Esther Allen - who was serving as Chair of the PEN Translation Committee in 2003 when the Fund came into being - recalls:
I first met Michael Henry Heim in the spring of 2003. He had contacted me by e-mail a week earlier and asked me to set up a morning meeting at the PEN offices. I was very much aware of his work, but had never before had any contact with him. He came to that meeting straight from the airport; he had just flown in from L.A. on a red-eye.
He announced to PEN's executive director, chief of development, and myself (all three of us meeting him for the first time that day), that he was deeply concerned about the situation of translation in the United States, and intent on doing something about it. He had just turned 60, he said, and that had started him thinking about what the most effective thing might be. He had decided to establish a fund at PEN American Center, with a donation of $734,000, so that PEN could begin giving grants in support of translation.
He was enormously embarrassed at the thought of being publicly associated with the donation, and insisted on complete anonymity. Mike had a visceral horror of money, which he associated with excess and waste and all of the things he most deplored. He explained that the money was the accrued earnings from the investment of the death benefit that his mother received in 1945, when his father, a Hungarian composer and pastry chef who was serving in the U.S. military, was killed in an accident at a military base; Mike was just a toddler at the time.Michael Henry Heim passed away the night before last at his home in Los Angeles, and his wife, Priscilla, has now given permission for us to reveal the source of this gift that has done so much good for so many translators. News of the PEN Translation Fund donor's identity was broken earlier today on the Three Percent blog.
Mike and Priscilla Heim chose the PEN American Center as a repository for the Fund because of PEN's longstanding commitment to supporting writers, and helped to craft a structure for the grant-giving process that will allow the Fund to exist for many years without being exhausted. This is a gift designed to benefit generations of translators. We owe both Heims an enormous debt of gratitude.