Han Kang Wins the Man Booker International Prize 2016
Han Kang has won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize 2016 for her novel The Vegetarian. The Man Booker International Prize was first established in 2005 to complement the Man Booker Prize, which was founded in 1969 and was awarded annually to the best novel written in the English language and published in the UK. Until 2015, the Man Booker International Prize was awarded every two years to a living author of any nationality for a body of work published in English or generally available in English translation. The award was reconfigured this year, and is now awarded annually to a single book in English translation, with a £50,000 prize for the winning title, shared equally between author and translator.
It is especially significant that Han Kang is the first winner of the newly configured prize, contenders for which included luminaries like Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and Chinese writer Yan Lianke. Han Kang’s win is a joyous occasion for Korean literature and can be seen as the fruit of fifteen years of efforts by LTI Korea to promote Korean literature in translation since its establishment in 2001 under the auspices of the Ministry of Korean Culture, Sports, and Tourism.
The Vegetarian was translated into English by Deborah Smith, a PhD candidate at SOAS University of London, and was published in January 2015 by Portobello Publishers. LTI Korea funded the translation and publication of The Vegetarian into Vietnamese in 2010, followed by Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Polish language versions in succession. In 2013, while working as part of the preparatory committee for events of Korea, which was invited at the Guest of Honor Country for the 2014 London Book Fair, Deborah handed over a translation sample to the editor of Portobello Books (a sister concern of Granta Books and Granta magazine) who showed great interest in the book. After seeing the fantastic reaction from readers at the Han Kang’s event at the 2014 London Book Fair, Portobello decided to go ahead with the publication and used Granta’s network to promote the book to great effect, culminating in the book flying off the shelves on its release. Hogarth Press, an imprint of Random House, published the book in the US in February 2016.
The Vegetarian is Han Kang’s first work to be published in English, aside from short stories that were included in anthologies. LTI Korea has funded the publication of eight translations of her works in six languages, including French, Spanish, and Chinese, while five translations in four languages are set to be published in the near future. Pars, Le Vent Se Lève, the French translation of her novel Parami Punda Kara (The Wind Blows, Leave), received rave reviews from the French daily Le Monde.
Han Kang has participated in many international events with the support of LTI Korea, such as the Korean and British Young Writers Seminar in 2002, the Leipzig Book Fair in Germany, the London Book Fair, the Tokyo Book Fair, and the Buenos Aires International Book Fair. Last year, she workshopped with Deborah Smith and students from LTI Korea’s Translation Academy to translate her short story “Europa” as part of the Summer School at BCLT, sponsored jointly by LTI Korea and the Writers’ Centre Norwich.
Deborah Smith’s skillful translation was crucial to the success of The Vegetarian, and proved the importance of discovering and supporting talented native translators. Deborah graduated from the University of Cambridge with a BA in English literature (First class) in 2009, and moved to SOAS in 2010 to do an MA in Korean studies, during which she became interested in Korean literature and in literary translation. She began her career as a literary translator in earnest while participating in the preparatory committee for the 2014 London Book Fair. Following on the heels of The Vegetarian’s success, her translation of Han Kang’s Human Acts is also receiving rave reviews. She is also translating writer Bae Suah’s novels with funding from LTI Korea. She visited Korea in 2014 at the invitation of LTI Korea and held meetings with representatives from American publishing houses. As a result of these meetings, her translation of Bae Suah’s A Great Music and The Owl’s Absence will be published by Open Letter Books in October this year and in early 2018 respectively, and Recitation by Deep Vellum Publishing early next year. As part of the promotion of Bae Suah’s publications in America, Deborah will accompany her with the support of LTI Korea to the annual conference of The American Literary Translators Association and will hold book readings in New York and other cities. She has set up a not-for-profit publishing house called Titled Axis that seeks to publish books from Asia and Africa. LTI Korea has signed an MOU with Tilted Axis to publish three books as part of a Korean literature series.
LTI Korea has extended all possible support to Korean publishers and agencies such as KL Management that hold copyrights to works of Korean writers to help them build networks with their counterparts overseas by offering them support in sourcing translations as well as helping them promote Korean books. LTI Korea has funded the translation of 267 titles for 23 writers represented by agents, among which 132 titles were of 15 writers belonging to KL Management. LTI Korea has also funded the translation of more than 3,500 book excerpts for Korean publishers and agencies and has sent them out to overseas publishers. This includes sample translations of 29 books managed by KL, several of which have evolved successfully into book-length publications. LTI Korea has also organized promotional events for these publishers and agents.
As is evident from Deborah’s example, discovering and fostering talented translators is as important has having outstanding works of literature. The Man Booker International Prize bestows an equal share of recognition and prize money to the writer and the translator because it recognizes the difficulty and importance of translation. Literary greats like Wasunari Kawabata, Mo Yan, and Orhan Pamuk were able to win international recognition largely because of their translators.
The Translation Academy at LTI Korea is the only school of its kind in Korea devoted to fostering literary translators. It offers fellowships to aspiring translators working in English, French, German, Spanish and Russian to come to Korea and study translation for a period of two years. Many graduates of the Academy have had great success, for example Irma Zyanja Gil Yáñez, the Spanish translator of Wizard Bakery, and Sora Kim-Russell, the translator of Bae Suah’s Nowhere To Be Found which was shortlisted for the PEN Translation Prize. LTI Korea plans to expand the Academy into a graduate school of literary translation to further promote translators of Korean literature.
▲ President Kim welcoming the audience
▲ Writer Kim Soom (right) and critic Kang Yu-jeong (right
▲ Kim answering an audience member’s question
▲ The audience at the event
▲ Audience members getting their copies signed by the author