5/5/19 Show ft. E. J. Koh

This episode features the translation work of the amazing E. J. Koh, plus the music she’s chosen to go with her work. Enjoy!


E. J. Koh is the author of A Lesser Love, winner of the Pleiades Editors Prize, and her memoir The Magical Language of Others is forthcoming from Tin House Books. Her work has appeared in Boston Review, Columbia Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Prairie Schooner. She received fellowships from The American Literary Translators Association, Kundiman, The MacDowell Colony, Vermont Studio Center, and elsewhere. Her social media handles for Twitter/IG/FB are all @thisisEJKoh.

PhDJ’s Intro

I had the pleasure of attending, at AWP in Portland this year, E. J. Koh’s panel titled “Who Has the Rights? The How, Why, and Whom of Translation,” which also included readings by It’s Lit former features and fan favorites Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello (episode 43) and Rajiv Mohabir (episode 4, episode 16, episode 17, episode 22, and special feature on The Cowherd’s Son). E. J. described her work to translate the letters her mother sent her weekly from Korea in the years that they were separated. Her parents had to return to Korea for a work contract while E. J., who was 15 at the time, and her brother stayed behind in California. Though this separation was initially expected to be for a three-year contract, parents and children were not reunited for nine years. E. J. undertook the project of translating her mother’s letters from Korean to English around 2013-2014, not expecting at the time that this project would take her a total of six years to complete. In this episode, E. J. shares two letters from this deeply personal translation project, where we glimpse a mother’s desire to guide her daughter in how to see the world and understand her place within it along with the unimaginable pain of being apart.


  1. Tomo Nakayama – Cold Clear Moon
  2. Catie Curtis – Troubled Mind
  3. LIT: January letter
  4. Tomo Nakayama – Horses
  5. LIT: December letter
  6. 100 mile house – Hiraeth


Why Lit? 

  • The answer seems to change, and I can only speak for this moment, but I feel as though I am presently writing for the purpose of connecting the unique experiences of individual lives through the common experience of emotions. I truly hope to do something for others in this way and push myself towards that vision.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to yourself and why? Or, what advice would you give to younger writers?

  • I would tell my younger self to relax and enjoy your life. If the things you want were meant for you, then they would come without the great pains that you’re seeking. Rather than sacrifice, rather than grief, look instead for ways to give, and ways to heal.



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