Gregory Rabassa
Born(1922-03-09)March 9, 1922
DiedJune 13, 2016(2016-06-13) (aged 94)
AwardsNational Medal of Arts (2006)
Gregory Kolovakos Award (2001)
PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation (1982)
PEN Translation Prize (1977)
National Book Award for Translated Literature (1967)
Academic background
EducationDartmouth College (BA)
Columbia University (PhD)
Academic work
DisciplineSpanish literature
Portuguese literature
InstitutionsColumbia University
Queens College, City University of New York

Gregory Rabassa, ComM, (March 9, 1922 – June 13, 2016) was an American literary translator from Spanish and Portuguese to English. He taught for many years at Columbia University and Queens College.[1]

Life and career

Rabassa was born in Yonkers, New York, to a family headed by a Cuban émigré. After serving during World War II as an OSS cryptographer, he received a bachelor's degree from Dartmouth. He earned his doctorate at Columbia University and taught there for over two decades before accepting a position at Queens College, City University of New York.[2][3][4][5][6]

Rabassa translated literature from Spanish and Portuguese. He produced English-language versions of the works of several major Latin American novelists, including Julio Cortázar, Jorge Amado and Gabriel García Márquez. On the advice of Cortázar, García Márquez waited three years for Rabassa to schedule translating One Hundred Years of Solitude. He later declared Rabassa's translation to be superior to the Spanish original.[7]

He received the PEN Translation Prize in 1977 and the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation in 1982. Rabassa was honored with the Gregory Kolovakos Award from PEN American Center for the expansion of Hispanic Literature to an English-language audience in 2001.[2][3][4]

Rabassa had a particularly close and productive working relation with Cortázar, with whom he shared lifelong passions for jazz and wordplay. For his version of Cortázar's novel, Hopscotch, Rabassa shared the inaugural U.S. National Book Award in Translation.[2][3][4][8]

Rabassa taught at Queens College, from which he retired with the title Distinguished Professor Emeritus. In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[2][3][4]

He wrote a memoir of his experiences as a translator, If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, A Memoir, which was a Los Angeles Times "Favorite Book of the Year" for 2005 and for which he received the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir in 2006.[2][3][4][9]

Translation methods

Rabassa sometimes translated without having read the book beforehand.[4]

In a 2006 interview with the University of Delaware, Rabassa said "I just let the text lead me along. In my mind, the book I’m translating exists in English even before it’s translated. I just have to pull it out. I do a first draft, “write” the book as the author him- or herself would have written it if they’d spoken English. Ideally, a different style emerges for each author being translated".[10]


Rabassa died on June 13, 2016, at a hospice in Branford, Connecticut.[1] He was 94.

Selected translations



  1. ^ a b "Gregory Rabassa, Renowned Translator, Dead at 94". ABC News. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Andrew Bast (May 25, 2004). "A Translator's Long Journey, Page by Page". New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c d e Lucas Rivera. "The Translator in His Labyrinth". Fine Books Magazine. A profile of Gregory Rabassa, the man who brought One Hundred Years of Solitude, Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez' masterpiece, to the English-speaking world.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Hoeksema, Thomas (1978). "The Translator's Voice: An Interview with Gregory Rabassa". Translation Review. 1. Center for Translation Studies, University of Texas at Dallas: 5–18. doi:10.1080/07374836.1978.10523369. S2CID 170390633. Archived from the original on March 8, 2022.
  5. ^ Tobar, Hector (October 17, 2013). "Listening to Gregory Rabassa, the translator's translator". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ "Gregory Rabassa". Words without Borders.
  7. ^ Fox, Margalit (June 15, 2016). "Gregory Rabassa, a Premier Translator of Spanish and Portuguese Fiction, Dies at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2023.
  8. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1967". National Book Foundation. Retrieved March 11, 2012. There was a "Translation" award from 1967 to 1983.
  9. ^ "Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir Winners". Pen American Center. Archived from the original on October 2, 2006.
  10. ^ Brown, Kevin (December 30, 2006). "Gregory Rabassa: An Interview". University of Delaware. Archived from the original on February 5, 2023. Retrieved February 5, 2023.
  11. ^ "Cidadãos Estrangeiros Agraciados com Ordens Portuguesas". Página Oficial das Ordens Honoríficas Portuguesas. Retrieved January 29, 2017.