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Austin Woerner: The Creative Art of Translation

When Chinese novelist Su Wei and his translator Austin Woerner first met in 2005, little did they know that their friendship would spark a ten-year-long experiment in creative co-translation that would take them from the classrooms of Yale to the mountains of far southern China and back again. Join Woerner as he recounts this literary odyssey, culminating in the publication of the English translation of Su’s novel The Invisible Valley in April of this year. Woerner will tell the story behind the story, a coming-of-age narrative set during the Cultural Revolution against a backdrop of rainforest landscapes, Taoist mysticism, and Cantonese folklore. In the process he will share the joys and complexities of translation and his adventures in Chinese literature both on and off the page.  

About the Book

Lu Beiping is one of 20 million young adults the Chinese government uproots and sends far from their homes for agricultural re-education. And Lu is bored and exhausted. While he pines for romance, instead he’s caught up in a forbidden religious tradition and married off to the foreman’s long-dead daughter so that her soul may rest. The foreman then sends him off to cattle duty up on Mudkettle Mountain, far away from everyone else.

On the mountain, Lu meets an outcast polyamorous family led by a matriarch, Jade, and one of her lovers, Kingfisher. They are woodcutters and practice their own idiosyncratic faith by which they claim to placate the serpent-demon sleeping in the belly of the mountains. Just as the village authorities get wind of Lu’s dalliances with the woodcutters, a typhoon rips through the valley. And deep in the jungle, a giant serpent may be stirring.

The Invisible Valley is a lyrical fable about the shapes into which human affection can be pressed in extreme circumstances; about what is natural and what is truly deviant; about the relationships between the human and the natural, the human and the divine, the self and the other.

About the Authors

A Chinese-English literary translator, Austin Woerner has translated two volumes of poetry, Doubled Shadows: Selected Poetry of Ouyang Jianghe and Phoenix , and edited the English edition of the innovative, bilingual Chinese literary journal Chutzpah!. Together with Ou Ning, he co-edited the short fiction anthology Chutzpah!: New Voices from China. He has a BA in East Asian Studies from Yale and an MFA in creative writing from the New School, formerly taught creative writing and translation at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, and is now a lecturer at Duke Kunshan University. He can be found at, @invisiblevalley on Twitter, and @invisiblevalleybook on Instagram.

Author Su Wei spent ten years working on a rubber plantation on Hainan Island during the Cultural Revolution, and afterward he was among the first mainland Chinese to pursue an advanced degree in the United States. He returned to China and played a key role in the Beijing literary scene during the 1980s “culture fever,” relocated permanently to the U.S. afterward, and since 1997 has been a lecturer at Yale University. He has published three novels and several books of short stories and personal essays in Chinese. The Invisible Valley, translated by Austin Woerner, is his first book to be published in English.

Earlier Event: June 23
Kaliya Van Benefit
Later Event: June 29
Dark Moon Poetry & Arts