Literature beyond borders

Alumni Profile: Daniel Medin, MA ’00, PhD ’05

Daniel Medin is associate professor of comparative literature and English at the American University of Paris. (photo: Nicolas Kovarik/Agence France-Presse)

His official title is associate professor of comparative literature and English at the American University of Paris (AUP). But think of Daniel Medin, MA ’00, PhD ’05, as an evangelist for outstanding contemporary foreign-language writers.

Case in point: Medin is a judge for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. The annual award honors a fictional book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom. The winning title earns a lofty £50,000 ($75,800), split equally between author and translator.

Medin and the four other jurists pored over 160 novels and met several times throughout the winter and early spring to create the prize’s longlist and then select the winner. “What I’m doing doesn’t feel like work,” he says. “It’s a privilege.”

Warm, self-effacing and raise-your-eyebrows smart, Medin works in three languages — German, French and English — allowing him to read fiction by authors famous in their own countries but underrepresented or completely unknown by Anglophones.

When a novelist or poet impresses him, Medin gracefully labors to expose that person’s prose to English-language readers. He publishes translated selections of their work in Music & ­Literature, The White Review and The Cahiers Series, the three literary ­magazines that he helps edit. He also sends copies to publishers, critics and writers all over the world.

“Reading these books is a pleasure,” Medin says. “It’s similar to having something delectable to eat; the delight is enhanced by sharing it with others.”

In 2014 NPR book critic Juan Vidal called each issue of Music & Literature “a gem … especially useful for those interested in breaking their parochial American reading habits.”

In its 250-plus pages, Music & Literature showcases a wide variety of material that has never before appeared in English. For instance, one of the most recent issues, No. 6, contains a lengthy excerpt from Croatian author Dubravka Ugresic’s work-in-progress, “A Story About How Stories Come to Be Written.” The first new fiction from the author in years, it appeared before  the original Croatian edition.

“Daniel brings a fierce intelligence to the project,” says Taylor Davis-Van Atta, publisher of the biannual literary magazine. “I think everyone on staff has benefited from his refined curatorial sensibilities and his skills as an editor.”

Students at AUP also profit from Medin’s voracious reading ­habits. “Daniel is a wonderful teacher — warm, funny, genuine, completely present,” says Madeleine LaRue, a 2012 AUP graduate who now works for Music & Literature. “It was obvious that the material he was teaching was a constant source of delight to him.”

Along with teaching history and literature classes, Medin is also associate director of AUP’s Center for Writers and ­Translators. The center is known for hosting distinguished ­writers such as Hungarian László Krasznahorkai, whose works are now widely translated into English thanks in part to Medin’s efforts.

Medin credits William H. Gass, his mentor at ­Washington University, for fostering his literary vision. Back when Medin was a doctoral student, Gass, now the David May Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in Humanities, headed the ­university’s ­International Writers Center (now the Center for the ­Humanities). “Many of the writers Gass invited became famous,” Medin says. “Lydia Davis and Ha Jin were speakers at the center during my time, before they began to collect awards.”

The team that wins the 2016 Man Booker Prize will have no shortage of exposure, but other exciting writers that Medin discovers through being a jurist will also benefit. Medin’s aim is to make sure that innovative contemporary authors, no matter what language they write in, are known to a wide audience.

“I admire Gass’ vision as a literary advocate,” Medin says, “and I can think of no greater model to follow as a reader, ­editor and judge.”

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