Discussion Group: Co-Translating Polish Literature

Cover of Andrzej Franaszek's Miłosz: A Biography, translated by Aleksandra and Michael Parker

In this week’s session, we were joined by Aleksandra and Michael Parker who spoke about their work as translators of Polish literature into English. They shared with us their reflections on the method of collaborative translation, as well as adaptation of Polish-language literature to the needs of Anglophone audiences. We heard about what first drew them to translation, and, in particular, what prompted the difficult task of translating Czesław Miłosz’s monumental biography. Professor Parker also told us how his work as a scholar of Northern Irish and Irish literature, and of postcolonialism, feeds into his understanding of Eastern Europe, and how these two, seemingly disparate, areas of academic activity can lead to a fascinating and intellectually productive dialogue. Finally, the speakers talked about their future translation projects.


Michael Parker works as a tutor in Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, and to date has published nine books and many essays on Irish, British, Postcolonial and Eastern European literature and their historical contexts. He is currently working on Seamus Heaney: Legacies, Afterlives, a critical study of the poetry and prose, which also explores his extensive work as a translator.

Aleksandra Parker is a translator of Polish and teacher of Russian, who has worked as a tutor and external examiner for the University of Manchester, Salford and Central Lancashire. In the mid- and late-1980s, her co-translations with her husband of the poems of Stanisław Barańczak, appeared in the Times Literary SupplementVerse and Honest Ulsterman, but more recently her focus has turned to Polish literary biographies.   

Together, Aleksandra and Michael translated Andrzej Franaszek’s award-winning biography of Czesław Miłosz, the Polish Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature (1980). Their translation has earned great accolades, with Jerzy Jarniewicz, a renowned Polish literary scholar and translator, writing that the biography’s “English version has been impeccably translated and edited by Aleksandra and Michael Parker, who also did a wonderful job adapting the book to the requirements of the Anglophone market and abridging it to 500 pages (as opposed to almost one thousand in Polish). The translators did something even more valuable: they wrote informative, explanatory passages, which introduce English-speaking readers to historical and social background” (Areté).