CNN  — 

Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, who won the International Booker Prize in 2020, has withdrawn from a project to translate Black American poet Amanda Gorman’s work following a backlash against the commission.

Rijneveld, who is White and non-binary, announced they were to work on the project with publisher Meulenhoff on February 23, only to say they had handed back the commission three days later.

“I am shocked by the uproar around my involvement in the spread of the Amanda Gorman’s message, and I understand the people who feel hurt by Meulenhoff’s decision to ask me,” wrote Rijneveld.

Critics of the appointment questioned why a White writer had been chosen to translate the work of a Black writer.

Dutch cultural activist Janice Deul questioned the move in an op-ed for Dutch outlet De Volkskrant, published February 25.

Gorman is the US youth poet laureate.

“An incomprehensible choice, in my opinion and that of many others who expressed their pain, frustration, anger, and disappointment via social media,” wrote Deul.

Gorman describes herself as a “skinny black girl,” said Deul.

“And her work and life have been colored by her experience and identity as a black woman. Is it – to say the least – not a missed opportunity to hire Marieke Lucas Rijneveld for this job?” she added, pointing out that the Dutch writer has “no experience in this area.”

“Nothing to detriment of Rijnveld’s qualities, but why not choose a writer who – just like Gorman – is a spoken word artist, young, female, and unapologetically Black?,” said Deul.

Rijneveld said they thought it was “a great and honorable assignment” to translate “The Hill We Climb,” the poem which Gorman read at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration, as well as the poet’s first collection of poems.

Amanda Gorman, a 23-year-old Black woman who is the United States' first-ever youth poet laureate, recited a poem at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Youth poet laureate recites her stunning poem at Biden inauguration (2021)
05:32 - Source: CNN

“Amanda’s team have said that they still stand behind Meulenhoff’s choice and I thank her for the trust that has been placed in me. What interests me is the richness of language,” they wrote.

“I happily devoted myself to translating Amanda’s work, in which I saw the greatest task as keeping her power, tone, and style. But I am well aware that I am in a position to think and feel like that, where many are not. I still wish that her ideas reach as many readers as possible, and opens many hearts.”

Gorman retweeted Rijneveld’s tweet revealing the commission when it was announced on February 23.

CNN has contacted Gorman’s representatives for comment.

Meulenhoff said it understood Rijneveld’s decision in a statement published on Twitter on Friday.

“We want to learn from this, through dialogue, and we are going to walk down a different path with the new insights,” said Maaike le Noble, Meulenhoff general director, in the statement.

“We are looking for a team to work with to translate Amanda’s words and message of hope and inspiration as best as possible, and in her spirit.”

CNN has contacted Meulenhoff for further comment.

Deul then responded in a tweet which included images of the statements from Meulenhoff and Rijneveld: “Thank you for this decision.”

Gorman is the US youth poet laureate and was one of the breakout stars of Biden’s presidential inauguration.

As well as moving onlookers in Washington and around the world, the Los Angeles native also impressed with her vivid fashion choices.

Gorman later signed with IMG Models, one of the world’s biggest modeling agencies, which represents fashion heavyweights like Kate Moss and Gisele Bündchen.