Philip Boehm

Fellow: Awarded 2013

Field of Study: Translation

Competition: US & Canada

Philip Boehm’s career zigzags across languages and borders, artistic disciplines and cultural divides. He is the author of more than two dozen translations of novels and plays by German and Polish writers, including Nobelist Herta Müller, Christoph Hein, Franz Kafka, Bertolt Brecht, Ida Fink, and Stefan Chwin. Nonfiction translations include A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous and Words to Outlive Us, a collection of eyewitness accounts from the Warsaw Ghetto. For his work as a translator he has received awards from the American Translators Association, the U.K. Society of Authors, the National Endowment for the Arts, PEN America, the Austrian Ministry of Culture, and the Texas Institute of Letters.
 
As a theater director fluent in several languages he has staged plays in Poland, Slovakia, and the United States. His most frequent venue is Upstream Theater in St. Louis, which he founded in 2004. Since then the company has become a leading producer of new international work, having presented over a dozen U.S. premieres of plays from countries as far-flung as Cuba and Croatia. In 2012 Upstream was recognized by the American Theatre Wing with a National Theater Grant as one of the most promising emerging companies in the United States.
 
As a dramatist his staged plays include Mixtitlan, Soul of a Clone, Alma en venta, The Death of Atahualpa (inspired by a Quechua oral drama), and Return of the Bedbug—a modern fantasia on Mayakovsky’s 1928 satire. For this work he has received awards from the Mexican-American Fund for Culture and the National Endowment for the Arts.
 
Originally from Texas, Mr. Boehm studied at Wesleyan University (Connecticut), Washington University in St. Louis, and the State Academy of Theater in Warsaw, Poland.
 
“I am continually struck by new overlaps between staging drama and translating prose. In both cases I first listen to the original voice or voices before attempting any re-creation, and my experience working with actors has taught me the importance of keeping a text alive, and of preserving its energy as it travels from one culture to another, whether on the page or in the theater. It is this fundamental awe of language that steers me from one project to the next.”
 
Mr. Boehm is grateful to the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation for supporting his project translating new prose texts by Herta Müller.
 
Profile photograph by Peter Wochniak.