Deborah Smith is the winner of the 2016 International Man Booker Prize along with Hang Kang for the translation of Kang’s The Vegetarian. In 2015 Deborah completed a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, on contemporary Korean literature, and founded Tilted Axis, a non-profit press focusing on contemporary and cutting-edge Asian fiction in translation. In an email, Arts & Letters requested her for an interview and here’s what she promptly sent back
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished Papi by Rita Indiana, translated from the Dominican Spanish by Achy Obejas, and started Rituals of Restlessness by Yaghoub Yadali, translated from the Iranian by Sara Khalili.
What are you writing at the moment?
I’m working on a translation of a short story collection by Korean author Bae Suah. She and I just came back from a book tour to celebrate the launch of her novel A Greater Music, which was actually the first book I ever translated. The tour took us all across the US, and it was a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know the author – personally enjoyable and also useful professionally.
What inspired you to translate Korean literature?
Well, literary translation itself was the only potential career I could come up with; I’ve always loved literature, and tended to read more in translation than not, I think because the UK’s literary scene seemed alienatingly middle-class to someone from my background. Then I had to learn a language, and Korean seemed a good choice: there was barely anything available in English, yet I knew South Korea was a modern, developed country, presumably with a rich literary tradition. So it was part intellectual curiosity and part pragmatism – I needed it to be a language that I could get funding to study. Read more