by Jason Warburg

Headshot of Mariah Rust, smiling and standing outside with trees and a building in the background
Mariah Rust MAT ’22

Middlebury Institute student Mariah Rust MAT ’22 recently learned that she won the prose category of the World Literature Today Student Translation Prize for 2021.

Now in its fourth year, the annual contest is judged by the editorial team of the leading literary journal World Literature Today and “recognizes the talent and promise of translation students worldwide.”

“I was very surprised and extremely excited” about winning first prize, says Rust, a first-year student in the Institute’s MA in Translation program. Her submission for the contest, a translation from French of an excerpt from “Gare du Nord,” a story by Kinshasa-born author Albertine M. Itela, was “the first time I sent any translation out to be considered for publication.”

Rust, who graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in French literature and translation, was encouraged and sponsored in the contest by Professor George Henson. “When Mariah notified me that she had won, I was delighted,” he says. Unlike his student, though, “I wasn’t surprised, because I knew Mariah was an excellent translator.”

“I really love the translation process,” says Rust, “particularly figuring out translation challenges. For example, in the translation I submitted for this contest, it was a challenge to preserve the sentence length and structure as that was an important part of the source text.” She said she chose Itela’s story “not only because I enjoyed her style, but also because I was able to learn something new through her work. I hope that future readers of the translation will have a similar experience.” 

Rust is the second of Professor Henson’s students to win the World Literature Today Student Translation Prize in the past three years. “As a literary translator, I’m always excited when my students show an interest and talent for it. In general, I want my students to practice their craft outside the classroom, to challenge themselves, to enter contests and submit their work for publication, to view themselves as professional translators.”

Rust’s future ambitions include continuing to hone her skills in the discipline. “I really enjoy literary translation and hope that this is just the first of many published translations in my future. I’m also very intrigued by translation theory, particularly the theory of translating neologisms, and plan to do some of my own research in that field in the future.”

I really enjoy literary translation and hope that this is just the first of many published translations in my future.
— Mariah Rust MAT ’22

World Literature Today Executive Director Robert Con Davis-Undiano noted that this prize “continues to attract some of the most talented young translators anywhere.” The journal, one of the oldest continually published literary periodicals in the United States, was founded in 1927 by University of Oklahoma scholar Roy Temple House. The other category of the magazine’s Student Translation Prize, poetry, was won this year by Xin Xu, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at the University of Connecticut.

In addition to her skills as a translator, Rust is also an accomplished Scottish Highland dancer who has performed in Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, and Scotland. “I started learning Scottish Highland dance at the age of seven through an after-school program in my hometown. It was the first extracurricular activity I had ever tried, but I fell in love with it immediately. I’ve now been dancing for about 16 years and have reached the highest competitive level.”

Henson says he hopes that competing in contests such as the World Literature Today Student Translation Prize will help students like Rust “realize that anything is possible.” It seems clear that she already has.