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SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

First American to Receive the Dan Turèll Prize:
Author and Translator Thomas E. Kennedy

compiled by Clare MacQueen

Photo of Medalion, The Dan Turell Prize 2016  

The sterling silver medal awarded to Tom Kennedy on 19 March 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark, on what would have been Dan Turèll’s 70th birthday. The medalion was engraved by Danish artist and sculptor Barry Lereng Wilmont, with the technique used in the 15th century by Italian medalist Pisanello.


My co-editors and I are thrilled and very proud that our dear friend and treasured colleague, Contributing Editor Thomas E. Kennedy, has been awarded The Dan Turèll Prize for 2016. The prize was established in 1994 to award artists whose work best represents the spirit of Danish poet Dan Turèll’s writings—and Kennedy is the first American to receive it. Congratulations, Tom!

Turèll enjoyed critical and popular acclaim during his lifetime and has achieved cult-figure status in Denmark. More than 100 of his books were published before his death at the age of forty-seven, and his work continues to be revered more than twenty years since.

Lars Movin, a Board member of the Dan Turèll Society, in his speech given before presenting the medal at this year’s award ceremony in March, refers to Kennedy as the “Ambassador of Danish Literature in the English-Speaking World.” By conferring this award on Kennedy, the Society honors his “tireless promote Dan Turèll (and numerous other Danish poets and writers)...”1

Photo of Thomas E. Kennedy Acceptance Speech, by Lars Movin
19 March 2016: Thomas E. Kennedy
Acceptance speech, Vangede Library, Copenhagen
(Photo by Lars Movin)

As further described in the press release from the Society, Dan Turèll “marched directly into the Danish language and into Danish hearts” in 1977 with his poem, “Gennem Byen Sidst Gang,” from his poetry collection, Big City Blues. That poem became “iconic for the all too prematurely dead writer and is often cited as a picture of departure and the fleeting nature of life.” Through Kennedy’s translations of Turèll’s work, the poem has spread beyond Denmark and is available to readers of English, under the title of Last Walk Through the City.

(In 2013, PlantSounds Records issued an INTRODUCTION: DAN TURÈLL+HALFDAN E meets THOMAS E KENNEDY, a CD on which Kennedy reads his translations of twelve of Turèll’s lyrics—including “Last Walk Through the City”—accompanied by Halfdan E’s musical soundtrack. SHJ-8 includes an audio clip.)

Beginning in 2009, about 40 of Turèll’s poems, plus half a dozen essays about his work, have been published in some of the best American literary journals, as Kennedy describes in Translating Dan Turèll’s Poetry.

New Letters was the first publisher of Turèll’s poems in English translation, along with Kennedy’s essay of introduction “Uncle Danny Comes to America” (Winter 2009, Volume 75, Nos. 2 & 3). An excerpt from Turèll’s memoir Vangede Pictures (translated by Kennedy) appears in the Winter 2016 issue of New Letters, a preview of which is available online.

Photo of Thomas E. Kennedy at Onkel Danny's Burgers, by Dave Sorensen
19 March 2016: Kennedy with his Dan Turèll Medal outside
the Vangede Library in Copenhagen, Denmark; Turèll sometimes
used the name “Uncle Danny”—and the Kebab-man does, too.
(Photograph by Dave Sorensen)

Recipients of The Dan Turèll Prize, during its first decade, were presented with a necktie from “Uncle Danny’s” clothes closet. The Dan Turèll Medal, cast in bronze, was presented for the first time in 2012, to playwright Astrid Saalbach; in 2013 to rap lyricist Per Vers; in 2014 to poet Rasmus Halling Nielsen; and in 2015 to detective writer Jesper Stein. The medal was designed and executed by Danish artist Barry Lereng Wilmont,2 and, to commemorate what would have been Turèll’s 70th birthday, this year’s medal was cast in silver.

Photo of Thomas E. Kennedy and Medal, by Steen Møller Rasmussen
19 March 2016: Vangede Library, Copenhagen
Kennedy displays medal to appreciative audience
(Photo by Steen Møller Rasmussen)

We are delighted to feature in SHJ-14 the news of this latest of Kennedy’s achievements. And we are grateful for his generous contributions of his translations, not only for this issue but also for several of our previous issues—and not only of Dan Turèll’s poems,3 but also of works by other Danish writers, including Karsten Bjarnholt, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Johannes Ewald, Uffe Harder, Line-Maria Lång, and Lars Movin.4

Again, congratulations, Tom—and mange tak!



1. From the press release by the Dan Turèll Society, reprinted in English by Fairleigh Dickinson University: MFA Faculty Thomas E. Kennedy Receives This Year’s Dan Turèll Medal

2. Four lithographs by Barry Lereng Wilmont, Danish painter and sculptor, accompany Kennedy’s translation of Dan Turèll’s iconic poem, Last Walk Through the City.

3. Four of Kennedy’s translations of poems by Turèll appear here in SHJ-14: Autumn Blues, Behind Every Single Window, Midnight Mass, and Shop Window Blues.

4. Please see our Index listings for easy retrieval of works by these artists in translation.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury