“White authors should not translate a black person’s work”: Dutch author, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld receives backlash for working on translating Amanda Gorman’s work

Gorman and Rijneveld
Dutch author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld received criticism for working on a translation for Amanda Gorman’s poem. Only last week, Rijneveld had announced on Twitter that Amsterdam-based publisher Meulenhoff had chosen them to translate Gorman’s poetry collection titled “The Hill We Climb” into Dutch.

“Thank you all for all the kind responses to the wonderful and honorable task I have been given to translate Amanda Gorman’s poem and collection. It also raised many questions. Below is a somewhat more detailed explanation.” Rijneveld’s tweeted in Dutch.

However, this decision of a white woman given the task of translating a black woman’s work received a lot of criticism from the general public, who argued that it seemed inappropriate for a white person to be translating a black woman’s work. Dutch cultural activist and journalist Janice Deul, was also one of the people who did not support the decision of Rijneveld translating Gorman’s poem.

“Not to take anything away from Rijneveld’s qualities, but why not choose a writer who is — just like Gorman — a spoken-word artist, young, female, and unapologetically Black?”, she said In an opinion piece for the newspaper de Volkskrant.

This backlash ultimately let Rijneveld to withdraw their decision of translating the poem.

“I am shocked by the uproar surrounding my involvement in the spread of Amanda Gorman’s message and I understand the people who feel hurt by Meulenhoff’s choice to ask me,” they said in a statement this week. “I had happily devoted myself to translating Amanda’s work, seeing it as the greatest task to keep her strength, tone and style. However, I realise that I am in a position to think and feel that way, where many are not.”

Now, Rijneveld has written a poem in response to the backlash that they faced. They took to their Twitter account, and wrote, “The best way to express my thoughts and feelings to the upheaval surrounding the translation of Amanda Gorman was by writing a poem. Today my poem ´Everything Inhabitable´ is in De Volkskrant, The Guardian, De Standaard, FAZ and in Marianne.”

The poem was first published by the Guardian, and in the poem, Rijneveld writes in second person, saying that they have been “able to grasp when it / isn’t your place, when you must kneel for a poem because / another person can make it more inhabitable.”

“You actively need to feel the hope that / you are doing something to improve the world, though you mustn’t / forget this: stand up again after kneeling and straighten together our backs,” they write.

Read the full version of the poem here.

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