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Indiana University Bloomington

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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’ve also long been involved in ALTA, the American Literary Translators Association. Recently I’ve served as a judge for the PEN Translation Prize and the Academy of American Poets’ Landon Translation Award.
In Comparative Literature, at the graduate level 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 prose by authors such asWiesław Myśliwski, Magdalena Tulli, Andrzej Stasiuk, and Jerzy Pilch; contemporary poetry by Tadeusz Różewicz, Tomasz Różycki, and Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki; earlier 20th-century authors such as Witold Gombrowicz; and “classics” by Adam Mickiewicz, Stefan Żeromski, Jan Kochanowski, and Juliusz Słowacki. I encourage students to cast their net broadly 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.
I very much enjoy my undergraduate teaching too. At the undergraduate level I recently developed a new course in writing and photography (C322), and another on linguistics and literature. I also teach a class entitled “What’s Good about ‘Good Books’ and ‘Good Movies’?”, which asks why there is so much suffering and cruelty in the “great works” of literature. I find that students learn best through opportunities for discussion and through active tasks; I try to incorporate these as much as possible throughout my classes.

Selected Translations:
Adam Mickiewicz: Pan Tadeusz. In progress. (Supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship 2013 – 2014)
Julia Fiedorczuk: Oxygen. Brookline, MA: Zephyr Press. Forthcoming.
Tomasz Różycki: Twelve Stations. Brookline, MA: Zephyr Press. 2015. (longlisted for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation)
Wiesław Myśliwski: A Treatise on Shelling Beans. New York: Archipelago Books. 2013. (shortlisted for the National Translation Award)


Magdalena Tulli: In Red. New York: Archipelago Books. 2011.
(shortlisted for Best Translated Book Award: 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, the Best Translated Book Award: Fiction and the AATSEEL Translation Award)
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. (longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award: Fiction)
Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki: Peregrinary. Brookline, MA: Zephyr Press. 2008. (shortlisted for the Best Translated Book award: Poetry)