The Amanda Gorman thing: what the controversy in the Netherlands reveals

INTERVIEW. Belgian writer Lieve Joris decodes in nuances the debates that are inflaming the Netherlands about the translation of Amanda Gorman’s collection of poems.

We left her reading Fonny, here she is immersed in the writing of her new book. But once the computer is closed, Lieve Joris follows with great interest the debates that shake the Netherlands where she lives, in Amsterdam, when she does not travel around the world, especially in the Congo or Mali.

Her testimony allows us to address other aspects at stake in the “MLR-Gorman” affair: Marieke Lucas Rijneveld-Amanda Gorman.

The Dutch writer, the youngest winner of the International Booker Prize for her first novel, was chosen by the Dutch publisher Meulenhoff to translate the poem “The Hill We Climb” and the collection of poems by Amanda Gorman. And according to the African-American author, her agent is taking care of everything…

But, faced with the clamor for the news, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (MLR), not being a translator or fluent in English (by her own admission), or familiar with oral poetry and, above all, white (the black journalist and activist Janice Deul, saying that a black person should have been chosen to do this), gave up.

It must also be expressed in the form of a poem to appear this weekend in the Dutch press. Meanwhile, Lieve Joris sheds light for Le Point on the nuances surrounding the still-live debate.

Le Point: How did you see the controversy arise in the Netherlands?

Lieve Joris: As soon as Rijneveld’s name became known on social media, she said how happy and honored she was to have been chosen. But this quickly triggered reactions in the world of the “spoken word” (oral and rhythmic poetry, equivalent to slam, Editor’s note).

Black journalist Janice Deul, who fights for diversity in fashion and culture, wrote an article explaining that MLR’s choice was incomprehensible and that a black person should definitely have been chosen instead.

The debate that arose from this issue is interesting. I know the books of Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, who is also a poet; he surely he would have done a good job.

But gradually I realized that there may be other considerations in this controversy. We are like that in Netherlands: we throw the paving into the pond, then we work on nuances.

Because, if MLR divides people, with extreme opinions on one side and the other, the issue also provokes reasonable reactions in the middle.

What are the arguments?

At the extremes we find, on the one hand, those who denounce anti-white racism and, on the other hand, those who denounce the fact, once again, of being neglected in this world where whites always take all the seats of power.

In the middle the nuance begins to be heard: because, in the United States, in effect, it is a very young black woman who intends to talk about her destiny, her ambitions and her dreams, not only next to the president, but facing him whole world.

Amanda Gorman
The Amanda Gorman thing: what the controversy in the Netherlands reveals

Given the symbolic value of this performance, wouldn’t it have been elegant if we in the Netherlands had performed in the same spirit? Plus, that’s what you did in France by casting Marie-Pierra Kakoma (stage name Lous and the Yakuza, editor’s note).

Why do you think the publisher turned to this young writer and why was the question raised about her in the Netherlands?

He had just won the International Booker Prize.

However, this is the first time that a Dutch writer has won it, we saw it everywhere and that international dimension, added to her fight for gender equality, being non-binary, could make it like an experience. a little apart in society.

And surely he would have done a great job! It has never been disputed here in the Netherlands that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s translators are not black, nor that Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, read at Barack Obama’s inauguration, was translated by a white translator. . But the spoken word is a separate genre.

Of the eight publishers that tried to secure the rights in the Netherlands, Meulenhoff got the deal because the same company also signed the translation of another book by Amanda Gorman, a children’s book.

In any case, by contract, the translation will be reviewed by “professional sufferers” such as the so-called “sensitivity readers”. But you know, some also wonder: why translate this poem, because, in this country, everyone speaks English! If it is not because there is a commercial issue…

Who would you see to succeed Marieke Lucas Rijneveld?

At least this case allowed me to discover two very talented women! I was very seduced by Babs Gons, a spoken word poet who wrote the poem for the opening of Book Week, scheduled here from March 6-14.

She, in addition, has remained very discreet in this whole matter, like Lisette Ma Neza. The latter, a Belgian of Rwandan origin, wrote the day after Biden’s inauguration a wonderful poem addressed to Amanda Gorman that ends like this: “We are here. We are here. We have been heard.

The black girl wrote. The black has spoken. The pride that young black women like them felt that day, tells this poem.

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