Matt Reeck answers our Proust Questionnaire

A "Lydia Davis" Questionnaire


Who is your favorite fictional character of all time?

Too hard a question as it would require me to remember all the books I’ve read.

Who was your first favorite writer and how old were you when you discovered them?

Lloyd Alexander. I must have been about 10.

What is your favorite word in any language? Which word do you find most difficult to translate?

I like saying “theek hai” (Hindi/Urdu for “OK). 2) “Bhai” (short “a” not the long “a” of “bhaai”/ “brother”) – it is an interjection used to express contrast, disagreement, umbrage, or surprise, or something like all of those in one.

What 5 books would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

 I think 5 books I haven’t read, but which ones? This is the problem of going on vacation—which books to bring? And a problem whose tentative solution necessitates more luggage than appropriate.

Which under-translated author do you think deserves wider recognition worldwide?

The ones I’m working on right now, probably: Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi (Urdu), Zahia Rahmani (French), and Kim Cheom-seon (Korean)

Do you have a translation philosophy that guides your work?

Yes, but it is best left unexpressed. Its more public parts involve a basic commitment to translating each word (ie. to not exoticizing the text with unnecessary original language words).

Which of the translations that you´ve worked on was the most challenging? Why?

Musthaq Ahmed Yousufi’s Mirages of the Mind. He uses not just some difficult words (ones out of current circulation) but basically every hard word in Urdu.

How did you learn your foreign language and how did you begin working as a literary translator?

Hindi: on the ground in India; Urdu: in school in India; Korean: living in Korea; French: from middle school on …

If you could have been born in a culture other than your own which would you choose to be a member of? Why?

A culture from far far away, preferably on the far end of the universe.

If you hadn’t been a translator what profession would you like to have tried?

I’d like to be a professional translator! I mean, I’d like to be paid enough so that that was it!


Matt Reeck is a poet and translator. His poetry has been published in many national magazines. Bombay Stories, translations from the Urdu of Saadat Hasan Manto, is out this spring from Vintage Classics UK and US. (It was published in India by Random House in Nov 2012.) Mirages of the Mind, from the Urdu of Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, is out this year from Random House India. In 2013, Matt published two poetry chapbooks, “The Pastoral City” by Little Red Leaves and “The Necessary City” by Konundrum Engine Literary Review. He won a Fulbright Scholarship to India, and he has received PEN and NEA translation grants.

You can find Matt Reeck’s July 2013 Asymptote translation of The First Memorable Poetry Festival of Dhiraj Danj by Mushtag Ahmad Yousufi here.