The U.S. Embassy Literature Series

A Reading from Stimme und Atem. Out of Breath, Out of Mind

Peter Wortsman, writer, translator and alumnus, American Academy in Berlin

Moderated by Andrew Gross, Professor of American Studies, Universität Göttingen

“To have reached at age 66, after years of considerable creative effort in English, the beginner’s level in another language is in my view no small feat, something on the order of digging a hole so deep into New York granite that you come crawling back up in China, filthy but still breathing. If as an adult I stutter and stumble with the shaky spoon of my tongue back into the still fluid forecourt of consciousness that German constitutes for me, I do so in full consciousness as an English speaker reminded of other syllables that say more to me about the unspeakable than yes and no.” So writes the New York-born author, son of Austrian-Jewish émigrés, in the foreword. “I harbor a stillborn scribe of the German tongue in me,” he maintains. In this collection of stories, some quasi-autobiographical, some nightmarish, most of them originally written in German and thereafter translated, or rather, adapted by the author himself into English, Wortsman creates a compelling, albeit disturbing, portrait, not only of himself, but also of our shattered age. Despite all, with his writing, Wortsman harbors a hope: “Perhaps we Germans and Jews of the Post-War generation, as children of a shattered cultural union, can still achieve something productive together, perhaps we can pick a few rags of reason from the ruins of the past and therewith pitch a tent big enough to hold all our dreams.”

Excerpted from Stimme und Atem/Out of Breath, Out of Mind (Zweisprachige Erzählungen/Two-Tongued Tales), a bilingual German-English book of stories by Peter Wortsman, forthcoming from PalmArt Press, Berlin, October 2019

 

Peter Wortsman is the author of novels, books of short fiction, plays, and travel memoirs. He is also a literary translator from German into English. He was a Fulbright Fellow in 1973, a Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellow in 1974, and a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in 2010. His writing has been honored with the 1985 Beard’s Fund Short Story Award, the 2008 Gertje Potash-Suhr Prosapreis of the Society for Contemporary American Literature in German, the 2012 Gold Grand Prize for Best Travel Story of the Year in the Solas Awards Competition, and a 2014 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY). His travel reflections were selected five years in a row, 2008-2012, and again in 2016, for inclusion in The Best Travel Writing. His short fiction and essays have appeared, in German translation, in Manuskripte, Schreibheft, Cicero, the anthology AmLit: Neue Literatur aus den USA, published by the Druckhaus Galrev, Berlin, and in Die Welt and Die Zeit.

Reading

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