Translation Diary, Part Two

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Updates on January Goals

(1) Hire an English copy editor.

I hired Jeremy Anderson, a friend from college who now works as a freelance game designer. He had mentioned doing this sort of editing work in a conversation we’d had a few years ago, and I’ve been a fan of his creative writing for almost ten years now, so he was the first person I asked. To my immense relief, he took the job. I’m paying him $50 an hour, which is higher than the standard rate for copy editors (which is about $40 an hour) but far less than he deserves. Jeremy does fantastic work, and he does it with style and grace.

(2) Hire a Japanese copy editor.

I sent out an initial slew of emails to various people asking for recommendations, but these queries unfortunately yielded no immediate results. I then realized that I can’t actually afford to pay a second copy editor.

An essay from last November titled Professors Making $10,000 a Year? Academia Is Becoming a Profession Only the Elite Can Afford recently made the rounds of my friends on Facebook, exposing me to roughly two dozen stories about debt and poverty from among my cohort of young academics. I’m one of the lucky ones, and I can still barely afford conference travel and dry cleaning. Translation accuracy checking would be work I would be happy to pay someone like a grad student or research assistant to do, but I don’t have any institutional support. It always helps to have a second pair of eyes; but, since that’s not an option, I will do my best to be extra careful with my work while keeping watch for any translation support grants that may come my way.

(3) Hire an illustrator for the blog post header / project proposal cover page.

I was strongly attracted to this painting by Cynthia Liu (who goes by maruti-bitamin on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram), so I asked her if I could acquire the rights to use it for this series of blog posts. She agreed, and I paid her $200 for the privilege. I’d been in touch with Cynthia about similar projects in the past, and I’ve always found her to be one of the nicest and most professional artists with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of working.

(4) Write a short “Translator Bio” section for the project proposal.

Here goes:

Kathryn Hemmann (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She also runs a blog called Contemporary Japanese Literature (, which features book reviews of fiction in translation. She wrote a chapter of her senior thesis at Emory University, “Demonic Women in Modern Japanese Literature,” on Yumiko Kurahashi, and her partial translation and analysis of the author’s short story collection Kurahashi Yumiko no kaiki shōhen (Yumiko Kurahashi’s Creepy Little Stories) became the basis for an independent research project titled Kurahashi Yumiko to shintai no kyōfu (The Body Horror of Yumiko Kurahashi) at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Yokohama, Japan.

Astute readers will note that I’m using Western name order in the project proposal. I have strong feelings about this, but it seems to be the standard convention in mainstream, non-academic publishing in the United States.

(5) Create a first draft translation of the first story in the collection, “The Mermaid’s Tears” (Ningyo no namida).

Around the middle of the month, I already knew that this was not going to happen. Between article submissions, article edits, and creating two new college courses from scratch, I’ve been busy this month. Also, it always takes me a few weeks to get into a good translation routine. I therefore decided to use this month to polish a pre-existing translation, “Pandora’s Box” (Pandōrā no tsubo).

Although it’s positioned as the eighteenth story in the book, I feel that “Pandora’s Box” serves as a fitting introduction to the collection because of its gauntlet-thrown, in-your-face nastiness. Many of the other stories in Cruel Fairy Tales for Adults contain striking imagery and rhetorical flourishes, but not this one. I read “Pandora’s Box” as an unadorned challenge to the idea that Greek myths are integral to our civilization because they speak to the inherent dignity of our common humanity. “Pandora’s Box” feels as though Kurahashi is saying, “Nope, this nonsense is blatantly sexist and gross. Moving on!” Jeremy (my editor) told me that he doesn’t like this story. Honestly, I don’t think the reader supposed to like this story. I personally find it delightful; but, then again, I am a terrible person with an antisocial sense of humor.

* * * * *

Goals for February

(1) Contact Atsuko Sakaki, translator of The Woman with the Flying Head and Other Stories, to ask about how the Kurahashi estate handles translation rights.

(2) Contact Jeffrey Angles, who is both a brilliant translator and one of the kindest and most supportive scholars working in Japanese Studies, to ask if there are any translation organizations I should be a member of. Figure out how to join these organizations and pay the membership fees, if necessary.

(3) Buy a document scanner (for the Japanese originals).

(4) Create a two-paragraph description of the collection for the project proposal.

(5) Create a first draft translation of the first story in the collection, “The Mermaid’s Tears” (Ningyo no namida). For real this time!

* * * * *

Banner illustration by maruti-bitamin.

8 thoughts on “Translation Diary, Part Two

  1. Bonus goal!

    I need to get back in touch my contact person at the Wylie Agency to figure out what’s going on with the Kawakami translation.

    Because I am entirely lacking in normal professional social skills, it’s sometimes difficult for me to be able to judge whether I’m being rude and contacting someone too frequently or being irresponsible and not contacting someone enough. By this point, however, I’m fairly certain I’ve crossed over into “irresponsible” territory.

    * * * * *

    Recommendations for the document scanner are highly appreciated!

    * * * * *

    As always, if you wouldn’t mind me to sending you copies of my translations each month via email, please feel free to get in touch with me via this blog’s contact page.

  2. Kathryn, This all sounds great! I am appreciative of your straight-forwardness of disclosing exactly how much you are paying for what too. It is one of the only ways we can effectively intervene.

    1. Thanks! I agree that it’s important to be as open and straightforward as possible about this sort of thing.

      I’m really tired of the myth that all universities actively support the work of their faculty. Some do, of course, but many don’t. Academic projects cost money, especially for people who are just beginning their careers.

      One of the major issues that I’ve always had with academia is that no one ever discloses the exact dollar amounts for graduate stipends and assistant professor starting salaries. If this sort of information is inaccessible, then it becomes difficult to negotiate properly, and universities don’t have much of an incentive to compensate their faculty fairly.

      For what it’s worth, I make $55,000 a year as an Assistant Professor at George Mason University. I’m given to understand that this is fairly competitive for the type of institution and my level of experience, but my salary is frozen, with no annual increases or bonuses.

      1. Kathryn, Sorry my answer is coming soooo late!! Since you disclosed your salary publicly I see no reason why I shouldn’t. I was hired in 2013 for $53,500 with $1500 for conference travel and had an annual increase of 1~3% the following year. The salary of the place I worked at before that, from 2012-2013, was $68,000 with limitless support for the first conference.

        As you know, I ultimately left the second institution because the salary was simply not enough to live on for a family of four. I couldn’t understand how my other colleagues (all male) who were also living on a single income with children were surviving. I then found out that they were getting little bits of help here and there both financially and practically from extended family (free childcare, free car, mortgage payments, etc.). I was also getting help because that was the only way our family could survive. I was grateful, but also frustrated that at 35 I couldn’t even support the basic needs of my own family and there was no end in sight of that situation as long as I stayed on the job. The location made it nearly impossible for my partner to get a job so it was either us moving to a place where we can both earn a living or our staying and my continuing to leach on to my parents and deplete *their* retirement savings.

        I feel that academics being cagy about such vital information makes it impossible for people to make rational decisions about whether to pursue a PhD or not. There is a difference between saying, “You are not going to make a great living even if you finish your PhD and are wildly successful (and lucky) on the job market” and “You are not going to be able to survive on your salary if you dare have even one dependent.” And I say “dependent” because it could be a child, a parent, a sibling, or your chosen life-partner… It could be anyone. And yet, it’s made into the fault of the person who goes into the program if they are disappointed at their salary post-graduation.

        To pay an academic only enough for one person to live decently when by the time most academics are on the job market they have usually taken on other adult responsibilities and the job can be absolutely anywhere (where people cannot count on a second income) seems unethical. I understand it’s not necessarily the problem of each institution and its part of a wider systemic problem, but if each individual academic doesn’t share information like you and think about what we can do collectively, what’s the point of higher education? Where is the spirit of critical and independent inquiry? I find it very frustrating.

  3. I have been following your blog for years (and recommended it several times to others) and it has recently taken a very interesting turn. Are you familiar with this website?

    It’s a fantastic site that introduces the major interesting books coming out in Japan right now. Their goal is to introduce Japanese literature to publishers, readers and translators. If you click on the “Grants” tab you can see they want to help translators. Maybe that will help your task?

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment. I hope you mean “interesting” in a good way!

      You know, it’s funny. Years ago, I started reading another website that seems to be run by the same people:

      Since they didn’t have an RSS feed, though, I didn’t really follow them as well as I could have. Looking through the Books From Japan site you linked me to, though, I realize that I’ve read and enjoyed a handful of the novels they’ve got up there. Now that I’m planning for a new project, this will be a great place to start. Thank you so much!

      1. I found another website that is along the lines of what you’re looking for.

        PEN is an organization that tries bring foreign literature into the English speaking world. Here is the website.

        And here is the part of the site where PEN supports translators. Right now it seems to be European language focused but it could become open to Japanese literature at some point (if not now and I just haven’t spotted the right page).

  4. Thanks so much for doing this! I have very little confidence in my solo translating abilities but have had opportunities in the past to do group translations, which have unfortunately encountered the same obstacles that you have. Really looking forward to seeing how things turn out.

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