21 Years of NO Korean Entrants in the “Independent Foreign Fiction Prize”

KTKIT's Unofficial Mascot: Fighting!Last year I noted that there were no Korean entrants in the long list for the “Independent Foreign Fiction Prize,” a prize originally given by the British Newspaper The Independent and now administered by Arts Council England.

This caused me to go and try to take a longer look, and what I found wasn’t surprising but was depressing. Not only does it appear that no Korean translations have ever won, but it appears that no Korean translation has even made the long list!  In fairness, there were a couple of years in which the prize was not given, and I can’t speak to how many  translated Korean books are published in England, but man, that’s a pretty long stretch without even a mention. Might be worth it just to publish a few books in little indie presses just so they can get on the list?

According to the Wikipedia:

Entries (fiction or short stories) must be published in English translation in the UK in the year preceding the award and the author must be alive at the time that the translation is published. Uniquely, the prize acknowledges both the winning novelist and translator, each being awarded £5,000 and a magnum of champagne from drinks sponsor Champagne Taittinger.


7 thoughts on “21 Years of NO Korean Entrants in the “Independent Foreign Fiction Prize”

  1. Does this not relate to the issue of the Koreans thinking that what foreigners want from literature in translation is an insight into the Korean psyche?

    Korean literature promoters have promoted a false scheme that suggests that a foreign audience wants some abstruse work that plumbs the depths of Koreanness.

    In reality, even an indie press has bills to pay (I know from personal experience.)

    No indie press wants some weird work that no one will purchase unless it is subsidised.

    Indie presses want well-crafted compelling reading that will attract or appeal to an audience.

    Indie presses are not academic presses that can afford to subsidize non-commercially viable works.

    At an indie press, the audiences are smaller and so the sales can be and are much smaller.

    Now, if the ROK funded such a publication, well, that would be entirely different.

    But it sounds like ROK wants to have works be published that would only really fit the academic publishing community, and not the independent publishing community.

  2. It certainly has, in the past, begun with abstrosity (look ma! I made up a word).

    As for indie presses having bills to pay? In the past the Korean government has paid to print books that were intended to never leave the warehouse. I’m not saying this is a good strategy to throw a lot of money at, just that Korea and the Korean publishing houses are going around wasting an epic amount of money as I sit here and type. I think some careful, and relatively inexpensive, attention to winning a contest or two – or just getting mentioned, so the ‘foreign’ publishers and contest operators are aware that Korean literature exists.

    1) Publish overseas (for a million marketing reasons)
    2) Let foreigners pick what will be published or do marketing research (lose the abstrosity)
    3) Win some contests
    5) Improve status in social media arenas in which literary research is done
    6) Let translators translate

    Is that really all?

    It’s all I have before class.^^

  3. If the ROK wants to throw money at the issue, they should simply commision good translators to translate mysteries and romances.

    At least some portion of those would merit publication and enlist foreign readers.

    They are, after all, the most popular categories of fiction.

    And, even then, they would primarily appeal to indie presses, and not the giant firms like Hachette.

    Some thrillers would sell; ROK constantly seems to be in the news regarding issues of war and peace.

    Pop culture; that is what ROK should focus on for its translations of fiction.

    It is what ROK did with K-POP.

    It would provide translators a living, and would build up a market for more literary fiction.

    Right now, there is no such interest.

    Interest in Korean literary fiction would need time to develop; starting with the easier steps of genre fiction would be the rights way to go.

  4. News of the weird and a potential contact for you


    “Korea is the market focus and on Tuesday, “Middle East Meets Far East” panel will be hosted by Seung-Hyun Moon, director of the International Project Department of the Korean Publishers Association.”

    Korea at the Abu Dhabi Book Fair seems like a very unlikely pairing.

    However, Seung-Hyun Moon, director of the International Project Department of the Korean Publishers Association, sounds like someone with whom you should be in constant contact.

  5. Charles,

    LOL.. I guess Korea is now trying to spread its literature everywhere it has construction contracts?

    I liked the piece by Nina and commented there and tweeted it, for whatever good that does.

    I have snagged to contact info for Seung-hyun Moon, because you are right she is someone I should be in contact with.. thanks..

  6. Here’s an English-language Korean-themed book, as a guide to the people ho fund translations that is of a type that is commercially viable:


    Humour is generally useful.

    And, with untold numbers of Korean emigrants throughout the world, non-Koreans are familiar with Korean emigrants.

    That story — of the Korean emigrant to a foreign land — if told with humour and warmth, could be commercially viable.

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