Deborah’s translations from the Korean include two novels by Han Kang, The Vegetarian (winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize) and Human Acts, and two by Bae Suah, A Greater Music and Recitation. In 2015 Deborah completed a PhD at SOAS on contemporary Korean literature and founded Tilted Axis Press. In 2016 she won the Arts Foundation Award for Literary Translation. She tweets as @londonkoreanist.
In 2012, two years after I’d started learning Korean with the dream of becoming a literary translator, I was asked to do a sample translation of Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian, by a publisher who’d received it from her agent Barbara Zitwer. At the time, I was too mortified to explain that, though I’d optimistically put ‘Literary Translator from Korean’ as my bio, I hadn’t yet attempted to even read an entire book, much less translate one. A year later, though, my skills had improved sufficiently for me to make the most of Korea’s being chosen as the market focus country for the London Book Fair, where I first met Max Porter, Kang’s wonderful editor at Portobello Books.
I met representatives from WCN [now the National Centre for Writing] at the London Book Fair and attended the Worlds Festival in Norwich in 2015. It always has a brilliant diverse line-up. Writers from all over the world, plenty of women, plenty of poets, debut authors put alongside Nobel winners. And everyone always finds it refreshing to spend time on intelligent, in-depth discussion of their craft, as opposed to being expected to flog their books.
‘I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support I’ve received from WCN. No other literary organisation has the same global reach, especially across Asia or is as generous in sharing its connections’
I feel as though I’m always working with WCN, happily! The two main authors I translate have both been WCN Writers in Residence and we’re working on arranging something similar for the Korean authors I’m scheduled to publish. I spoke about being a radical publisher at WCN’s Translation in the Margins symposium and I teach at the BCLT translation summer school, another WCN initiative.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support I’ve received from WCN. No other literary organisation has the same global reach, especially across Asia, or is as generous in sharing its connections. Several of the books / authors / translators I work with I discovered through WCN, the writer’s residencies were invaluable opportunities for me to spend time in the company of ‘my’ authors, and their willingness to collaborate was crucial in being able to secure the Arts Council funding to get Tilted Axis off the ground.
Tilted Axis last year, is a not-for-profit company focusing on contemporary fiction from Asian languages – so far we have Bengali, Korean, Indonesian, Thai, Uzbek and Japanese. Redressing representational biases is both important to us in itself and a brilliant way of sourcing the kind of innovative work that excites us, so we’ve committed to at least a 50:50 gender split, and are looking forward to taking part in 2018’s Year of Publishing Woman, responding to a provocation made by Kamila Shamsie at one of WCN’s National Conversation events. We’re also proud to operate without unpaid interns, another blight on the industry.