Elizabeth Lee Roby teaches all levels of Russian at Friends School in Baltimore, one of the oldest pre-college Russian programs in the country. (Friends Schools around the country were pioneers in exploring Russian-American contacts among young people, during the Cold War, and Lee’s school is proud to carry that tradition into the post-communist period.) A graduate of Kenyon College who went on to do graduate work in Russian and Polish at Indiana University, Lee continues the strong tradition of excellence in the Friends School Russian program. She trains her students to a prizewinning level of proficiency in Russian language and culture, with grounded pedagogy incorporating new approaches and technology as well as traditional and thorough foundation in the language. Her students participate in and achieve honors in American Council of Teachers of Russian contests such as the Olympiada of Spoken Russian and the National Russian Essay Contest. Through her involvement in ACTR Lee has participated in the summer institute for teachers planning a Prototype AP course and is co-Chair of the Maryland Olympiada of Spoken Russian. She is active in state organizations and contributes at a high level to professional conferences such as AATSEEL and ACTFL.
We are pleased this year to recognize the efforts of Central European Slavic Studies in the person of Martin Votruba of the University of Pittsburgh. A tireless teacher, distinguished by his ability to run all aspects of a regional Slavic program while keeping one foot in literature and linguistics, another in cinema, Martin is head of the Slovak Studies Program (housed inside Slavic) and also a member of Film Studies (housed inside English). He is valued by his Pitt colleagues as someone who brings the full strength of his training and expertise to the department, where his advice in shaping its profile is as welcome as his participation in such mundane logistical tasks as the German reading examination or the annual admissions folders. Where he could easily have stepped aside and remained a peripheral colleague, he has unfailingly dedicated his time, attention, and wisdom to fostering a welcoming collegial environment.
Martin holds a Diploma in English Studies from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the PhDr. and PhD from Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia. Among his courses, taught to diverse audiences, are the Slovak and Czech languages, Slovak Transatlantic Cultures, Central European Cinema; and such topical historical offerings as “The Year Communism Crumbled.” Representative publications include “Trends in 20th Century Slovak Filmmaking” (2008); “Linguistic Minorities in Slovakia” (2008); “Slovakia After the Velvet Revolution: A Tale of Two Intelligentsias” in Slavic Almanach 3; and numerous contributions to KinoKultura on individual Slovak films and filmmakers.
Martin is an exemplary citizen of the field well beyond his own institution: whenever anyone posts a question about Slovak on SEELANGS, he responds enthusiastically with useful, detailed answers. He is a model for the smaller, vibrant Slavic languages that, thanks to a university that generously supports its Slavic program and an ample population of heritage speakers, can flourish in certain American communities.
Bob Channon, in Linguistics at Purdue University, received his PhD from Harvard University. His activities as pedagogue and scholarly resource at Purdue — the Indiana state campus specializing in science, math and engineering — are epitomized by his well-populated, legendarily popular Linguistics courses in the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department, and he has evaluated AATSEEL abstracts in Linguistics for several years. Bob has also been closely involved with ACTR. The special service to AATSEEL we would like to single out in this award, however, occurred in 2005-2007, when Bob was indispensable in a necessary upgrade that so few humanists are either eager or competent to do: revising the AATSEEL Constitution and By-Laws. To this task he brought superb attention to detail and a refined and sophisticated sense of the real-life implications of grammar and style. He has been helpful with parliamentary questions as well. Without Bob's gift for precision our organization would be much the poorer, and we are honored to recognize him with this award.
Jerry Janecek has been editor of the Slavic and East European Journal eleven years, since 2001. With his reliable leadership, impeccable good taste and high standards in everything from a balanced selection of outside readers, sound judgment on forums and topics, and choice of formats, fonts, and journal layout, SEEJ has remained the most highly respected philologically-oriented journal in the Slavic field (this singular reputation is widespread in continental Europe).
Jerry is also, of course, an accomplished specialist on Russian avant-garde literature, the Futurists, and early 20th century art. His erudition and meticulous scholarship has carried over to later decades as well, most notably in his research on the early conceptualism writings of postmodernist artist Lev Rubinshtein. Less well known are his activities as a composer of chamber works; since the 1960s he has produced music in a neo-Baroque style (songs, ensemble works for string instruments, and chamber operas). After decades of ushering other people’s essays into print, it is to be hoped that with his move to emeritus status at the University of Kentucky, and with his lamented but eventually inevitable retirement as editor of SEEJ, Jerry will have more time to devote to such primary creativity.
Michael Heim has been a legendary figure in more languages, across more cultural communities, and in more high-profile “confrontations” than any other Slavist of his generation. The scope of his translation and mediation activities is astounding. He has worked actively in over a dozen languages — Russian, Czech / Slovak, Croatian / Serbian, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, Latin, Romanian, Hungarian, now and then even Chinese from an undergraduate major in East Asian Studies — and to each he brings a mastery of its literary and intonational registers. The depth and gentleness of his mentoring to students at UCLA has continued throughout this astonishing steady-state productivity.
Heim’s standing in the field is not, however, due only to his “products,” that is, to the page-proof side of things. With Michael Heim it is always the whole person, engaged up to the hilt. He was there — an active participant — during scandals over the “Englishing” of Vladimir Nabokov and of Milan Kundera, both world-class writers with world-class egos, possessive about their work. Kundera’s treatment of Heim in the nasty controversy over English versions of The Joke was shocking. Yet our translator, at the time a young vulnerable academic, kept his calm and served the interests of the text and its readers.
Heim was indispensable in launching and legitimizing Czech studies in this country, making that marvelous literature available in authoritative and captivating translations (his closest competitor is perhaps William Weaver in Italian). And Heim has never backed off when a cultural crisis threatened to become political in a controversial way. A case in point is the Gunter Grass controversy in 2007-2008, over that Nobel-Prize-winning novelist’s youthful membership in the Waffen-SS. As the translator of Grass’s memoirs, Heim weighed in thoughtfully on the debate.
Heim’s versions of Chekhov’s dramas, which began to be staged in the 1970s and were published in 1999 as The Essential Plays, have stood out in an ocean of competitors. His Kundera, Capek, and Hrabal are unmatched in their droll, prosaic, understated humor; and his capture of the novelistic voice of Dubravka Ugresic, simultaneously cynical and nostalgic, is magical. But there is also a piercingly lyrical side of Heim, when the text and topic is right (his fashioning into English of Predrag Matvejevic’s Mediterranean: A Cultural Landscape is a wonderful example).
Michael Heim is not “merely” a translator, of course, although his most stunning virtues as scholar and critic arise from that polylingual expertise. “Theory” per se does not interest him and he does not need it. He has the skills to work with primary materials. When Heim does comment at one remove from the primary text — on Bohumil Hrabal’s sense of estrangement, for example, or on Central Europe as both fragmented and universal — this commentary always has a solidly inductive flavor to it, steeped in sounds and contexts close to the ground. His long association with the international writers’ organization PEN and especially with its collective of Central European translators, at first traumatized by mandatory service to the Soviet Empire and then orphaned by the demise of that Empire and its reliable commissions, is emblematic of his human role in the liberation of Middle Europe from its masters on both sides.
A good translation, they say, reflects not just words but whole behaviors. Most of us can barely behave in our native tongue, with native-born equipment. Michael Heim “behaves” in fifteen different literatures and cultures, making them all available to one another. We are proud to recognize this world-building achievement.