I will be talking with Rachel Cusk at the New York Public Library on April 2 at 7pm

I have the amazing honor of being Rachel Cusk’s “conversation partner” at the NYPL! I am a great admirer of Rachel’s writing and we share a passion/obsession for the work of Natalia Ginzburg. Rachel wrote an excellent introduction to Ginzburg’s Little Virtues, a collection of stunning and groundbreaking essays. “My Vocation” and “He and I” are fundamental texts to me as a writer and a woman. 

I hope you can join Rachel and me at the New York Public Library! 

Rachel Cusk with Jenny McPhee

Rachel Cusk with Jenny McPhee

The Outline Trilogy—The Novel Reinvented

Tuesday, April 2 | 7 PM

A pioneer of fiction speaks about her characters and herself.

The best-selling British author Rachel Cusk is credited for reinventing the form of the novel, hooking readers with an inimitable voice, and unconventional sense of plot. In her groundbreaking trilogy—OutlineTransit, and Kudos—Cusk explores the nature of family, art, love, and suffering as her protagonist, a writer named Faye, encounters friends and strangers in the course of her daily life. Through a series of conversations that read almost as oral histories, Cusk reveals a panoply of people and places who cross Faye’s path and shape her world.

As the final volume makes its paperback debut, Cusk looks back at the trilogy as a whole to discuss her unique brand of suspense and storytelling. She will be joined in conversation by author and translator Jenny McPhee.

Get tickets.


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Refreshing A Mother’s Memory With Love, Read by Zoe Saldana–The Podcast from NYTimes Modern Love


Wow. It was pretty incredible for me to hear this piece read brilliantly by Zoe Saldana. She is amazing. And so is Mom, still, two years later. Recently, she said to me, “I don’t know who your parents are, but they did a really fine job.” Yes they did.

Brian Rea for The New York Times
Brian Rea for The New York Times
(Fabuloulsy produced by Caitlin O’Keefe)

Dementia can alter someone’s personality and change how how they interact with the world. But sometimes, it can also lead to moments of profound connection. Jenny McPhee writes about one of those moments, in her piece, “Refreshing a Mother’s Memory with Love and Stories.”

It’s read by Zoe Saldana. She has starred in “Avatar” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and you can see her next month in “Missing Link.” And she’s also the founder of the new media platform BESE.

Where Are They Now?

Jenny McPhee’s essay came out in 2017. Since then, her mother’s dementia has progressed further, and she doesn’t recognize Jenny anymore. And her mother has also lost her sense of the passage of time.

“Most of the time she thinks she’s about eighteen. But then she’ll be 35 the next minute. She’s very rarely 82,” Jenny says. “So it all shifts. And you, as her interlocutor, are just trying to keep up. It’s also spatial. She doesn’t recognize that she’s in her own home. She often thinks she’s in her childhood home. So what is the brain doing there? It’s just going all over the place, to memories, or stories, or thought, who knows what it is? But it has very little what we call coherence. And I try to just be with her in it.”

And there have been other changes, and, in some ways, an unexpected silver lining.

“I’m going to be brutally honest: she’s a much nicer person,” Jenny says. “She was always lovely and everybody adored her, but she had a side to her that had an edge, and she could be very manipulative. She cannot be manipulative now at all. So she’s just lovely. And I feel really lucky because I know with dementia that it can go many different ways. But she went soft.”

“Every time I walk into her house in New Jersey she comes up to me and she just throws her arms around me and says, ‘Oh, I’m so happy to see you.’ She has no idea who I am. But she knows something that gives her that impulse to do that with me, and it makes me feel like the most beautiful, important, wonderful person on earth.”

And Jenny still thinks about the moment she wrote about in her piece.

“This experience is heartbreaking from beginning to end. But mom, in this experience with Joan that I then wrote about, kind of showed us how to be with her,” Jenny says. “I feel like she really just wants us to be present with her in the moment. And it’s an incredible gift. At the same time as it being really difficult, it’s also an alternate way of being in our world, and I’m grateful for that experience.”

Voices in this Episode

Zoe Saldana arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Zoe Saldana arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last spring, Zoe Saldana is herself the epitome of a true star in Hollywood, earning a reputation as a versatile and respected actress by choosing roles that she feels passionately about. She recently reprised her role as the fan-favorite ‘Gamora,’ in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity Wars,” which became the first superhero film to gross over $2 billion worldwide and became the fourth-highest grossing film of all time. Saldana is the only actress in history to star in multiple movies that have passed the $2 billion worldwide mark. Additionally, she starred in the independent drama “I Kill Giants” directed by Anders Walter based on the comic book of the same name. Saldana also lent her talents as the voice of Captain Celaeno in the animated Lionsgate film, “My Little Pony: The Movie” and will again lend her voice in 2019 in the animated Laika Entertainment film “Missing Link” as adventurer Adelina Fortnight opposite Hugh Jackman, Emma Thompson, and Zach Galifianakis.

Saldana is currently focused on BESE (prounced “Bee-Seh”), her digital platform reshaping the cultural narrative by shining light on the untold stories that reflect today’s America. This platform provides a voice to Latinx youth through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram as well as YouTube videos and podcasts. BESE fills a niche for young LATINX audiences craving positive portrayals of the modern AMERICAN experience.

Saldana is best known in her starring role as ‘Neytiri’ in the record breaking film, “Avatar,” James Cameron’s sci-fi thriller, co-starring Sigourney Weaver and Sam Worthington. “Avatar” quickly became the highest grossing film of all time, winning the 2010 Golden Globe for Best Director and Best Picture. “Avatar” went on to receive a total of nine 2010 Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture. Saldana is currently in production on the film’s highly anticipated sequels “Avatar 2, 3 and 4” slated for a 2019 release.

When not in production, Saldana engages in meaningful philanthropic work involving children’s development, well-being and confidence building. Saldana has been very vocal in her involvement with Brave Beginnings. The organization focuses on bringing essential life-saving equipment and services to seriously ill children and their families. Brave Beginnings specifically works to ensure ventilators and life-saving neonatal equipment are always available to newborns in critical need.

Saldana is also the Global Ambassador for Shot@Life. Shot@Life aims to ensure that children around the world have access to life-saving vaccines. Through education, advocacy and fundraising, they strive to decrease vaccine-preventable childhood deaths and give every child a shot at a healthy life no matter where they live. It is a campaign of the United Nations Foundation, which builds public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the United Nations through advocacy and public outreach.

Additionally, Saldana also lends her support to The Step Up Network – an organization which works to propel young women from under-resourced communities to fulfill their potential by empowering them to become confident, college-bound and career-focused leaders. The organization offers effective after school programs as well as influential mentorships. Each year the organization holds their Annual Inspiration Awards Gala in which Saldana was honored in 2014.

Saldana was born and raised in New York. When not on location, she resides in Los Angeles with her husband and three boys.

Jenny McPhee is the author of the novels The Center of Things, No Ordinary Matter, and A Man of No Moon, and she co-authored Girls: Ordinary Girls and Their Extraordinary Pursuits. Her translations from the Italian include books by the authors Natalia Ginzburg, Primo Levi, Giacomo Leopardi, Curzio Malaparte, Anna Maria Ortese, Paolo Maurensig, and Pope John Paul II. She is the Director of the Center for Applied Liberal Arts at NYU’s School of Professional Studies. She teaches literary translation at NYU and at Princeton University. She co founded the Bronx Academy of Letters, an NYC public high school and middle school.

Caitlin O’Keefe  Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Caitlin O’Keefe is a producer of podcasts and new programming at WBUR.



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Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice) Screening on November 19


I will be introducing Giuseppe De Santis’ quite extraordinary neorealist noir Bitter Rice (Riso Amaro) starring the amazing Silvana Mangano in a free screening at NYU’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò in conjunction with Grey Art Gallery’s really terrific exhibition: NeoRealism: The New Image in Italy 1932-1960

at 6:30pm on November 19th

riso amaro

Click here for further details

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A nomination for a prize! Thanks ALTA! But above all, thanks Natalia, for this and so much more.

Announcing the 2018 Italian Prose in Translation Award Shortlist

The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) is delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2018 Italian Prose in Translation Award. Starting in 2015, the Italian Prose in Translation Award (IPTA) recognizes the importance of contemporary Italian prose (fiction and literary non-fiction) and promotes the translation of Italian works into English. This prize is awarded annually to a translator of a recent work of Italian prose (fiction or literary non-fiction). This year’s judges are Geoffrey Brock, Peter Constantine, and Sarah Stickney.

The award-winning book and translator for 2018 will receive a $5,000 cash prize, and the award will be announced during ALTA’s annual conference, ALTA41: Performance, Props, and Platforms, held this year in Bloomington, IN from October 31 – November 3, 2018. If you can’t join us in person, follow our Twitter (@LitTranslate) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/literarytranslators) for the announcement of the winners!

♦ Family Lexicon By Natalia Ginzburg Translated from the Italian by Jenny McPhee (NYRB Classics):

Jenny McPhee’s pellucid new translation of Natalia Ginzburg’s 1963 masterpiece, Family Lexicon, is the best English version yet of this genre-defying classic. “The places, events, and people in this book are real,” Ginzburg tells us in her famously monitory preface; “I haven’t invented a thing.” And though she calls it “the story of my family” and claims to have written “only what I remember,” she insists we read it “as if it were a novel.”

Family Lexicon

♦ The Breaking of a Wave By Fabio Genovesi Translated from the Italian by Will Schutt (Europa Editions):

Fabio Genovesi’s novel, Chi Manda Le Onde, has been skillfully translated into English by Will Schutt under the title The Breaking of a Wave. The sprawling novel with its cast of charming misfits won the Strega Prize for Young Authors in 2015. Marked by irony and tenderness, the story swirls among various perspectives.

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♦ For Isabel, A Mandala By Antonio Tabucchi Translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris (Archipelago Books):

Translated by Elizabeth Harris, Antonio Tabucchi’s For Isabel, A Mandala leads the reader through a “mandala of consciousness.” This novella is at once a mystery, a magical-realist fairy tale, and a travelogue.


♦ These Possible Lives By Fleur Jaeggy Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor (New Directions):

Fleur Jaeggy’s These Possible Lives, translated by Minna Zallman Proctor, is a book of three short but labyrinthine biographical pieces that recreate in intricate distilled detail the lives of the British literary giants Thomas De Quincey and John Keats, and the French Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob. Jaeggy, a Swiss author who writes in Italian, is a virtuoso stylist, her prose crossing genres from biographical essay to prose poem to literary criticism.


♦ Ties By Domenico Starnone Translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri (Europa Editions):

Jhumpa Lahiri’s much-discussed love affair with the Italian language has born welcome new fruit: in her debut as a translator, she offers a stylistically and tonally assured version of Domenico Starnone’s harrowing thirteenth novel, Ties, about the effects of an affair on a Neapolitan family.

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Obituary of the Last Radium Girl (#2)

Mae Keane

Obituary of the Last Radium Girl
Mae Keane dies at 107

She stunk at the job. Faster, fast, faster,
the boss barked. No slacking slacker
at eight cents a dial. She watched
the clock her small hands made glow–
a face incandescent, luminescent with radio-
active radium paint.

Here’s a tip, use your lips
to sharpen the bristles. Dip
your brush in the glow,
suck, suck, &
wrist watches will flow. But she
grimaced, told the boss “lip-pointing, no!”

He barked her out of a job.
That was 1924. In ‘27
the dying began gums
bleeding, bones
jaws Mae, mostly
spared, lost her

then came colon &

But on she ticked. What luck!
She’d stunk at her job.

(David Owens, The Hartford Courant, March 3, 2014)


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Translation Reviews Round-Up

Los Angeles Review of Books Interview

When Nathan Scott McNamara from the Los Angeles Review of Books wrote to ask if we could talk, particularly about my three most recent translations, I wrote back, “I am a devotee of all things translation as to me all writing is translation, translation the essence of all writing. I translate in order to become a better writer. I write in order to become a better translator. So yes, gladly. Ask away.” Click here to read A Perpetual Layering of Language and Meaning: An Interview with Writer and Translator Jenny McPhee.

Neapolitan Chronicles                                                Anna Maria Ortese

“Ortese’s people are all in primary colors, so vivid that they jump off the page. Moreover, it is splendidly translated by two masters of their trade, Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee…this book will be of interest to Ferrante fans. But Ortese is worth reading for herself. Her mixture of the surreal and the real in all of this work is original and compelling. An example of prose that has lasted and will continue to do so.” – The Arts Fuse

“This collection of writing and reportage about Naples was a major inspiration for Elena Ferrante. Ortese’s portrait of the Italian city just after World War II is of a place of poverty and desperation.” – The New York Times, New & Noteworthy

“The texts in this book are kept together by a tension in the gaze, which wants to avert the eyes and cannot do it because compelled to watch, compelled to witness, and to write. And it is not her private world Ortese wants us to see: but to take part in the intensity of her scrutiny, to see with her.” – minor literature[s]

“Elena Ferrante has cited Ortese (1914-98) as one of her greatest influences, and the connections are obvious in this collection of short stories and essays, which infuse a grimy, chaotic Naples with unsentimental menace rather than romantic mystique. Ortese gathers concrete details about the realities of poverty, and, like Ferrante, delineates moments of status tension with blunt accuracy. The narrator of ‘The Silence of Reason’ encounters an old literary friend and describes his presence in the room as ‘an abyss, a chasm full of hands clapping, which created a desolate sound, an endless sigh.’ The story’s skewering of Neapolitan intellectuals caused such an outrage that Ortese had to leave the city.” – The New Yorker, Briefly Noted

“The new edition of Neapolitan Chronicles, by Elena Ferrante’s English translator Ann Goldstein and co-translator Jenny McPhee, presents more reason for celebration than simply the re-emergence of this seminal work. For one thing, until now, Ortese’s book has never appeared in English in its entirety; Frances Frenaye’s 1955 translation lopped off part of the longest of the five pieces that make up the volume and added three not present in the original. For another thing, Goldstein and McPhee have included a preface and afterword Ortese wrote for Roberto Calasso’s 1994 Italian re-issue, and these commentaries by Ortese help to illuminate her aims in writing the book as well as her feelings about its rocky reception by Neapolitans. The translators’ own introduction provides additional context.” – seraillon

“Though it has patches of satisfactory writing, ‘Neapolitan Chronicles’ is a shallow, obtuse, insufferable book, its faults so glaring and pervasive that I fail to understand how anyone can overlook them.” – The Wall Street Journal

(I found this WSJ review pretty interesting in its fierce negativity. It is not unlike how the Sud group responded to Ortese’s book–and Ortese–when it was first published. The reviewer here shows no interest in Ortese as a literary figure at a time and place, sadly a very common critical approach to women authors. In any case, reviews come and go. The book remains.)

“The translator is often hidden in publishing’s shadows (indeed, the series of events for translators at Italy’s biggest book fair is actually called “The Invisible Author.”) But many readers of Ortese may actually find their way to this book through the two translators that have brought her work to English-speaking readers: Ann Goldstein, Elena Ferrante’s translator, and Jenny McPhee, an accomplished novelist whose new translation last year of Natalia Ginzburg’s seminal work of nonfiction, Family Lexicon, was widely lauded.” – Cleaver Magazine

The Kremlin Ball            Moscow, view of Red Square with St. Basil Cathedral and Spasskaya Tower, 1931

“This is a glimpse of 1920s Moscow, among the Soviet high society. It’s the aftertaste of the revolution. Published posthumously, Malaparte’s court chronicle captures Stalin as the surveyor of every intrigue and scandal from his nightly opera box.” – The New York Times, New & Noteworthy

“Malaparte drops names, titles, and geography freely, and this version of the text has excellent notes that keep someone less familiar with Moscow and Soviet people well informed, while Jenny McPhee’s introduction helps to frame the book with Malaparte’s biography.” – Cleaver Magazine

“Malaparte is bedeviled by the issue of religion in Russia’s new communist heart. Where does Christ fit in this loudly, mockingly atheist realm? Furthermore, where is death? Malaparte’s musings on the fate of the old guard – among them such characters as Leon Trotsky’s sister – are both referential and, thanks to Jenny McPhee’s translation, effortlessly flowing. The narrator’s speculations about the aristocrats are interwoven with colorful traceries of Moscow. As the dream of communism sours, Malaparte explores the repressed sentimentalism and despair of his hosts, and the ominous shadow of something more dangerous than idealism.” – The Arkansas International

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Dying #5


The motions

I’ve got these down

they are expensive

they cost me


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