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NZ Centre for Literary Translation

The New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation supports research projects and activities in the theory and practice of literary translation.

Te Tumu Whakawhiti Tuhinga o Aotearoa


In Memory and a Pocketful of Words – published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1964 – Janet Frame ONZ CBE (1924-2004), one of New Zealand’s most distinguished writers, provides an insightful and moving appreciation of literary translation:

While I explored the settlement of tragedy, as a reader I found in foreign territory among Russian, French, Norse, Italian languages, an English boarding house where the translators lived. How faithfully they worked, going out every day, foraging alone, directed by scholarship and individual taste, bringing home (however cramped in English briefcases) the masterpieces of foreign literature! When other writers may have their reward by feasting with the Gods, the translators, who have given so much, will be sitting down as usual to their dull boarding house tea watched over by the boarding house rules pasted on the four walls of their dining room. English readers however familiar with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Dante. Kafka and others, will know that to each of the translators the writing on the wall is a personal illuminative text into which the rules have been absorbed as if, written at first with invisible ink, they had been held before the flame, had been made visible, then had returned beneath the surface to light the new text of imagination: out of sight, like glowworms. From these translators with their briefcases and boarding house tea I drew inspiration as exploring reader. I ‘breathed in’ the works they brought home to the English language. How does one survive on such shadow oxygen unless it is that survival depends on the basic forma of the shadow and the reality. and not upon the surroundings from which they are drawn? The oxygen may lack its original distinctive flavour but if one is desperate to go on living one cannot wait to take part in the full tragedy of ‘smelling the air’—or of tasting it: it is enough that it is pure, perfect O.

The New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation (NZCLT) – officially launched on 3 March 2008, by the then Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Helen Clark – was established to support research projects and activities in the theory and practice of literary translation, celebrating the work of both New Zealand and foreign language writers.

The centre is an innovative and exciting research hub that hosts a core group of literary translators from the Asian and European Languages programmes at Victoria, maintaining links and forging collaborations with national and international scholars, authors, literary translators, publishers, cultural institutions.

The objectives of the centre are:

  1. to research issues relating to literary translation, particularly of New Zealand literature;
  2. to provide support for the translation of New Zealand writers, in part through the eventual establishment of a translator’s residency;
  3. the raise the awareness of the wider community about the process and relevance of literary translation;
  4. to develop literary translation activities in teaching and professional areas;
  5. to collaborate with other centres, institutions and agencies across the world on literary translation practices and policies.

The work of the centre – which includes an annual public lecture, seminars and publications – is planned and implemented by a Committee which includes staff members from the School of Languages and Cultures as well as from other academic divisions (currently, the International Institute of Modern Letters and Wai-te-ata Press) under the leadership of a Director.

The centre welcomes research proposals (MA and PhD in Literary Translation Studies) in translational topics related to the languages and cultures taught in the School and to the research profiles of staff.

Current Director: Dr Luo Hui, Lecturer in Chinese (2016-)

Current Director: Dr Marco Sonzogni, Senior Lecturer in Italian (2011-2014)

Founding Director: Dr Jean Anderson, Associate Professor of French (2008-2011)


At the Centre's launch, the first official publication, Been There, Read That! Stories for the Armchair Traveller (Victoria University Press) was also launched. The anthology contains more than twenty stories from twenty different countries, translated from over a dozen different languages. The anthology is a team effort, involving translators from the School of Language and Cultures, as well as other local and international specialists in language and literature from countries as diverse as Ireland, Iran, Spain, Korea, Vietnam, Austria, Switzerland, Mauritius and Venezuela, to name but a few. More publications have come out since (for further details see the staff profiles of the NZCLT Committee Members) and others are forthcoming.

Annual lecture and seminars

2016 Annual Lecture in Literary Translation Studies

Interpreting ‘The Bacchae’ by Euripides in Māori: A Discussion with Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal

Charles Royal will be in conversation with Simon Perris, Senior Lecturer in Classics, Victoria University of Wellington.

Charles Royal sitting on a red chair.

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal is a composer, researcher and teacher and a passionate advocate for ‘indigenous creativity’. Through composing and performing music, through researching and teaching iwi histories and traditions and indigenous knowledge, Charles pursues indigenous creativity and innovation. His iwi are Marutūahu, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngā Puhi. Charles is currently Director, Ngā Manu Atarau (Communities, Repatriation, Sector Development) at Te Papa Museum of New Zealand.

Hosted by The New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation/ Te Tumu Whakawhiti Tuhinga o Aotearoa and the School of Languages and Cultures.

2015 Annual Lecture in Literary Translation Studies

Two special events with Jonathan Galassi:

Translating Nobel Laureates: Jonathan Galassi on Eugenio Montale

Translating the Muse: A Creative Conversation with Jonathan Galassi

Jonathan Galassi sitting in front of a bookshelf.

JONATHAN GALASSI is the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the author of three collections of poetry and most recently Muse: A Novel (2015), as well as acclaimed translations of the Italian poets Eugenio Montale and Giacomo Leopardi. A former Guggenheim Fellow and poetry editor of The Paris Review, he also writes for The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and other publications.

Hosted by The New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation, the School of Languages and Cultures, and Wai-te-ata Press in association with the Embassy of the United States of America and the Embassy of Italy and in partnership with the Brisbane Writers Festival and the Melbourne Writers Festival

2014 Annual Lecture in Literary Translation Studies

Title: 'Sex and Other Disappearing Acts: Translating Sexuality in Korean Fiction into English'

Shin Kyung-sook's I'll Be Right There (Other Press, 2014), selected as a "must-read book of 2014" by the Huffington Post; Our Happy Time by the bestselling novelist Gong Ji-young (Short Books, 2014); and Cheolsu: A Good Man by Bae Suah, the first Korean author to be selected by Amazon’s new translation imprint Amazon Crossing (forthcoming 2015). For the female protagonists of these novels, sex and sexuality are integral to, but eclipsed from, their narratives. Korean readers are trusted to fill in the blanks, but what happens when the same text is translated for an Anglophone audience? Is the supposed omission of sex scenes from Korean women’s fiction symptomatic of sexual double standards, or does this tangible absence hold other meanings? This lecture will explore the challenges of translating sex and sexuality in Korean literature for commercial presses while navigating issues of ambiguity, ellipsis, and disconnection.

Sora Kim Russell

Sora Kim-Russell is a literary translator based in Seoul. Her recent publications include Shin Kyung-sook’s I’ll Be Right There and Gong Ji-young’s Our Happy Time. Her translations of Bae Suah’s Cheolsu: A Good Man and Hwang Sok-yong’s Princess Bari are forthcoming in 2015.

She was the grand prize winner of the 6th Korean Literature Translation Contest for New Translators and the Korea Times 36th Modern Literature Translation Award in poetry. Her work has appeared in Words Without Borders, The American Reader, Drunken Boat, Pebble Lake Review, and other publications.

Sora teaches Korean-to-English translation at Ewha Womans University and the Literature Translation Institute of Korea.

This event is being held by The New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation and the Asian Studies Programme in partnership with the Literature Translation Institute of Korea and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea.

2014 Annual Lecture in Literary Translation Studies

Title: 'A Malay Knight Speaks the White Man’s Tongue'

Muhammad Haji Salleh on translating the self and one’s literary tradition. Delivered by Professor Harry AvelingMuhammed Haji Salleh

Muhammad Haji Salleh (born 1942) is a major Malay poet and literary scholar. Originally educated in English and writing his early poetry in that language, he made a decision to write in Malay during his twenties. His poetry exists in English, Malay and Malay translations of poems first published in English. His scholarship has focused on exploring the aesthetics of the classical Malay literary tradition, including the pantun, and he has recently published a translation of the epic, the Hikayat Hang Tuah.
The lecture will discuss the principles that support Muhammad's translations and ask whether there are differences between the ways he translates his own work and that of the Malay literary tradition.

Harry Aveling

Harry Aveling is a Professor in the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash Univeristy. He specialises in Indonesian and Malay Literature, and Translation Studies.
A widely published academic and award-winning literary translator, he is a Fellow of the Stockholm Collegium of World Literary History, Stockholm University, a former President of AALITRA, the Australian Association for Literary Translation (2005–2008), and currently Immediate Past President of the Malaysia and Singapore Society, a regional subgroup of the Asian Studies Association of Australia.

This event is being held  by the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation and the Asian Studies Programme in partnership with the High Commission of Malaysia in Wellington.

2014 Annual Lecture in Literary Translation Studies

Title: 'Hearing the Voice'

Julie Rose

Julie Rose is a world-renowned translator. Her acclaimed translations include Alexandre Dumas' The Knight of the Maison-Rouge and Racine’s Phedre as well as works by the French philosopher Paul Virilio, Jacques Ranciere, Chantal Thomas and others. She has translated essays written by authors including Vaclav Havel, Chantal Thomas on Proust, Jean-Louis Cohen, Hubert Damisch on architecture, Pierre Bourdieu on art and Yannis Tsiomis on high tech architecture.

In 2008 she delivered her English translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. This version of the book – published by Random House (Modern Library) – is the first full original unabridged English translation of the book. Julie Rose is a recipient of the PEN Translation Prize (NSW Premier’s Prize and Medallion for translation).

Hosted by the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation, the Embassy of France and the Alliance Française

Past lectures and seminars

2013 - The Annual Lecture entitled  'The Secret Life of Dead Languages and the Role of Translation' was delivered by Diego Marani (Ferrara, Italy, 1959) is a bestselling author, translator, essayist, columnist, and blogger. .

2012 - The Annual Lecture entitled "Six or Seven Beginnings" was delivered by Michael Hofmann, award-winning poet, translator and critic.

2011 - The Annual Lecture was delivered by David Norton, Professor of English at Victoria University and was part of the worldwide celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

2010 - The Annual Lecture was part of the first international conference on literary translation,'Talking Past Each Other, Translating for Each Other'  and consisted of three keynote addresses delivered by Paulo Britto, Professor of English at the Pontificia Universidade Católica (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Lawrence Venuti, Professor of English at Temple University (Philadelphia, USA); and by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University (New York, USA).

2009 - The Annual Lecture was delivered by Brian Boyd, University Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Auckland (NZ).

2008 - The Inaugural Annual Lecture was delivered by Breon Mitchell, Professor of Germanic Studies and Comparative Literature at Indiana University (Bloomington, USA).

In September and October 2009, under an agreement with the Korea Literature Translation Institute, the Centre welcomed Korean writer-in-residence, Kim Sun-Woo, to work on the translation of some of her poetry. Her books of poems include What If My Tongue Refuses to be Shut Inside My Mouth (2000), I Fall Asleep Under the Peach Blossoms (2003) and Who Sleeps Inside Me? (2007). She has also written essays, which have been collected in When the Moon Under the Water Unlocked (2002), Objects According to Kim Sun-Woo (2005), Sugar-like Kisses Entering My Mouth (2007), and Who Has Laid Inside This Rice Bowl Besides Us? (2007). She is also the author of a book of folk tales for the grown-ups titled Princess Bari (2003). She has received the Contemporary Literature Prize, the Chun Sang-byung Poetry Prize, and other literary awards.

Other distinguished national and international guests of the NZCLT include Bill Manhire, John Milton and Qui Xiaolong.

Postgraduate student research

The centre hosts a number of postgraduate students, who are working on projects across a range of languages and approaches.

For a list of students, visit the student profiles page.