Meet the ’17 Mentees: E.J. Koh

The ALTA Emerging Translator Mentorship Program is designed to facilitate and establish a close working relationship between an experienced translator and an emerging translator on a project selected by the emerging translator. The mentorship duration is approximately one year. The emerging translator is expected to choose a project that can be completed in a year’s time, and they will only be advised on that particular project. Congratulations to this year’s Korean poetry mentee (along with Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello), E.J. Koh:

After completing her MFA at Columbia University in New York for Poetry and Literary Translation, E. J. Koh moved from New York City to Seattle, Washington where, among packing boxes, she discovered sixty love letters written to her in Korean and posted by her mother overseas from 2004, or during their nearly nine years of separation. For the next two years, she traveled to residencies like The MacDowell Colony, Vermont Studio Center, Kundiman, and others for a space to translate the heart of her mother’s letters written during the time of Koh’s long-wrought childhood where she stayed behind in the United States at the age of fourteen while her parents moved to South Korea. Speaking at conferences like AWP and the Asian American Educators Alliance, Koh presented her letters to reveal the emotional trauma and surprising levity in moments that alight the reader to a mother’s love and daughter’s resilience. Koh then met her literary agent and began her memoir alongside the letters in a forthcoming title, How to Age with Grace.

Koh has since documented Korean women’s history through her work on subjects of comfort women, satellite families, and the Sea Women of Jeju Island, or her family’s homeland. She authored her debut poetry book A Lesser Love, winner of the 2016 Pleiades Editors Prize, called “first rate, intelligent, pure-gold – a triumph” by Boston Review editor and author of The Cloud Corporation Timothy Donnelly. She won numerous national prizes and has been featured in magazines across the country. She is currently collaborating with Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello on the translation of Yi Won’s poetry books When They Ruled the Earth (1996) and The Lightest Motorcycle in the World (2007) as winners of the 2017 ALTA Emerging Translator Mentorship under Don Mee Choi. She will excavate the unique struggle of interpreting Korea’s neglected past and present while simultaneously addressing the lack of representation by modern Korean women poets available in the country. Poet Yi Won recalls an ancient past juxtaposed with the current technological immersion, merging the sixteenth and twenty-second centuries, using the gap to strike down political disillusionment and materiality of identity.

Koh’s poems and translations have appeared in Boston Review, Columbia Review, Southeast Review, World Literature Today, TriQuarterly, Narrative, The Margins, PEN America, La Petite Zine, and elsewhere. She is completing her PhD at the University of Washington for English Language and Literature in Seattle where she further researches the Korean diaspora and the culture-specific phenomena of Jeong, or most closely translated as a bond or bondage by love.

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