Wednesday 21 April 2021

Dutch award winning poet hands back translation of Amanda Gorman poem

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld at a book signing. Photo: Angeliek de Jonge ANP

The decision by international Booker laureate Marieke Lucas Rijneveld not to translate Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem The Hill We Climb into Dutch, continued to provoke discussion over the weekend.

Rijneveld, who identifies as both male and female and uses they/them personal pronouns, was chosen for the task by publisher Meulenhoff because ‘both authors are young and successful and not afraid to speak out’.

The author and poet said on Twitter ‘I am shocked by the uproar around my involvement in the dissemination of Amanda Gorman’s message, and I understand people who feel hurt by the choice of Meulenhoff to ask me.’

I would have ‘loved to translate Amanda’s work with my biggest brief to maintain her power, tone and style.’ Rijneveld said.

Meulenhoff, who said they still had the backing of ‘Amanda’s team’, was widely criticised for the choice even though Gorman’s own website retweeted the announcement.

Journalist and activist Janice Deul said in the Volkskrant the job should have gone to a black writer – ‘all talents who have enriched the literary landscape and who have fought for recognition for years.’

Zaïre Krieger, like Amanda Gorman a spoken word artist, commented that ‘if Gorman had written a dystopian novel there would not have been a problem but this is about a black woman finally claiming her space in a white system’.

Others pointed to Rijneveld’s lack of experience as a translator. Professor of contemporary Dutch literature Thomas Vaessens said the point was not so much that Rijneveld lacked  an affinity with black experience but that translating is a separate craft not necessarily mastered by Rijneveld who admitted their English was ‘very bad’.


Russian-Dutch translator Arthur Langeveld said background, life experience and an affinity with American history are not relevant because ‘a translator is a chameleon who immerses himself and remains invisible.’

Meulenhoff has not yet appointed another translator for the poem. has approached Amanda Gorman directly for a comment.

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