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Interview with Jennifer Crewe of Columbia University Press

I wasn’t previously familiar with this blog, but New Yorker In Seoul looks like a really interesting place to learn about Korean culture. The other day, Patricia Park—the site’s curator and former Columbia University Press editorial intern—published “this interview” with Jennifer Crewe, Associate Director and Editorial Director at Columbia University Press.

So, back to this interview: when I was studying at the Korean Literature Translation Institute, every major Korean literature work that was published into English was, basically, published by CUP. (Had I known this as that wee intern, I would have pilfered our office library.) It’s funny how things in your life sometimes come round full circle, so I’m especially chuffed to be posting this interview with Jennifer, the editor behind many of these titles. This interview would be particularly relevant to you literature translation folks who wish to gain a glimpse of what the industry is like and how the whole editorial process works. [. . .]

Take this as an opportunity to brag a bit. What were some of your award-winning, best-selling projects? Your personal favorite projects? Upcoming titles you’re excited about?

None of these books has been a best-seller, I’m sorry to say! But they are all well-known among the community of scholars of modern Korean literature in North America. The novel that has sold the most copies in English is Cho’e Yun’s There a Petal Silently Falls. The author came to the US to do some readings and that certainly helped get the word out. [. . .]

The media—both in Korea and stateside—can’t stop talking about the recent success of Shin Kyung-sook’s bestselling novel Please Look After Mom. Do you have thoughts on how this book became such a huge success, and how that success might impact the future of Korean literature in the US market?

As far as I know Please Look After Mom is the first Korean novel to hit the English-speaking mainstream readership.I’m sorry I didn’t know about it before it was translated! However trade publishers are looking for bestsellers and because the book did so well in Korea it obviously caught the eye of an editor here. I think the success had a lot to do with the subject matter of the novel. Everyone feels to a certain extent guilty about not caring for their parents enough! I hope it bodes well for further translations of Korean fiction.

Your thoughts on publishing North Korean literature?

I am very interested in publishing North Korean literature. The problem is that we need funding to publish translations of Korean literature, and the funding agencies are usually government-sponsored ones in South Korea, and they obviously have no interest in funding translations of writers from the North.



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