Aspazija’s Prose in English

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On Monday, March 30, at 17.00, the Aspazija House hosted a book presentation of “Aspazija. Her Lyrical Prose” by Astrida B. Stahnke of the United States. Stahnke, whose birthday was also celebrated on that occasion, is a long time translator and researcher of the foremost end 19th – beginning 20th century Latvian female writer Asapzija (pseud. Elza Rozenberga, 1865-1943).

The book contains the first published English translations of Aspazija’s prose, making it possible for readers of other nations to become acquainted with Aspazija, who is best known for her poetry and plays. The book is in two parts: 1) translator’s foreword and fragments from Aspazija autobiography and 2) Aspazija’s stories, fantasies, and a novella.

Astrida Stahnke, equally fluent in the Latvian and English languages, is one of the most productive translators, not only of Aspazija’s works but that of other Latvian writers. In the translations of Aspazija’s complex poetry and prose, she has been praised for faithfully retaining the spirit and energy of the original, even though there are linguistic peculiarities that are difficult to translate and may be lost all together.

Since the beginning of her translation career, in 1975, Astrida Stahnke has demonstrated her translator’s talent first by translating Aspazija’s husband’s Rainis’s folk tale part prose, part poetry play “Zelta zirgs” (The Golden Steed), followed by numerous plays by Aspazija: her first play at age 20—“Atriebēja” (The Avengeress, 1888), and her dazzling 1905 romantic verse tragedy “Sidraba šķidrauts” (The Silver Veil).

“Zalkša līgava” (The Serpent’s Bride), “Ragana” (The Witch) soon followed as did her prose realism dramas: “Zaudētas tiesības” (The Lost Rights), “Neaizsniegts mērķis” (Unrealized Goal), Zeltīte (Goldie). Besides the dramas, Stahnke has also translated a number of Aspazija’s most popular poems: “Dzimtene” (Homeland), “Sapņu tālumā” (Far in Dreamland), “Pasaciņa” (My Story), among others, but she is reluctant to tamper with Aspazija’s poems, as too much of her exquisite lyrical quality would be damaged or lost.

For the support of Aspazija’s translations and research, in 1983, Stahnke received the prestigious U.S. National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) summer stipend that made it possible for her to work in the Aspazija archive in Riga—a rare opportunity during the Cold War period. As a result, a book “Aspazija: Her Life and Her Drama” came into being (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1984). It contains the translations “The Silver Veil” and “The Serpent’s Bride”, as well as a thorough biographical sketch of Aspazija, photographs, annotations, a bibliography, and copies of other pertinent entries.

In 2003, supported by the Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, Stahnke’s second book “Ragana/The Silver Veil” was issued in Riga, Latvia, by Pils publishers.

In the circle of colleagues and specialists, the translator’s work has been positively evaluated: in 2005 Astrida Stahnke was awarded with Aspazija Commemorative Medal; in 2003, the Latvian government presented her with the Triju zvaigžņu ordenis (The medal of three stars) for helping to promote Latvian literature internationally.

Her latest book “Aspazija. Her Lyrical Prose” was self-published with the generous support of the Jurmala History and Art Association, the Aspazija House, the State Culture Capital Foundation, and the American Latvian Cultural Foundation.

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