Author to read from ‘Beowulf: A New Translation’

Campus & Community

January 29, 2021

The Literary Arts Institute (LAI) at the College of Saint Benedict is coming full circle with the classic English poem “Beowulf.”

Author Maria Dahvana Headley will read selections of her writing, including from her recent, acclaimed “Beowulf: A New Translation” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020) during a streamed event at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10. The event’s URL will be posted about one week prior to the event at the LAI’s upcoming events section.

The reading, part of the LAI’s Minnesota Street Visiting Writers Series, will be followed by a conversation with Headley and Rachel Marston, associate director of the LAI and associate professor in the English Department at CSB and Saint John’s University. The virtual audience will also be able to ask questions through the chat in YouTube, where the event will be live streamed.

It’s the second time in less than 10 years that the LAI has hosted a person that has translated Beowulf, consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines.

In October 2011, Irish poet, playwright and translator Seamus Heaney visited the LAI and gave a public reading. Among his more famous works was his prize-winning “Beowulf: A New Verse Translation” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), which was considered groundbreaking in its use of modern language melded with the original Anglo-Saxon “music,” according to the Poetry Foundation.

Headley’s “Beowulf: A New Translation” emphasizes the role of othering and “monsterizing,” as she puts it. The translation was named by Kirkus, NPR and The New Statesman as a Book of the Year.

“Beowulf is not a text about heroic whiteness – it is a text about wealth and privilege and comfort, and the ways in which wealth and privilege and comfort don’t necessarily equate to goodness,” Headley said in an interview with Locus Magazine.

This wasn’t the first work she did surrounding Beowulf.

Headley’s novel, “The Mere Wife” (MCD x FSG, 2018), is a retelling of Beowulf focusing on Grendel’s mother. The novel looks at gender and the ways in which Grendel's mother has been categorized as a monster by those in power.

On her blog, Headley writes, “Needless to say, I believe that monsterhood is in the eye of the beholder, and that’s what the book is about. It’s a very feminist, very fiery take on myths of both monsterhood and masculinity.”

In addition to her books for adults, she’s written two young adult novels (“Magonia” and “Aerie,” HarperCollins, 2015 and 2016), and an internationally bestselling memoir about dating, “The Year of Yes.”

Headley’s genre-bending short fiction has been shortlisted for the Nebula, Shirley Jackson and Tiptree Awards, as well as for the 2020 Joyce Carol Oates Prize, and has been anthologized in Best American Fantasy and Science Fiction, Best American Experimental Writing and Best American Erotica.

Her essays on gender, chronic illness, politics, propaganda and mythology have been published and covered in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Harvard’s Nieman Storyboard and elsewhere. Her work has been supported by The MacDowell Colony, Arte Studio Ginestrelle and the Sundance Institute’s Theatre Lab, among other organizations.

The Minnesota Street Writers Series allows the campus community and general public to engage with influential writers, poets, memoirists, fiction writers and essayists who share the passion and pitfalls of the creative process as they present.

The series has hosted notable writers, including those recognized as Pulitzer Prize winners and U.S. Poet Laureates, including Louise Erdich, Terry Eagleton, Anne Carson, Claudia Rankine, Robert Pinsky, Donald Hall, Marilynne Robinson, Billy Collins, Charles Simic, Robert Hass, Tracy K. Smith and W.S. Merwin.

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Maria Dahvana Headley
Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan

Beowulf translation cover