Amanda Gorman stole our hearts when she delivered a poem at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. And since then, eyes have been on her for her talent and grace. Opportunities have been flooding in. She’s been tapped to read at other political events, signed a modeling contract days after the inauguration, was invited to speak at the Super Bowl less than a month after the inauguration, and she was interviewed by Michelle Obama for TIME magazine.
All eyes are on Gorman. And by extension the people connected to her as well. Gorman’s words and reputation have extended beyond American society and a collection of her poetry, The Hill We Climb, was to be translated into Dutch.
Dutch publisher, Meulenhoff, tapped 29-year-old Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, a non-binary writer and winner of the International Booker prize, to translate Gorman’s words.
According to The Guardian, Rijneveld, was selected by Gorman herself. But apparently the optics didn’t sit well with people.
Journalist and activist Janice Deul penned a piece for Volkskrant, asking why Rijneveld had been selected.
Deul wrote, “Harvard alumna Gorman, raised by a single mother and labeled a ‘special needs ‘ child due to speech problems, describes herself as ‘ skinny Black girl’. And her work and life are colored by her experiences and identity as a black woman. Isn’t it – to put it mildly – a missed opportunity to hire Marieke Lucas Rijneveld for this job?”
She asked why the publisher hadn’t chosen someone who was more like Gorman herself, particularly when creatives of color are often overlooked for significant opportunities such as this one.
Deul’s words struck a chord. And it wasn’t long before they were echoed by several others who wondered about Rijneveld’s selection.
Though they had previously welcomed the assignment, eventually Rijneveld decided to decline the opportunity. They released a statement explaining their decision.
“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. 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. I still wish that her ideas reach as many readers as possible and open hearts.”
In a statement, following Rijneveld’s departure, Meulenhoff said that they plan to learn from all of this. “We will be looking for a team to work with to bring Amanda’s words and message of hope and inspiration into translation as well as possible and in her spirit.”
There you have it.
I know there are some people who will look at this story and wonder “if it was that deep” or was all that “really necessary.” Personally, I think that if the publisher and the Rijnveld themselves was willing to adjust, then there were was something valid to Deul’s criticisms all along. And as the saying goes, a closed mouth don’t get fed.