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LTI Korea's translation award shows global boom in Korean literature

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From left, Sasaki Sizuyo, an official from Japanese publisher CUON, and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello and Yu Hsin Hsin, winners of the 2022 LTI Korea Translation Award, pose during the award ceremony in Seoul, Monday. Courtesy of Literature Translation Institute of Korea
From left, Sasaki Sizuyo, an official from Japanese publisher CUON, and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello and Yu Hsin Hsin, winners of the 2022 LTI Korea Translation Award, pose during the award ceremony in Seoul, Monday. Courtesy of Literature Translation Institute of Korea

By Kwak Yeon-soo

The Literature Translation Institute of Korea (LTI Korea) announced the winners of its annual translation awards on Monday, recognizing their excellence in translation and contribution to promoting Korean literature worldwide.

The 20th LTI Korean Translation Award went to E.J. Koh and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello who translated "The World's Lightest Motorcycle" by Lee Won into English; Yu Hsin Hsin who translated "An Anthology of Korean Literature 2" by Yi Tae-jun and seven other modern Korean novelists into Chinese and Ingliana Tan who translated "Seven Years of Darkness" by Jeong You-jeong into Indonesian. The recipients each received 20 million won ($15,462) in prize money.

Kim Seung-bok, the director of CUON, a leading publisher of Korean books in Japan, won the lifetime achievement award for her decades-long efforts to bring Korean literature to Japanese readers.

The annual award also recognized nine aspiring translators. The nine recipients of the LTI Korea Translation Award for Aspiring Translator this year were tasked to translate Lee Yu-ri's 2021 short story "Red Fruit" from her novel "Broccoli Punch." They are Dong Un-jeung (English), Irene Thirouin (French), Laura Medeci (German), Paola Diez Cidoncha (Spanish), Valentina Shmatko (Russian), Wang Jin (Chinese), Sayaka Yamaguchi (Japanese), Nguyen Thi Lan Anh (Vietnamese) and Firdaous L-Lakhlakh (Arabic). LTI Korea reviewed 279 translated works in nine languages this year.

From left are 2022 Korean Literature Translation Award winners E.J. Koh, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Yu Hsin Hsin and Ingliana Tan. Courtesy of Literature Translation Institute of Korea
From left are 2022 Korean Literature Translation Award winners E.J. Koh, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Yu Hsin Hsin and Ingliana Tan. Courtesy of Literature Translation Institute of Korea

The top winners echoed that Korean literature is making big waves overseas as a growing number of books are being translated into foreign languages. Novels and essay collections by Korean writers have become bestsellers in Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan, according to them.

Sasaki Sizuyo, a CUON official who attended the awards ceremony on behalf of Kim, talked about the surge of interest in Korean literature in Japan.

"The major turning point for Korean literature in Japan came with 'Kim Ji-young, Born 1982' by Cho Nam-joo. That book has sold more than 500,000 copies in Japan. In 2020 to 2021, healing essays like 'I Decided to Live As Me' by Kim Soo-hyun were very popular. This year, we saw growing interest in poetry and science fiction," she told reporters at the awards ceremony held in Seoul, Monday.

"CUON has been hosting the K-Book festival since 2019. At the inaugural event, about 19 publishers participated. This year, we held an offline event after three years and 47 publishers took part in it," she said.

Cancio-Bello explained both independent and large publishers in the U.S. are paying more attention to Korean literature as they are looking for inspiration from other countries.

"In America, there has been a similar boom of Korean literature that was triggered by Han Kang's 'The Vegetarian.' Of course, the explosion of K-dramas, movies like 'Parasite' and BTS also affected the phenomenon. Right now, poetry is leading the way in American literature. That is why 'The World's Lightest Motorcycle' is well-received among American readers," she said.

Yu echoed the sentiment, saying that there is a growing number of translators who take interest in Korean literature. "In the past, Taiwanese publishers referred to the top bestseller list in Korea, but we get introduced to many other literary works, even the ones that received critical acclaim several years ago. There are a lot more Korean-Chinese translators these days as younger people learn Korean language," she said.


Kwak Yeon-soo yeons.kwak@koreatimes.co.kr


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