Receives Belgium's highest civilian honor
It wasn't exactly a knighting ceremony with a sword and Queen Elizabeth, but Winthrop University professor Donald Friedman recently was honored by European royalty.
Friedman, a professor of modern languages, traveled to the Belgian Embassy in Washington on Dec. 18 to receive that country's highest civilian honor -- the Order of Leopold -- by decree from King Albert II.
Previous American winners include generals George S. Patton and Dwight Eisenhower.
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Friedman was recognized for his work over the past two decades helping make Belgian literature available to a larger world audience. He has translated the original French text into English.
"It was totally unexpected, but what a delightful way to be honored, particularly for something that I love to do," said Friedman, who has made more than a half-dozen trips to Belgium.
Friedman said Belgium has become his "spiritual homeland."
"I've had inspiring stays in Belgium and many meaningful explorations," he said. "The country's literature is ... incandescent, imbued with the magnetism of dream and the force of poetic illumination."
One artist Friedman is fond of is Marguerite Yourcenar, a French-speaking Belgian writer (1903-1987). Her best-known work is the novel "Memoirs of Hadrian," in which she recreates the life and death of Roman Emperor Hadrian. In 1980, she became the first female member of the French Academy of Literature since its founding in 1635. Friedman translated and edited Yourcenar's "Dreams and Destinies."
He has helped produce 20 volumes of Belgian literature through the Belgian Francophone Library, a series published by Peter Lang Publishing in New York. Friedman is the founder and editor of Belgian Francophone. For more than a decade it has produced English translations of French-speaking authors from Belgium and critical studies, written in English and in French, of Belgian literature, culture and social history.
Dominique Struye de Swielande, the ambassador of Belgium to the U.S., noted at the luncheon that Friedman's interest in Belgium has spanned his academic career. Friedman's doctorate thesis in comparative literature at New York University concentrated on the symbolist milieu of Belgium, and he researched his dissertation for a year in Belgium, sponsored by the Belgian-American Educational Foundation.
The ambassador said the series exposed American audiences to two of Belgium's most illustrious 20th-century writers with their works "The Drowned Land" and "La Vita Breve" by Paul Willems and "Garden of Delights" by Dominique Rolin.
In 2003, Friedman was presented the Laureate of Letters Award from the Belgium Ministry of Culture -- the second American ever to receive the award.
One of the unexpected perks of working with the Belgian government was a trip to Brussels, and the laureate was presented in an elaborate ceremony in the honeymoon suite of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco.
"Like I say, Belgium is an other-worldly place," he said. "And its art and literature reflect that feeling."