Croft’s new novel well-received locally, globally - The University of Tulsa
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Croft’s new novel well-received locally, globally

Jennifer CroftFor most of her career, University of Tulsa Presidential Professor Jennifer Croft has been known for translating other people’s books. Now, she has written a novel of her own titled “The Extinction of Irena Rey.” The story focuses on a cast of literary translators, like Croft herself, and their search for a famous author who’s gone missing.

Croft (BA ’01) and her newest work were feted at a March 12 book launch hosted by TU’s Oklahoma Center for the Humanities. Croft discussed her novel in conversation with Provost George Justice and answered questions from the audience.

“I’m thrilled to take this opportunity to invite readers to reflect on the collaborative nature of art and on the role of translation in particular in the global literary ecosystem,” said Croft. “After launch-week at the New York Public Library, the Harvard Book Store, the Tucson Book Festival, and elsewhere, it was especially exciting to get to talk about this book here in Tulsa, with such a lively, thoughtful, and varied audience.”

In “The Extinction of Irena Rey,” eight translators arrive at a house in a primeval Polish forest on the border of Belarus. It belongs to the world-renowned author Irena Rey, and they are there to translate her magnum opus, “Gray Eminence.” But within days of their arrival, Rey disappears without a trace.

The translators, who all hail from different countries but share the same reverence for the beloved author, begin to investigate where she may have gone while proceeding with work on her masterpiece. But doing so reveals secrets – and deceptions – of Rey’s for which they are utterly unprepared. Forced to face their differences as they grow increasingly paranoid in this fever dream of isolation and obsession, the translators are soon tangled in a web of rivalries and desire, threatening not only their work but Rey’s fate.

Already Croft’s novel is receiving rave reviews from critics. The Washington Post describes it as “a blackly comic, fiercely inventive drama,” and Publisher’s Weekly hails it as “a wickedly funny mystery.” The Guardian, meanwhile, called the novel “a pleasure” made so by “the uniqueness of its perspective. Reading a translator translating a translator is a brain-twister like no other, and it can’t fail to change the way you think about language.” Concluding their glowing review, NPR noted that “Croft has certainly added ‘novelist’ to the list of writing-related skills she excels at, and what a joy that is to witness.”

Croft, who teaches in the Department of English & Creative Writing at TU’s Kendall College of Arts & Sciences, is renowned for her translations of works from Ukrainian, Polish, and Argentine Spanish authors, most notably Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and her novel “Flights,” for which Croft, alongside Tokarczuk, was awarded the 2018 Man Booker International Prize.

Croft is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, MacDowell, and National Endowment for the Arts grants and fellowships, as well as the inaugural Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation, the 2018 Found in Translation Award, and a Tin House Scholarship for her memoir “Homesick.” Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Guardian, in addition to countless other outlets. Croft holds a doctorate from Northwestern University and a master’s degree from the University of Iowa.