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28 Nov 2013

Translation award for Black Flower – Things have been pretty busy lately, as I mentioned in my last entry, but I wanted to take a little time today to share a bit of news. Some of you already know about this, but, for those who don’t, last night I was awarded the 2013 Korean Literature Translation Award for my translation of Black Flower by Kim Young-ha. I received one of four prizes—there were also prizes for Chinese, Spanish, and Czech translations.

“No one faced with a journey knows at the start how that journey will end.”

I’ve known about this for quite some time now, but the award ceremony was last night, so now seems like a good enough time to write about it. Truth be told, though, I don’t really have too much to say about it at this point. I am of course pleased to have won the prize, but I’ve had my fill of people congratulating me for the past few weeks. It might sound a little weird, but it can be tiring to be the center of so much attention. And this really wasn’t all that much attention. After all, it’s not like I won an Academy Award or anything. I don’t know how celebrities do it. If I had to spend all that time in the public eye I would probably go insane. Maybe that’s why so many celebrities do crazy things.

I will admit that the ceremony, though tiring, was fun. For as much of an introvert as I am, I do like meeting and talking with new people. And, of course, there were a number of people at the ceremony last night that I knew but hadn’t seen in a while, and that’s always nice. They had a buffet as well, and although I didn’t get a chance to eat all that much, the food was pretty good as far as buffets go.

Now that the ceremony is over, though, my brief episode of marginal celebrity is also at end. At this point I’m more interested in looking forward to future projects, like a translation of a colonial period novel that will be published next year. I’ll probably write more about that later. For the time being, though, I’ll wrap today’s entry up with a pretty faithful translation of the acceptance speech I gave at the ceremony last night.

I would first like to thank the Literature Translation Institute of Korea for awarding me the 2013 Korean Literature Translation Award, and everyone here for attending this evening.

Very nearly the last step in the translation of Black Flower was deciding how to translate the title. [NB: The English title is a direct translation of the Korean.] The truth is that I had not really thought about that meaning of the title up to that point. So I asked the author, Kim Young-ha, and he said, “Black flowers do not exist in nature. In the same way, the wonderful new world that those thousand or so Koreans dreamed of on the cusp of that long journey to Mexico at the turn of the 20th century did not exist in reality, either.” I was surprised. I had never suspected that it had any such meaning. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that it was a statement about life in general. No one faced with a journey knows at the start how that journey will end. It may turn out better than we expected, or it may turn out worse. The protagonists of Black Flower dreamed of a new life, but what waited for them was only a life of hard labor beneath a searing sun. The translator of Black Flower, though, simply dreamed of sharing the joy of this moving and beautiful work with other English-speakers—I never imagined that I would be given this award.

Although it may seem as if I am standing here alone today as I receive this award, that is not the case. I am simply here as a representative of a large group of people. A few months before Black Flower was published, I had dinner with Kim Young-ha in Manhattan, and he said something very interesting. He said that he had played his role as the author of Black Flower, but that his role was only a part of the process that began with an idea in his mind and ended with a book that he could present to the public. At the time I thought he was being overly modest, but on the other hand there is truth in what he says—and even more so in the case of the translator. Firstly, I was fortunate enough to read this wonderful book that he wrote, and this sparked in me the desire to translate it. I began translation of the book in 2005, but I was only able to translate while also engaged in my studies thanks to the sponsorship of LTI Korea. Of course, my wife, who is always at my side, provided help and encouragement on the long and treacherous road of translation. Later, when I began teaching at the Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, the many things I learned in the course of teaching my students, as well as the encouragement and support I received from my colleagues, were also a great help. Finally, there are two people in particular that I would like to thank: Jenna Johnson and Larry Cooper, my editors at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the company that published Black Flower. They are not present here tonight, but had it not been for them I do not think I would be receiving this award now. There is often conflict between translators and editors, but my relationship with Jenna and Larry was one of cooperation and collaboration. We had great respect for and trust in each other, and we strove together toward the common goal of making the translation of Black Flower the best work of literature it could be. The process of translating the book was of course a great experience, but I especially value my experience as part of the editorial process.

As you can see, many people contributed to the English version of Black Flower. If it has enjoyed any measure of success as a work of literature in English, the credit belongs to them. So, as I said before, I am grateful to receive this prize and offer my thanks on behalf of all of these people. Thank you.

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