San Juan Islands, Wash. —The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced on Aug. 30 that Ian Boyden, of Friday Harbor, will receive an NEA Literature Translation Fellowship. The fellowship is being awarded to support the translation from Chinese into English of the poetry collection Minority by renowned Tibetan poet Tsering Woeser.
Woeser is considered one of China’s most respected living Tibetan writers. Her Tibetan heritage is central to her work, whose themes include alienation due to the ongoing and often violent erosion of Tibetan culture. Minority is a 120-page collection comprising roughly 35 poems.
Ian Boyden is a translator, writer, artist, and curator. His translations of Woeser’s work have been published on leading human rights and Tibetan cultural websites, including Radio Free Asia, Invisible Tibet, and High Peaks Pure Earth.
Boyden said his friendship with Woeser started in an unusual way.
“Several years ago, I carved a huge self-portrait out of wood, and when I was finished carving it, I lit it on fire, thinking I was making a statement about forest fires here in the Pacific Northwest,” said Boyden. “Instead, what I saw burning before me was a statement about self-immolation.”
He wrote to Woeser, who had written a book titled Tibet on Fire, about the huge number of self-immolations across Tibet in recent years, in protest against the Chinese occupation of that country. “To my amazement, she wrote back to me,” said Woeser.
Boyden called Woeser’s voice “incredibly important, unique, prescient. There is an urgency in translating her work.
As a poet and humanist, I take great pleasure in translating Woeser’s complex poetry and making her spirit and voice come alive in another language.”