 2011. (Audio book)

Wiesław Myśliwski: Stone Upon Stone. New York: Archipelago Books. 2010.
(winner of the PEN Translation Prize, 2012; the Best Translated Book Award 2012: Fiction; the AATSEEL Translation Award, 2012)

Juliusz Słowacki: Balladina. In Poland’s Angry Romantic: Two Poems and a Play by Juliusz Słowacki, edited and translated by Peter Cochran, Bill Johnston, Mirosława Modrzewska and Catherine O’Neil. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2009.

Jerzy Pilch: The Mighty Angel. Rochester, NY: Open Letter. 2009.

Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki: Peregrinary. Brookline, MA: Zephyr Books.

Jan Kochanowski: The Envoys. Kraków, Poland: Księgarnia Akademicka. 2007.