Meet The Translator: Interview With Darryl Sterk (Taiwanese To English)

Darryl Sterk Photo

Following on from my previous blog post which was my book review on Hunter School. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to find out more about not only the translating process but also more about the translator himself Darryl Sterk. So today’s post is going to be an Interview with translator Darryl Sterk.

First, could you please introduce yourself.

I’m Darryl STERK, erstwhile Taiwan based now Hong Kong based translator and academic.

What was your inspiration for pursuing a career in translation? And how did you get started?

I started as an in house translator for a college application service, I translated reference letters and study plans with the customers sitting next to me. Twenty years ago. I got a freelance job through that, through which I got all sorts of cases, in all different fields. That led to coursework for an MA in translation I didn’t finish (I got a PhD in Taiwanese cultural studies). A teacher I met in the MA introduced me to the editor at the Taipei Chinese Pen, and to a literary agent who sold the first Taiwanese novel to a trade publisher, Wu Ming-Yi’s The Man With the Compound Eyes, with me translating. That led to various other projects. And eventually to research in translation studies.

Why did you want to translate Hunter School by Sakinu Ahronglong?

He’s a noted YA writer among Taiwan’s indigenous writers, and has been very successful spinning the novel into cartoons and even a feature film. I met the guy, thought he was charismatic, and a good storyteller, and the premise of a hunter school is intriguing. So I suggested it to Anthony at Honford Star.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a translator?

You’ll need luck (right place at the right time) if you want to translate literature. Otherwise, you have to have the language ability and the background knowledge. It’s not well remunerated when you start out, but if you’re good – you have the ability and knowledge to produce accurate and readable translations – you can make a decent living, and it’s very enjoyable I think. If you do translate literature you might feel tempted to edit, in which case you have to navigate perceptions of what a translator should be doing.

What authors/translators do you like to read? And what five books do you feel have really shaped and inspired you as a translator and a person?

Alice Munro! Le Carre. Charles Blow’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. I read a bunch of different things every year because my students do final year projects. My favorite novel is obscure, Lessons in Essence. I don’t mind genre fiction if it’s serious.

As for Chinese-English translators, David Hawkes!

Books that have inspired me over the years:

The Hero With a Thousand Faces


Becoming a Translator (D. Robinson)

The Diversity of Life (E. O. Wilson)

A Reunion of Trees (S. A Spongberg)

My interests are shifting.

What books are you excited about or working on now?

In addition to Hunter School I just finished another collection of short stories, Home Sickness, wonderful.

Well I just finished a translation of a novel about a would be ballroom dancer who identifies as a mermaid, which I did a lot of work on, and which is really wonderful and I hope marketable. I did a chapter from a memoir by Syaman Rapongan, another indigenous writer, who worked as mover and shipper, doing work nobody else wanted to do, in the 1970s, all the while pursuing his dream of getting into university, which he did. And I have a novel waiting for me, ghost stories set in a Yoknapatawpha County in south-central Taiwan. There’s also a memoir about someone’s mother called The Blue Skin.

Are there any Taiwanese books that you would love to translate in the future?

Wu Ming-Yi’s Land of Little Rain 苦雨之地. Wu Ming-Yi got me into literary treatments of natural science…

When it comes to the promotion of the books that you have translated how involved are you?

I’ve done some book tours to promote the two novels by Wu Ming-Yi I translated, during which I served as interpreter more than anything. I’m not very good at promotion alas. I prefer to stay behind the scenes.

But I’ve had a lot of time in front of an audience as a teacher, so maybe I don’t do too bad.

I’m trying to promote my own academic book Indigenous Cultural Translation through a Facebook page, not sure how well that’s working.

Has the perception of Taiwanese Literature in translation changed during the time you have worked as a translator?

That it’s viable for a trade publisher of whatever size. And maybe a little bit that there’s a distinctively Taiwanese set of voices that represent the liberal democratic possibilities for “Chinese culture” at a time when many countries, like the PRC, are becoming more authoritarian and nativist.

Finally, what are you currently reading.

I just finished Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem, which is touching and well-written, about three endangered species that symbolize wilderness for him and which he wants his daughter to observe in the flesh. She has teddy bears, he shows her polar bears in Churchill Manitoba. Next up Ecological Imperialism by Alfred Crosby, a history of natural science in Mandarin about the exploration of Taiwan’s rainforests, and a book in Dutch called The Evenings in its recent English translation. It’s about Amsterdam in the late 1940s, about which my father has his earliest memories.

I’d like to read more of a Hong Kong writer called Dominick Cheung

Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview and I cannot wait to read more of your translations in the future.


(Photo of the book is my own and the photo of Darryl Sterk is the property of Darryl himself so please do not take or copy without permission first).

One response to “Meet The Translator: Interview With Darryl Sterk (Taiwanese To English)

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors I read in 2020 | Where there's Ink there's Paper·

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