The Writing University conducts a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.
Today we are speaking with Lizzie Buehler, an MFA candidate in the Translation MFA program, from Austin, Texas. She studied Comparative Literature at Princeton University and is now an Iowa Arts Fellow and MFA candidate in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa. Her translation of Table for One, by Yun Ko Eun, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press. She is currently working on Yun's novel Travelers of the Night for the UK publisher Serpent's Tail.
1. Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the University of Iowa?
I translate from Korean, and I'm currently working on two book-length projects. Last semester, I completed a translation of the short story collection Table for One by Yun Ko Eun. I'm now editing the manuscript with editors from Columbia University Press, which will be publishing the collection in spring 2020. I've additionally begun translating one of Yun's novels,Travelers of the Night, for the UK publisher Serpent's Tail.
I'm excited to introduce English readers to Yun's writing, which teeters on the brink of fantasy and reality. One of the stories in Table for One, for example, is about a man who sells dreams for a living. And Travelers of the Night is about a woman who works for a disaster tourism company. I don't think there's been much Korean literature translated into English that's this eccentric, so Yun fills an important space in the Korean literary sphere.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?
My routine depends upon my class schedule for the semester. I tend to translate between classes or after I'm done for the day, and I usually don't let myself work after 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. I do try to stick to a daily translation schedule, usually at least three pages of translating or editing per day.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
I'm always trying to expose myself to more translations from Korean, and other East Asian languages. The two books I read most recently for fun are Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, and The Plotters by Un-su Kim. I'm hoping to read Human Acts by Han Kang next, as it's been on my list for a while and Kang is a superstar in the world of Korean literature.
4. What is something the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and/or your work?
Oftentimes, readers who don't know much about translation assume there is a "right" and "wrong" way to translate something. But translation is much more subjective and creative a task than people give it credit for. Two highly talented translators might come up with completely different versions of the same text, and they can both be right!
5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?
I grew up in Austin, Texas, although I haven't lived there in almost seven years, so I don't know if it really feels like home any more. They recently built an amazing library, which I like to visit when I'm home for the holidays.
Thank you so much for talking with us today, Lizzie!