10 Questions for Ting Wang

Amal Zaman

"Fantaisie Impromptu. That's Chopin, of course. The record--held in a pink sleeve (or it should be pink)--was a pirated copy: ten yuan apiece, or nine if you buy more. It wasn't mine though. It was lent to me by a high-school classmate of my classmate from primary school. They were attending an all-girls high school..."
--from Fantaisie Impromptu which appears in the Winter 2016 issue (Volume 57, Issue 4).

Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated

Among the early pieces I translated are two lyric essays by Chen Li (titled “Baudelaire Street” and “Mushan's Blacksmith Shop”)—in which he takes the readers on a mesmerizing journey back in time to vintage Taiwan. There, Chen deftly waves his wondrous imagination and graceful lyricism into an intricate contemplation of, and nastagia for the times past, in an innovative style. It was a total delight to translate them.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women totally captivated me early on. Other English-language writers that I have particularly admired include E. M. Forster,  John Keats, Saul Bellow, V. S. Naipaul, Pico Iyer, and Gore Vidal. I hope their inspiration has helped and will continue to help me find my own voice and style.

What other professions have you worked in?

I have worked in international exchange, development and education. I perceive them to share a common thread with literary translation, that is, bridging cultures—which is what makes my role as a literary translator and in those professional capacities so fulfilling.

What did you want to be when you were young?

I wanted to be a writer from a young age, before I learned any English. I’ve enjoyed writing in both Chinese and English. So it’s only natural for me to get bitten by the literary translation bug. I guess life somehow has a way of letting you approach and even attain your ultimate aspiration.:-)

What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?

Although Chen Li is best known for his poetry, I find his prose just as enthralling. Chen Li compares his poetry and prose to the left and right atria of his heart, with slightly different pulsation. I was drawn by his unique sensibility, artful poetics and exquisite musicality that characterize his prose as much as his poems. In this particular piece, the way Chen Li elegantly blends his deep appreciation of Chopin’s Fantiasie Impromptu with his own reflection on life simply fascinates and enchants me. I can’t resist the urge to translate it.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?

I gather that a number of places where I’ve lived or sojourned have had some influence on me consciously or unconsciously, such as London, Istanbul, Paris, New York, Montreal, New Orleans, Mérida, Chengdu, Washington, but in particular, Beijing and Chicago.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?

I don’t have any set rituals per se, but I need to be in a fairly cloistered state, so to speak, which would allow me to totally enter the world of the specific piece of work that I’m translating.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?

I would love to work in photography and documentary film.

What are you working on currently?

Currently I am working on compiling and translating a collection of Chen Li’s prose—selected from Chen’s prose works written over four decades—which would be the first collection of his prose in English translation. I’m also compiling and translating a collection of selected short stories by acclaimed Chinese fiction writer Su Tong, and translating some poems by Liao Hui, an award-winning female Chinese poet.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading Trying to Please (written by John Julius Norwich), and Every Father’s Daughter: Twenty-Four Women Writers Remember Their Fathers (edited by Margaret McMullan).

TING WANG discovered her passion for literary translation while studying American and British literature in mainland China. Her translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Asymptote, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Brooklyn Rail InTranslation, Denver Quarterly, The Iowa Review, Washington Square Review, and Your Impossible Voice. She holds a PhD from the School of Communication at Northwestern University, and lives and works in the Washington metropolitan area.