Alex Zucker

Translation, Editing, Communications

Photo: Beowulf Sheehan

Alex Zucker is an award-winning translator of Czech. He also works in editing and communications. From 2014 to 2016, he served as cochair of the Translation Committee at PEN America. He maintains a list of Czech literature translated into English, from 1987 to the present, at​czechlitinenglish. (For works prior to 1987, see George J. Kovtun’s Czech and Slovak Literature in English. A Bibliography. Second Edition.)

March 16, 2018: Alex’s newest translation, J. R. Pick’s darkly comic novella Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, will be published in the U.S. in May. You can buy it online from the University of Chicago Press.

Dec. 18, 2017: Alex’s translation of the Ludvík Vaculík feuilleton “On a Plane” appears in the January 2018 issue of Harper’s Magazine, accompanying an article by Harper’s publisher John R. MacArthur, “The Human Factor: How I learned the real meaning of dissent.” MacArthur, in a lovely act of literary amends, writes about how a visit to Communist Czechoslovakia, in 1983, transformed his view of the relationship between politics and literature.

Dec. 15, 2017: Results from the first-ever Authors Guild survey of literary translators in the US were released today. Says Alex, “This is a project I’ve been working on for over two years, so I’m very excited and grateful to see it come to fruition.” Here is the press release on the Authors Guild website, with a link to the main findings and next steps for advocacy. Articles about the survey appeared in both Publishers Weekly and Publishing Perspectives, as well as CEATL News and Susan Bernofsky’s Translationista blog.

Nov. 6, 2017: Alex’s translation of Magdaléna Platzová’s The Attempt was longlisted for the 2018 International DUBLIN Literary Award.

On April 20, Petra Hůlová, author of Three Plastic Rooms, appears in the 2018 PEN World Voices Festival, in New York, together with Georgi Gospodinov (Bulgaria) and Hwang Sok-yong (Korea). The event runs from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., at Dixon Place, on the Lower East Side. Buy tickets here.

Also on April 20, The Puppet Master: The Complete Jiří Trnka opens at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Presented by FSLC and Comeback Company, this is the first complete retrospective of the works of Czech animation master Jiří Trnka in the U.S. With 20 short and six feature-length animated films, Trnka was rivaled only by Walt Disney Studios in output. The series includes 11 newly subtitled works, which I was commissioned to do by Comeback Company.

December 7, Alex gave a talk at the University of Bristol, titled “Hand Over Fist or Hand to Mouth? Translating Fiction in the U.S.” In the talk, he shared his experience as a translator of Czech literature and offered a sneak peek at results from the first-ever survey of working conditions for literary translators in the U.S., conducted by the Authors Guild in spring 2017.

November 30, Alex appeared together with Jáchym Topol at the Václav Havel Library, in Prague..

November 21 saw the launch of Alex’s newest translation, the Petra Hůlová novel Three Plastic Rooms, at Waterstones Gower Street in London. You can order the book now from Waterstones.

In fall 2017, Alex translated the play Debt, by Marek Hejduk, as well as notes by Vincenc Kramář for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, and editing for the Czech Film Center.

In May 2017, Alex’s translation of the Jana Šrámková children’s story “Dagesh and Mappiq Are Friends” appeared in Quest: Stories of Journeys From Around Europe, published by Alma Junior.

In 2016, Alex published three translations: Midway Upon the Journey of Our Life by Josef Jedlička (Karolinum Press); Love Letter in Cuneiform by Tomáš Zmeškal (Margellos World Republic of Letters at Yale University Press); and The Attempt by Magdaléna Platzová (Bellevue Literary Press).

Alex’s translation of Heda Margolius Kovály’s Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2015. Read the opening of Chapter 1 here. Listen to Maureen Corrigan’s review for NPR here. Read the Wall Street Journal’s review here.

Reconstructing Atrocity Prevention, coedited by Alex with Sheri Rosenberg and Tibi Galis, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.

Listen to Alex talk about the business of literary translation on the Three Percent podcast, with Chad Post and Tom Roberge, here. Read the transcript here.

Read other translations by Alex in Contemporary Czech Prose: Not Necessarily About Politics, the November 2014 issue of Words Without Borders, for which he also served as guest editor.

His translation of Jáchym Topol’s The Devil’s Workshop (2013, Portobello Books) was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. In addition it won an English PEN Award for Writing in Translation, the Typographical Translation Award, and was named to the Fiction Longlist for the Best Translated Book Award.

Alex’s essay “O Pioneer! Michael Henry Heim and the Politics of Czech Literature in English Translation” appeared in The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation, published in 2014 by Open Letter Books.

Also in 2014, Alex was commissioned to create new subtitles for the digital restoration of Closely Watched Trains, the 1966 Oscar-winning film by Jiří Menzel, based on the Bohumil Hrabal novella.

As of 1/​1/​18, Alex’s rates for literary translation range from $0.18 to $0.30 per word, depending on difficulty, time frame, and other factors (including whether or not royalties are paid). His standard editing rate begins at $60 per hour, again depending on difficulty, time frame, and other factors.

Reviews, Interviews, Writings

Selected Works

“. . . a book sure to dazzle and please a great many readers.” – Wall Street Journal
“. . . should help to cement Jáchym Topol’s reputation as one of the most original and compelling European voices at work today.”
Times Literary Supplement
“. . . a gleeful skewering of the Czech national character and a character-rich, dialogue-sassy send-up colored by a lingering Communist legacy.”
Publishers Weekly
“. . . an acutely observed account — compelling despite its grimness — of the lives of its semi-nomadic subjects.”
Times Literary Supplement