Interview with ‘Japanamerica’ author Roland Kelts on ‘Monkey Business' Taking its name from the immortal Chuck Berry tune, the debut English-language edition of Monkey Business: New Voices from Japan is based on the annual Tokyo-based Japanese literary magazine founded in 2008 by award-winning translator, scholar, editor and author Motoyuki Shibata, one of Japan’s best known and most highly regarded translators of American fiction. The first installment offers poetry, Kafka-adapted manga, a wide-ranging, in-depth interview with Haruki Murakami, and much more. And despite its mischievous title, twenty-five percent of all Monkey Business sales will go toward the Nippon Foundation/CANPAN Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.
Roland Kelts is the author of 2006’s Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. and a curator and editor for Monkey Business. A columnist for The Daily Yomiuri, commentator for National Public Radio, and teacher of Japanese popular culture at New York University and the University of Tokyo (he splits his time between both cities), Kelts is back in town this week for the new book’s launch, beginning April 30 at Asia Society, May 1 at BookCourt in Brooklyn, and May 3 at Japan Society. I caught up with Kelts during his recent appearance at Seattle’s Sakura-Con for this exclusive interview.
How did you get involved as an editor and curator for this book?
My dear friend, Motoyuki Shibata, Japan’s premier translator of American literature, talked to me two years ago about publishing an English-language version of Monkey Business, his literary magazine. As an editor at A Public Space, a literary magazine based in Brooklyn, I was keen to build another bridge between the two countries. I talked at length with Brigid Hughes, the founding editor of A Public Space, and she was interested. Then we received a grant from the Nippon Foundation, and the Japan Foundation, the Asia Society and the Japan Society all supported our project. I am deeply grateful to all parties involved.