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An English "Voice" for Korean Authors

  • onOctober 21, 2015
  • Vol.29 Autumn 2015
  • byDaniel T. Parker

For the Iroquois tribe of Native Americans, it was the “tree of peace.” Famous American naturalist author Henry David Thoreau called it “the finest tree.” For Korean authors and Korean-to-English translators, however, the White Pine represents a “voice,” and a channel through which to reach an American literary audience.

     White Pine Press, located in Buffalo in northern New York state, is a not-for-profit literary publishing house that releases an average of ten titles every year. Since 2014, two titles each year are translations of Korean literature, thanks to an agreement between editor-publisher Dennis Maloney and the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. These publications are part of White Pine’s “Korean Voices” series, one of very few publishing series in the United States devoted

solely to Korean literature.

     Maloney and White Pine have been supporting Korean literature for more than two decades. “Our relationship with publishing Korean literature actually predates the establishment of LTI Korea,” Maloney noted. The first Korean book published by White Pine was The Snowy Road and Other Stories, an anthology of Korean fiction, in 1993. Since then, the relationship between Maloney and Korea has blossomed, and in the summer of 2015, the twenty-first book of the series (Wild Apple by poet Ra Heeduk) was published.

Relationships have been vital throughout the history of White Pine Press. In 1973, Maloney was a graduate student of landscape architecture at the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY. He was also a poet who had experimented with translation, using a Spanish-English dictionary and two semesters of high school Spanish. Two of his early and permanent poetry/translation influences, Gary Snyder and Kenneth Rexroth, gave him an interest in Japanese literature and culture, so Maloney decided to do independent study of Japanese gardens in Kyoto, Japan.

While in Japan, he learned about a group of Japanese poets writing in English and English-language poets living in Japan. “The group met monthly and their next meeting happened to be at Edith Shiffert’s house, so I phoned her and asked if it would be okay to attend,” Maloney said in a previous interview. “She invited me to the meeting and I stayed on afterward and we ended up meeting many more times and becoming good friends.” Later, he became Shiffert’s main publisher.


Co-translator Daniel T. Parker and Ji Young Shil discuss an early draft of the Wild Apple translation with Dennis Maloney

 

 

The seed of the White Pine had been planted. Later in 1973, when Maloney returned to New York, he had a desire to establish a small literary press largely devoted to translated works. He chose the name because the tree is prolific in the area, and because of the Iroquois “tree of peace” symbolism. But trees are fragile in the first few years.

“In the beginning I didn’t have any fears largely because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Maloney said in the earlier interview. He gives much credit to the “number of early mentors” who provided advice in the early years. “I sort of learned by doing and asking other editors for advice…I began to develop long-term relationships with many. I had no thought when I started then that I’d still be here forty years later, and also had no idea we would grow into the presence we now have from such humble beginnings.”

Now, after more than forty years, Maloney and White Pine Press have published books from more than twenty-five different languages (including East Greenland Eskimo and Slovenian) and thirty-five countries. In addition to the “Korean Voices” series, White Pine also provides an English voice to writers from other cultures that would otherwise be mostly unavailable to American readers. The “Secret Weavers” series is dedicated to female authors from South America and “Terra Incognita” (Latin for “unknown land”) features writers from Eastern Europe.

     “Our mission is to develop and promote cultural awareness and understanding through the publication of literature from the American mosaic and from around the world,” Maloney said. Internationally-acclaimed authors published by White Pine include Pablo Neruda, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Gabriela Mistral, William Golding, Tomas Tranströmer, and Ko Un.

     While White Pine Press began its mission of literary translation in 1973, it was twenty years before their first Korean book was offered. “Korean literature did not enjoy the same interest and visibility in the US,” Maloney said. “This was due to several reasons, including a lack of qualified translators, an absence of academic programs, and the fact that for almost half of the 20th century, Korea was ruled by Japan and modern Korean literature only began to emerge after 1950. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that White Pine Press began to receive queries regarding translation of Korean literature.”

After the publication of The Snowy Road and Other Stories, White Pine began to receive more interest from Korean translators, and Maloney gives credit to grant programs like LTI Korea for helping the non-profit press offer more Korean works. “We were made aware of grant programs from the LTI Korea forerunner – Korean Cultural and Arts Foundation, it was called then – and the Daesan Foundation,” Maloney said. “These were book-to-book grants since we weren’t doing as many titles as we are now.”

The Korean branch of White Pine Press continued to grow with more personal relationships. Maloney first came to Korea in 2000 when the Daesan Foundation included him in an international writers’ festival lineup that included Snyder, Wole Soyinka, Margaret Drabble, and others. “I’m not in that caliber of writers,” Maloney said modestly, “but received an invitation because of the Korean books we were publishing.”

     While in Korea, Kim Seong-Kon, who was already a supporter of White Pine Press, helped introduce Maloney to the grant programs supporting translations of Korean literature. “When he (Kim) became head of LTI Korea, he approached us about establishing a long-term agreement to publish two Korean translations per year,” Maloney said, “and during my recent visit in March 2015 we extended the agreement for another two years, through 2018. We receive grants from many foreign foundations and governments to publish work in translation, but this is the first time we have signed a long-term agreement.”

     Maloney adds more praise for LTI Korea’s translation and publication support. “White Pine Press has worked with cultural councils and government agencies from many countries over the years, and we have found LTI Korea to be one of the most supportive in terms of the breadth and scope of their funding,” Maloney said, noting that many literary publishing companies, like White Pine Press, are small, non-profit organizations or university presses. “Many countries support the translation of the work into another language, but not publication. Publication support is essential.”

     He adds that he has noticed significant improvement in LTI Korea programs over the past few years. “Thanks to an emphasis on co-translation, where a Korean translator works with a native English speaker, the quality of the translations we are receiving has greatly improved,” Maloney said. “A good translation is essential to consideration of the work—publishers do not have the staff or the time to rewrite a faulty or poorly-translated work.”

     Maloney hopes to provide more balance between poetry and fiction in the future titles of White Pine Press’ “Korean Voices Series,” noting that although the first book was an anthology of short stories, only four of the next twenty Korean works were fiction. (Modern Family, a novel by Cheon Myeong-kwan, was the twentieth title in the “Korean Voices” series, and was reviewed in the Summer 2015 issue of _list magazine. What Makes Up a City, a serial novel composed of connected short stories written by Park Seong-Won, will be published by White Pine Press next.)

“We set out to publish a diversity of both classical and contemporary Korean literature,” Maloney said. “We have developed a strong list of contemporary Korean poets and we would like to balance it with contemporary Korean fiction that speaks to current issues in Korean culture, and topics that are more universal.” He noted that much of the Korean fiction previously published in translation deals with the Korean War or its effects, including the dictators and the democracy movement. “While these concerns are fundamental to Korean culture, they are less familiar to the American reader. There is limited appeal to the audience here.”

In addition to publishing Korean literature in translation, White Pine Press seeks to promote Korean literature in the North America. Maloney contacts Korean Studies and/or Asian Studies university programs in the US and Canada to increase their interest in using the “Korean Voices” titles in classrooms. White Pine Press joined the Association for Asian Studies for the same purpose. Maloney also wants to use modern technology (e-book platforms such as Kindle, and social media venues such as Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads) to help attract younger American readers to Korean literature in translation. At the same time, he hopes to develop a wider audience for “classic” Korean literature. “We have to utilize various marketing efforts to develop an audience, both general and academic, for this work,” he said.

     Maloney still cherishes the personal relationships he has forged through poetry and translation, and the work White Pine Press has done in forty-two years to promote international literature to American readers.

 

 

                                                 Titles in the Korean Voices Series

 

Vol.

Title

Author

Year of Publication

1

The Snowy Road and Other

Stories

Yi Chong-Jun et al.

1995

2

Heart’s Agony

Kim Ji-ha

1998

3

A Sketch of the Fading Sun

KOREAN LITERATURE NOW
A Quarterly Literary Magazine 
by the Literature Translation Institute
of Korea
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