Literary Hub

Meet National Book Award Finalist Margaret Mitsutani

The 2018 National Book Awards will be held on Wednesday, November 14 at the 69th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. In preparation for the ceremony, and to celebrate all of the wonderful books and authors nominated for the awards this year, Literary Hub will be sharing short interviews with each of the finalists in all five categories: Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction.

Yoko Tawada’s The Emissary, translated by Margaret Mitsutani, set in a Japan that has shut itself off from the rest of the world, to strange and disastrous results, is a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Translated Literature. Literary Hub asked Mitsutani a few questions about her work, her life, and the books she loves.


Who do you most wish would read your translation?

Abe Shinzo, the Prime Minister of Japan.

Who was the first person you told about making this list?

My husband, because I had to tell him I’d be coming to New York.

Which book(s) do you return to again and again?

In recent years, I’ve been reading and rereading the works of the haiku poet Nagata Koi (1900-1997), whose students started the haiku little magazine I belong to. Of course I read his haiku, but I like his autobiography and essays, too.

Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers from the film Hellzapoppin’ (1941). NOT the whole film, just the three-minute scene of the Lindy Hoppers dancing, which can be seen on Youtube. Being rather clumsy myself, I am in awe of people who can move like that. Watching them always cheers me up.

What has your experience of translating this book been like?

Like playing with words—very difficult and serious play, but still my favorite activity.

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