By Kevin Doby
Jeffrey Angles, a professor of Japanese at Western Michigan University, was recently awarded the 2009 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature by the Donald Keene Center at Columbia University in New York.
Angles received the award for his book “Forrest of Eyes,” a translation of poems by the Japanese author Tada Chimako.
Angles met Chimako while he was studying in Kobe, Japan, to get his master’s degree, and said he promised he would produce a book of her poems before she died in 2003.
“We are very happy for Professor Angles, this is a highly regarded international award,” said Cynthia Running-Johnson, the chair of the Foreign Language Department at WMU.
“He is an excellent reflection of WMU and our department. He has an infectious enthusiasm for his work that can’t be replicated.”
Angles has been a professor at WMU for eight years, teaching Japanese language courses along with classes about Japanese literature and culture, taught in English.
Angles, however, has been away from WMU all year on sabbatical.
He is currently living in Kyoto, Japan, working at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies on a project dealing with the history of Japanese translation.
Running-Johnson described him as very energetic about his work as a professor, whether it is scholarly work or his job as a teacher.
This can be seen in Angles’ process for writing his award-winning translation.
While working on the book, he was also working on another book, set to be released in 2011.
“Writing the Love of Boys” is a book about male homoeroticism in early 20th century Japanese literature.
Angles said that the new book was much more scholarly in its creation, and the differences between the two created a constant whirring of activity within both sides of his brain.
“When I got tired of doing my scholarly writing, I would turn to the translation of Tada’s text, which involved lots of close reading, creative problem solving and a flair for words,” said Angles.
“In other words, I think that one act of writing appealed to the right side of my brain, the other the left.”
Angles said that he has been drawn to Japanese culture ever since he first visited the country as a 15-year-old Midwestern boy.
“One thing I love about Japanese culture is how profoundly literate and cultured the population is,” he said.
The Donald Keene Center awards $6,000 annually to either a single writer or a group of writers for their work in translating Japanese works.
“Translation involves great appreciation and analysis of literature,” Running-Johnson said.
Angles described translation work in a broader scope.
“Without translation, we would be locked within our own cultures, unable to access the vast, overwhelming wealth of the rest of the world’s intellect. By translating literary works, we are making that world heritage available to literally millions of people.”