Alan Myers (translator)

Alan Myers is a noted translator, born in South Shields, County Durham, in 1933. He attended the University of London 1957-60; and Moscow University 1960-61. Subsequently he taught Russian and English in Hertfordshire 1963-86.

During this period, he published reviews, translations and educational articles, and in summer worked as a travel courier on Russian Baltic liners, and as interpreter for the British Council in Britain and the USSR. He has broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and the BBC World Service on Russian themes. He retired in 1986 to work as a freelance literary translator.

Robert Conquest has stated that translating rhymed poetry into English rhymed poetry is the most difficult of all arts. Myers took on the challenge and produced mimetic rhymed versions of 19th century Russian poetry ("An Age Ago", Penguin Books,1989) extracts from which appear in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. He has written of his approach to poetry translation in The Sunday Times (23.4.89).

In prose, major translations include works by Valentin Rasputin, Vasil Bykaŭ (a Nobel Prize contender), Dostoevsky's own favourite novel "The Idiot" (1992) and his "A Gentle Creature and Other Stories" (1995)* both published by Oxford University Press as was Pushkin's "The Queen of Spades and Other Stories" (1997).

The Myers translation of "The Idiot" has been chosen for publication in the People's Republic of China (in English with notes in Chinese). This translation is described in the "Oxford Guide to Translated Literature in English" (2000) as the best currently available.*

Myers translated poems and essays for his friend, Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky, which appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Vogue, The Times Literary Supplement and later in Brodsky's books: "A Part of Speech; Less than One; Urania; So Forth" and "Collected Poems in English". His extended Brodsky essay/interview appeared in Valentina Polukhina's "Joseph Brodsky in the Eyes of his Contemporaries" (St Petersburg 2006).

Brodsky's poetry cycle "In England" is dedicated to Myers and his wife Diana (who both appear in the work). Other Brodsky translations included his only two plays "Marbles" (Penguin Books, 1988) and "Democracy!" Granta, 1990) - the latter performed at London's Gate Theatre. Both of the above have received critical praise in the national press.

Particular mention might also be made of the translations of Lydia Ginzburg's" Blockade Diary" (1995), and Yuri Dombrovsky's epic novel "The Faculty of Useless Knowledge" (1996), both brought out by Harvill.

Myers has also translated literary memoirs: Kruchenykh ("Our Arrival", RA publishers, Moscow) avant-garde art criticism (Abram Efros, Malevich,Kandinsky etc.) and "The Jewish Artistic Heritage" by Ansky (RA, 1994).

Myers' translation of the Efros essay and the catalogue for the Ansky world exhibition was described as 'brilliant... executed by one of the finest English literary translators.' (Radio Free Europe 6.12.1994)

Other works include a docu-novel on the Chernobyl disaster by Julia Voznesenskaya. Stories by Zinovy Zinik including the much anthologized "Hooks" appeared in "The New Yorker" and elsewhere, while mimetic rhymed versions of Irina Ratushinskaya have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and published by Bloodaxe Books.

In addition Myers has translated a wide range of modern Russian novels and stories, including thrillers and science fiction - Edward Topol's "Red Gas" (translated into Braille), Friedrich Neznansky's "Operation Faust"; the Strugatsky brothers' "Snail on the Slope" and Far Rainbow. The Bronze Snail is a Russian science fiction award named after the former complex work.

The Myers Collection of Russian speculative fiction, the most extensive in the country, is held at the University of Liverpool, along with his history of the genre.

Myers has also published research articles in the "The Slavonic and East European Review" (1990-93) and elsewhere on Yevgeny Zamyatin's life and writings in Newcastle 1916-17. This extensive original research has demonstrated the crucial influence of the author's Tyneside sojourn on his masterpiece "We" (a strong influence on Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four"). Myers took part in a BBC Radio 3 documentary on Zamyatin in December 2003.

His last translations appeared in "Utopias" (Penguin Books, 1999), a survey of Russian modernism. These include his versions of Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Kharms, Vaginov and Zamyatin.

Myers was contributing associate editor of "Northern Review" in Newcastle for many years and author of the comprehensive "Myers' Literary Guide: The North East" (1995, 1997) (Carcanet/MidNag). This, and much other North East data can be found onhis website.

He was co-author, with Robert Forsythe of "W. H. Auden: Pennine Poet" (North Pennines Heritage Trust, 1999). It contains considerable original research on the landscape and industrial remains of the North Pennine hills - the poet's "Mutterland" - a region which strongly influenced Auden as a boy and which remained a recurrent source of reference throughout his life. Myers may be said to have helped establish this theme in the mainstream of Auden criticism.

He is also a contributor to the Oxford Companion to English Literature and the Dictionary of National Biography (2004) for which he wrote the entry on Orwell's friend Jack Common.


* '... this translation knocks all the others I have seen (two) into a cocked hat. Terrific.'

[Nicholas Lezard (Guardian Literary Editor) Guardian 1997] .

'Finally, also in "Oxford World’s Classics", there are two fine translations by Alan Myers. These are The Idiot, the best version currently available, and a remarkable small volume including the short novels "A Gentle Creature" and "White Nights". Both of these, like "Notes from Underground", are presented in the distraught voice of a tragic narrator, and Myers manages to convey this type of frantic orality better than any other translator.'

["The Oxford Guide to Translation into English" (2002) Ed. Peter France.]

*cite book |last=Brodsky |first=Joseph |authorlink=Joseph Brodsky |coauthors=Alan Myers |others= |title=An Age Ago: A Selection of Nineteenth-Century Russian Poetry |year=1988 |publisher=Farrar, Straus and Giroux |location= |isbn=0374520844 :Brief biographies of the authors are included.
*cite news |first=Alan |last=Myers |authorlink= |author= |coauthors= |title=In My View |url= |format= |work= |publisher=The Sunday Times |id= |pages= |page= |date=1989-04-23 |accessdate= |language= |quote= (part of a series where writers discoursed on their work):"In "Nineteen Eighty-Four" a character is in trouble when he can only find one convincing rhyme for 'rod' when translating Kipling into Newspeak.
What would he have done with Vyazemsky's 'Russian God' where he would have to find eight rhymes for God - and retain all the original meanings at the same time?"

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