2020 Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize


Harvill Secker is delighted to announce Jesse Kirkwood as the winner of the 2020 Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize. The prize was awarded at a National Centre for Writing Meet the World event on 29 September 2020 in celebration of International Translation Day.

Jesse Kirkwood receives £1,000 and a selection of Vintage titles. He will also take part in a National Centre for Writing Emerging Translator Mentorship, presented in association with the Tadashi Yanai Initiative, and mentored by acclaimed translator and judge of this year’s prize Polly Barton.

This year the judges also awarded second place to LK Nithya.

Now in its eleventh year, the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize aims to recognise the achievements of young translators at the start of their careers and to encourage and support the next generation of literary translators. It focuses on a different language each prize year and is open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 34, with no more than one full-length translation published. There is no restriction on country of residence. This year’s chosen language was Japanese and entrants were asked to translate the short story ‘Yakyoku’ by Yusho Takiguchi, from his award-winning collection Shindeinaimono.

The judges – Polly Barton, David Karashima, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Monique-Paris Jackson and Mikaela Pedlow – gave the following statement:

This year we received a record number of entries. Over one hundred translations flooded in from across the UK and all over world, including the United States, New Zealand, Brazil, Madagascar, Italy and Japan. It was a feat to choose from so many creative entries, but in the end the judges were unanimous in selecting Jesse Kirkwood as this year’s winner. His translation is stunningly spare, nuanced and faithful to the wistfulness and mystery of Yusho Takiguchi’s original. Jesse impressed with his attention to detail as well as his sensitivity to language and his lightness of touch when handling the complex and slippery challenges of this translation. The judges have also awarded runner-up to LK Nithya, whose impressive translation came in very close second place. LK Nithya’s translation is playful and engaging, and the judges particularly enjoyed its rhythm and use of imagery. Congratulations to both of our 2020 finalists!

On receiving his award, Jesse said: I am absolutely thrilled to be this year’s winner. The world of literary translation, which once seemed distant and inaccessible, has now been brought excitingly within reach, and I am deeply thankful to Harvill Secker and the National Centre for Writing for this opportunity. In a year when many of us have turned inwards during the long months of lockdown, the community and practice of literary translation has offered a kind of solace, as well as the reassuring possibility of hearing and engaging with diverse voices at a time when individuals and nations often seem to be drifting further and further apart. I look forward immensely to being mentored by Polly Barton and spending more time listening to and translating those voices.

Jesse’s winning translation, Nocturne by Yusho Takiguchi, is available to read on the Granta website.

If you have any queries, please contact us at: youngtranslatorsprize@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk


Jesse Kirkwood grew up in a remote corner of England’s Lake District and studied French and Polish at Oxford University before falling in love with the language and literature of Japan. He has been working as a commercial and academic translator from these three disparate languages since 2014, but hopes the mentorship will help him make exciting moves towards a career in Japanese literary translation. @jpkirkwood

LK Nithya translates from Japanese to English and is working on a novel. She studied East Asian Languages & Cultures at the University of Southern California and spent a year in Shiga on JET. Based in Los Angeles, she can be found figure skating on Twitter in her free time. @lknithya

About Yusho Takiguchi


Born in Tokyo in 1982, novelist Yūshō Takiguchi was raised in neighbouring Saitama. He writes stories about individual and collective memory, marked by a roaming, omniscient narrative voice and multiple temporalities. In 2011, he was awarded the Shincho Prize for New Writers for his novella Gakki. His short story collection Nezō was nominated for the 36th Noma Literary New Face Prize. Another short story collection, Ai to Jinsei, was shortlisted for the 28th Mishima Yukio Prize, and awarded the 37th Noma Literary New Face Prize. His novel The Jimi Hendrix Experience was shortlisted for the 153rd Akutagawa Prize, and he won the 154th Akutagawa Prize with his short story collection Shindeinaimono (Bungeishunju, 2015, 2019). His latest work, The Iowa Diaries, was serialized in Shinchō magazine and published by NUMABOOKS in 2019.

The Judges


POLLY BARTON is a translator of Japanese literature and non-fiction, currently based in Bristol. She has translated short stories for Words Without Borders, The White Review and GRANTA. Full-length translations include Where the Wild Ladies Are by Matsuda Aoko (Tilted Axis Press), Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki (Pushkin Press), and There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura (upcoming from Bloomsbury). After being awarded the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize, she is currently working on a non-fiction book entitled Fifty Sounds.


ROWAN HISAYO BUCHANAN is the author of Harmless Like You and Starling Days. She is the winner of The Authors' Club First Novel Award and a Betty Trask Award. She has been shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award. Her short work has appeared in several places including Granta, The White Review and The Atlantic. She is the editor of the Go Home! anthology.


MONIQUE-PARIS JACKSON is a Digital Content Creator, photographer, writer and Polyglot based in Manchester. She is passionate about linguistics within the Asian Pacific area. When not trying to improve her French, Spanish, German and Mandarin language and linguistic skills, she blogs about lifestyle, literature and travel whilst telling stories through her images. She is currently working on her first novel. You can follow her adventures on novelallure.com and @NovelAllure, a literature and lifestyle platform bringing light to African and Japanese works. 


DAVID KARASHIMA is associate professor of creative writing at Waseda University in Tokyo. He has translated a range of contemporary Japanese authors into English, including Hitomi Kanehara, Hisaki Matsuura, and Shinji Ishii. He coedited (with Elmer Luke) the anthology March Was Made of Yarn: Writers Respond to the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown and is coeditor (with Michael Emmerich) of Pushkin Press’s Contemporary Japanese Novellas series. Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami, his book on Haruki Murakami's early English translators/translations, will be published by Soft Skull Press in September 2020.


MIKAELA PEDLOW is the Assistant Editor at Harvill Secker, where she works with many international authors including Ismail Kadare, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Per Petterson and Enrique Vila-Matas. Mikaela is the coordinator of the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize, and also mentors on the Penguin Random House WriteNow programme.

Previous winners of the Young Translators’ Prize:

2010: ‘The Axe Falls’ by Matías Néspolo, translated from the Spanish by Beth Fowler

2011: ‘Gothic Night’ by Mansoura Ez Eldin, translated from the Arabic by Wiam El-Tamami

(available to read on Granta)

2012: ‘The Wig’ by Han Don, translated from the Chinese by Philip Hand

(available to read on Granta)

2013: ‘Success’ by Adriana Lisboa, translated from the Portuguese by Lucy Greaves

(available to read on Granta)

2014: ‘The Family Friend’ by Julia Franck, translated from the German by Eleanor Collins

(available to read on Granta)

2015: ‘The Tatoo’ by Maciej Miłkowski, translated from the Polish by Tul’si (Tuesday) Bhambry

(available to read on Granta)

2016: ‘Swimming Underwater’ by Merethe Lindstrøm, translated from the Norwegian by Marta Eidsvåg

(available to read on Granta)

2017: ‘Seven People with the Same Name and their Discrete Moments’ by Han Yujoo, translated from the Korean by Erica Chung

(available to read on Granta)

2018: ‘After Half-Time’ by Shamik Ghosh, translated from the Bengali by Subha Prasad Sanyal

(available to read on Granta)

2019: ‘Real Men’ by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, translated from the French by Anna Leader

(available to read on Granta)

Harvill Secker is proud to work with:


The Emerging Literary Translator Mentorships are run by the National Centre for Writing (NCW).  NCW is based at Dragon Hall in Norwich, England’s first UNESCO City of Literature. The National Centre for Writing promotes great literature, inspires communities through the power of writing, reading and literary translation, nurtures literary talent and hosts world-class events. www.nationalcentreforwriting.org.uk.

Established in 2014, the Tadashi Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities is a collaborative project of UCLA and Waseda University in Tokyo that supports academic and cultural programming and research in the Japanese humanities. www.yanaiinitiative.org

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more