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.
Very excited! It’s my first time visiting the subcontinent, and I’ve heard great things about the festival from previous years’ participants. Plus, this year’s focus on Asian literature is obviously useful for me as a publisher … This year’s lineup includes three Tilted Axis authors, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, Prabda Yoon and Hamid Ismailov, plus our wonderful translator Arunava Sinha, so I’m looking forward to the five of us getting together for a chat and possibly an embarrassing selfie.
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.
You founded Tilted Axis to publish cutting-edge Asian fiction and Panty was your debut publication. Would you be interested in bringing out more quality translations of Bangla fiction?
Absolutely. We have three main aims for the press: to publish under-represented writing, which is an intersection of original language, style, content, and often its author’s gender. To publish it properly, in a way that makes it clear that this is art, not anthropology. And to spotlight the importance of translation in making cultures less dully homogenous. So, a contemporary author writing in Bangla, writing fiction that’s stylistically and/or linguistically innovative, whose narrative doesn’t conform to the stereotypes of fiction from the region, would definitely be of interest to us.
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How are you feeling about attending the Dhaka Lit Fest 2016?
Very excited! It’s my first time visiting the subcontinent, and I’ve heard great things about the festival from previous years’ participants. Plus, this year’s focus on Asian literature is obviously useful for me as a publisher – I’m always scouting for authors and books we might publish at Tilted Axis. This year’s lineup includes three Tilted Axis authors, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, Prabda Yoon and Hamid Ismailov, plus our wonderful translator Arunava Sinha, so I’m looking forward to the five of us getting together for a chat and possibly an embarrassing selfie.