Interview with Bruce Fulton: Podcast AND Transcript

Bruce Fulton in Seoul

A few months ago I posted an interview with Bruce Fulton – which can be heard here:


Finally, I have gone to the trouble of transcribing that interview, so you can also read it here, or play it and read along if you are working on your English listening:

This is Charles Montgomery, from www.ktlit and today I am lucky enough to interview noted translator and academic, Bruce Fulton. Professor Fulton has translated a wide variety of Korean works including “The Dwarf,” the collection, “The Red Room,” and a variety of fiction by Korea’s female authors.

CM: Welcome Professor Fulton

BF: Thank you it’s nice to be here

CM: Can you tell me briefly what you are doing in Seoul?

BF: I’m taking part in a translation workshop at Seoul National University.

CM: You’ve translated quite a bit of Korean literature some of the first literature I’ve read and that I continue to read, what makes Korean literature so compelling for you?

BF: Well there are a lot if interesting life stories, there are a lot of diverse voices, there are some very good storytellers. Put that all together there’s a lot of stuff to work with.

CM One of the things you mentioned, that was the diversity and I’ve noticed as I’ve read through your translations that you’ve done a lot of work on women’s fiction it seems like compared to some other translators. What is your interest or your affinity for the women’s fiction?

BF: Well that started back in the mid 1980s when we had just finished translating, by we I mean my wife Ju-Chan Fulton and co-translator, we just finished translating a novel by Hun Soong-won and we asked him “what next, any suggestions?” And he steered us to three women writers O Chong-hui, Kang Sok-kyon, and Kim Chi-won and they became the writers in our fist book that was published in the United States “Words of Farewell.”

CM: If you had to take everything you’ve translated, and sort of sum it up as a body of work, how would you, how would you sum it up. What’s it’s message?

BF: Well, the message is that there are voices that need to be heard and, and there’s enough variety and enough different approaches to literature that readers shouldn’t get bored in the near future.

CM: (Laughs) well, Korean literature will come as a surprise to most English readers when it finally does become popular. You mentioned your wife. It’s a little unusual I think, tell us a little about your translation process and about how you work with your wife.

BF: Well, back in.. let me see, I guess this was 1979 when I was finishing my Peace Corps service we met a gentleman named Sun-gye Jo who was in charge of a foundation called the Korean literature foundation and he saw a native speaker of English and a native speaker of Korean and he said, “well, looks like we have a ready-made translation team, how’d you like to translate a book for me?” And it turned out to be a book of his own stories. That’s how it started and over the last 30 years we’ve worked out a process where Chan, well she does a lot in terms of text selection before.. before we ever start translating, so she deserves a lot of credit for that. But she’ll go through once we’ve selected a text whether it’s a story or novel, she’ll go through it with an eagle eye and mark places that might need a little bit of extra explanation, places that might have some cultural subtext, something that’s not explicit in the text, things for, things for myself to keep an eye out for. And then, working with that annotated text I’ll produce a first draft on the computer, which I will then read out loud to her as she follows along in the Korean. So, that’s where I get straightened out innumerable times. And once we have a good first draft that we’re reasonably happy with, once we feel that we’ve taken care of most of the lexical problems, then we like to put it aside and kind of let it air out for a little while and then come back to it with a fresh perspective. And at that point what we want to do is shape it into something that comes alive in English. And so I read it several times from beginning to end trying to get it to flow as a , as a work of English Language literature. And then the last thing, one of the last things I’ll do is to read it out loud to myself, and I never cease to be amazed at how many little glitches you can discover I you read something out loud to yourself or if you have somebody read it out loud to you.

CM: Are you currently working on anything, any translations?

BF: Well we’re just about to start a novel by Chun-eun young called San-gong, which is kind of unique for us, it hasn’t even come out in book form. It was serialized on the chung jak kwa be pyoung sa website, we’d, actually I heard about this through one of my students who had translated a couple of stories by Miss Chun, and we went on the website and read it and we thought it flowed very well and so I contacted her and she was gracious enough to give us her permission and the books should be out I guess within a month or so. So we’re looking forward to that.

CM: That is interesting, that’s very clever. Pick it up at the serialization stage so that it might come out concurrently with the Korean publication, cause the usual model is a lapse of time and then eventually it gets translated. You translated Cho Se-hui, you just mentioned that you translated Hwang Soon-won are there any other favorite authors or books that you really like, in Korean perhaps?

BF: Well, uh, among the colonial period writers, and I guess Hwang Soon-won qualifies in part as a colonial period writer because he started publishing in the 1930’s Chae Man-shik is an author that we’ve taken a great delight and Kim Yoo-jung is also a very, a very distinctive voice. Each of these writers, in his own way, has what I would call and in-your-face narrative style and it’s a lot of fun. There’s a sense of humor that some would say is sorely lacking in more contemporary fiction. And it’s a delight to be able to .. when you find a story that’s really fun to work with, that’s a, that’s a delight.

CM: What do you make of, you said “the colonial period” when you prefaced that, what do you make of more modern writers. Maybe I’ll throw out two names: A writer who I’m really a fan of, Kim Young-ha, and Han Kang. Writers like that who are in their 40s and really represent the current literature in Korea. What do you make of them?

BF: Well, I know Kim Young-ha pretty well and I like to think I know his fiction pretty well. I hosted him for 8 months in Vancouver in 2008-2009. Kim Young-ha is, and other authors who have published with the Munhak Dongnae Publishing Company I think have brought a new sensibility to Korean fiction. And then these are the writers that I think are best positioned in the new millennium to take Korean fiction to a new stage and equally important to kind of sustain literature as a valuable artistic enterprise at a time when so many other Korean art forms are ahead of it in terms of getting international attention. Liter ature in Korea seems to be facing some challenges. But I think that the imagination, the flair that an author like Kim Young-ha brings to the table, brings to the printed page I should say, is something that’s going to help a lot, both here in Korea and overseas. Han Kang I’ve read a little bit of, but not enough to fee qualified to talk about her.

CM: Fair enough. Well on that note I’d like to thank you for coming in today. Professor Fulton, thank you.

BF: My pleasure, thank you.

This has been Charles Montgomery, for

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