SOAS University of London

SOAS student wins 2020 Harvill Secker Young Translators' Prize

16 October 2020
Jesse Kirkwood

SOAS Masters student Jesse Kirkwood (MA Japanese Studies) has been announced as the winner of the 2020 Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize.

Jesse Kirkwood receives £1,000 and a selection of Vintage titles. He will also take part in a National Centre for Writing Emerging Translator Mentorship, presented in association with the Tadashi Yanai Initiative, and mentored by acclaimed translator and judge of this year’s prize Polly Barton. The prize was awarded at a National Centre for Writing Meet the World event on 29 September 2020 in celebration of International Translation Day.

Now in its eleventh year, the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize aims to recognise the achievements of young translators at the start of their careers and to encourage and support the next generation of literary translators. It focuses on a different language each prize year and is open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 34, with no more than one full-length translation published. There is no restriction on country of residence. This year’s chosen language was Japanese and entrants were asked to translate the short story ‘Yakyoku’ by Yusho Takiguchi, from his award-winning collection Shindeinaimono.

On receiving his award, Jesse said:

"I am absolutely thrilled to be this year’s winner. The world of literary translation, which once seemed distant and inaccessible, has now been brought excitingly within reach, and I am deeply thankful to Harvill Secker and the National Centre for Writing for this opportunity. In a year when many of us have turned inwards during the long months of lockdown, the community and practice of literary translation has offered a kind of solace, as well as the reassuring possibility of hearing and engaging with diverse voices at a time when individuals and nations often seem to be drifting further and further apart. I look forward immensely to being mentored by Polly Barton and spending more time listening to and translating those voices."

The judges – Polly Barton, David Karashima, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Monique-Paris Jackson and Mikaela Pedlow – gave the following statement:

"This year we received a record number of entries. Over one hundred translations flooded in from across the UK and all over world, including the United States, New Zealand, Brazil, Madagascar, Italy and Japan. It was a feat to choose from so many creative entries, but in the end the judges were unanimous in selecting Jesse Kirkwood as this year’s winner. His translation is stunningly spare, nuanced and faithful to the wistfulness and mystery of Yusho Takiguchi’s original. Jesse impressed with his attention to detail as well as his sensitivity to language and his lightness of touch when handling the complex and slippery challenges of this translation. The judges have also awarded runner-up to LK Nithya, whose impressive translation came in very close second place. LK Nithya’s translation is playful and engaging, and the judges particularly enjoyed its rhythm and use of imagery. Congratulations to both of our 2020 finalists!"

Find out more about the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize.