We're pleased to welcome Allison Tim as the first-ever WWB education fellow. Allison is a writer, photographer, and budding filmmaker. After graduating from Macalester College with a degree in International Studies, she worked in media, education, and documentary film. Prior to joining WWB, she taught English in France and South Korea, where she wrote about arts and culture for the Gwangju News. Allison spoke with us about how she came to literature in translation, her experience teaching abroad, and her favorite books.
WWB: What drew you to Words Without Borders (and literature in translation more generally)? What is your personal relationship to language and translation?
Allison Tim (AT): My exploration of literature in translation developed subconsciously, in a way. I’m a rather scattered reader, always picking up random books based on how cool the title sounds, and yes, the cover. I found a beaten-up copy of Crime and Punishment in middle school and thought it would be a delightfully bleak and serious read. That raucous teen spirit has guided a lot of my decisions, including what I read.
While living in South Korea, I wanted to read contemporary Korean authors, but it was hard to find their works in translation. I searched online and found a wonderful collection of stories on WWB.
WWB: Could you share some of your favorite books and/or writers? What do you look for in a great book?
AT: I want it all: great characters, an interesting story, and a rich setting. My favorite books and writers accomplish this, while creating a mood that sits with me for a while. Toni Morrison is a master at this.
My favorite books also challenge me ideologically, which is why I love to read science fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler, as well as more stark and elusive portrayals of society as seen in Franz Kafka’s works or more contemporary stories, such as The Vegetarian by Han Kang or Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata.
WWB: You’ve taught English in France and South Korea. Could you tell us a bit about those experiences and how they might inform your work with WWB?
AT: Teaching English abroad gave me great exposure to not only different cultures and languages, but also the different ways we relate to one another and ourselves. My ability to speak French helped me adapt to life there, but in South Korea, I primarily learned through observation.
My official title in South Korea was “Guest English Teacher,” and I think the term “guest” is a great way to describe my work with WWB, which provides readers of English with an invitation to explore diverse cultures and perspectives from around the world through literature.
WWB: Are there languages, themes, or genres that you’re eager to see more of in English translation (or in English-language classrooms)?
AT: I’m obviously a fan of psychological and crime fiction (as seen from my Kafka and Dostoevsky teenage fan club above), but I’m also intrigued by stories of migration, family sagas, and literary journalism.
Like my former students, I also love a good horror story and would like to see how women of color and other underrepresented writers explore the genre.
WWB: Beyond literature and translation, what are your passions and interests?
AT: I picked up a lot of my current passions and interests while living abroad. I’m not the most determined sightseer, so when I travel, I often spend most of my days walking around, eating, and dipping into random shops, cafés, and museums. Among other flâneuse things, I enjoy hiking, street photography, and watching foreign films.