Throughout his career, Cohen has championed translation — the long neglected literary art — in both his critical writings and professional service. He is a founding member of the American Literary Translators Association, giving numerous presentations at national meetings and serving as judge of the National Translation Award (2013). He has been an active member of the PEN America Translation Committee since 1986, serving as judge of the PEN-Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize (1992) and also the PEN Translation Prize (2013). In collaboration with Robert Bly and David Unger, he served as founding director of the Islands and Continents Translation Award for the best poetry translation of the year (1977-80).
Cohen's poems, translations, and essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Nation, MultiCultural Review, The New York Times, The Literary Review, The American Voice, The Hudson Review, New Directions in Prose and Poetry, Words Without Borders, Translation Review, Big Bridge, Street Magazine, and City Lights Review, among numerous other periodicals. He has received several awards for his writing, including grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts, in addition to those grants/prizes mentioned above. He is a graduate of Columbia University (MFA, Creative Writing, 1976) and Stony Brook University (PhD, English, 1980). See bibliography of his selected publications.
Cohen's essay "On Pedro Mir" won the 2020 Writers on Writers contest of Asymptote magazine. The contest judge was Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee, who said this in his citation: "Pedro Mir (1913-2000), declared a non-person under the Trujillo dictatorship but widely accepted nowadays as the Dominican Republic's greatest poet, is barely known in the Anglophone world. Jonathan Cohen makes a persuasive case that he is in the same league as his contemporary Pablo Neruda, arguing the claim with undisguised enthusiasm, and supporting it with insightful commentary and exemplary quotation from Mir's work."