The Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences announced today the creation of a new endowed professorship: The Michael Henry Heim Chair in Central and East European Letters, which will be housed in the College’s Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures. The position was created and endowed by Priscilla Heim in honor of her late husband, an eminent literary scholar, translator, and teacher.
Michael Henry Heim Chair
“We’re deeply thankful for Priscilla’s incredible generosity, and for the opportunity to honor one of the most acclaimed scholars in the field of literary translation,” says Rick Van Kooten, executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Michael Henry Heim’s work as both a scholar and a teacher left an indelible mark on his discipline the world over, and this gift in his honor will help Indiana University remain at the very forefront of translation studies.”
In addition to the creation of this new professorship, Heim’s gift will fund two graduate recruitment fellowships in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures and fund a one-semester visiting professor each year, bolstering a department that’s already acclaimed for both its scholarship and its graduate and undergraduate instruction. The department also houses the primary listserv for the field of Slavic languages and literatures, SEELANGS, with some three thousand subscribers worldwide, and the Department of Defense-funded Russian Flagship Program.
“I am deeply moved to see this honor come to our department,” says Russell Scott Valentino, chair of the Slavic department at IU. “Michael was my teacher, mentor, and friend. It was in his and Priscilla’s home many years ago that I met Breon Mitchell, who was then director of the Lilly Library and himself a translator. Breon was collecting translators’ papers for an archive in the Lilly, where Michael’s papers now reside. I believe those conversations were what started us towards this new chapter. Translation has often had an oddly marginal place in literary studies. Not for Mike, who situated himself right in the in-between space that makes the field so fascinating and so necessary. Priscilla’s generosity will enable us to continue his important legacy.”
Throughout his lengthy career as a translator and professor, Michael Henry Heim’s work spanned an impressive range of languages and cultures, from Croatian and Serbian to Dutch, Czech, German, Romanian, and Russian. He helped pioneer the field of translation studies and served as a faculty member at UCLA for more than 40 years, during which time he became regarded as one of the finest literary translators of the past half-century.
His many translations include Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Nobel-prize winner Günter Grass’ novel My Century and Grass’ memoir Peeling the Onion. In 2005, his translation of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice received the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize.
“I had the great good fortune to know Mike Heim a little through our shared engagement in the American Literary Translators Association,” says Bill Johnston, a professor of comparative literature at Indiana University and the inaugural recipient of the Michael Henry Heim Chair. “He was one of those people you’re lucky to meet once in a lifetime. He combined an awe-inspiring, multilingual brilliance as a translator, with an attentive kindness and generosity that touched all who knew him.”
The recent recipient of the National Translation Award in Poetry for his rendering of Adam Mickiewicz’s rhyming verse narrative Pan Tadeusz, Johnston has also received a Guggenheim Award, the PEN Translation Prize, and the Best Translated Book Award, among many other honors. His duties as the inaugural Heim Chair will include organizing workshops, symposia, and other programming in collaboration with faculty in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures.
“In both his professional excellence and his exceptional collegiality, [Michael Henry Heim] was—more than a role model—an ideal to me,” Johnston says. “I’m deeply honored to take on the chairship in his name. With my colleagues here at Indiana University, I look forward to continuing Mike’s legacy as a translator and scholar, conscious both of the intellectual rigor with which he always approached his work, and of the warmth of spirit that marked all his interactions.”
Director of Advancement Communications
College of Arts and Sciences
Russell Scott Valentino
Chair, Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures
College of Arts and Sciences