Renowned Chinese translator and former professor shares insight on campus

Famed Chinese translator and former SF State Professor Howard Goldblatt returned to the University in a presentation of works by Taiwanese literary figure.

The reading session last Saturday was organized by SF State’s Chinese program and presented by Chris Wen-Chao Li and Frederik H. Green, who are both professors of the program.

Goldblatt introduced himself to the audience by saying he had taught Chinese at SF State from 1974-88.

“These were the best years of my career,” Goldblatt said, regarding his tenure as professor.

Wearing a mahogany-colored tweed jacket, charcoal pants and a gold-spotted tie, Goldblatt appeared relaxed during the event.

“When a Chinese writer is translated by Goldblatt, it’s like a stamp of approval. People want to read it,” Green said, comparing the credibility of Goldblatt’s translations to a book recommendation by the famed Oprah Winfrey.

Green started the event by sharing a story about the origin of his Chinese name. A person must have a Chinese name if they teach Chinese, and Green’s name, Ge Haode, is so strikingly similar to Goldblatt’s name, Ge Haowen, that people thought they were related.

“When I first met Howard, I told him I was his brother,” Green joked.

Goldblatt first met Chunming in 1975 and has translated many of his works for a Western audience.

Frederik Green, Sylvia Lin and Howard Goldblatt speak with Huang Chunming, who could not attend the gathering due to a recent diagnosis of cancer, during Tales of a Beautiful Island, a reading of famous fictions written in Mandarin by Huang Chunming and translated into English by former SF State Professor Howard Goldblatt. Eric Gorman/Xpress.

Frederik Green, Sylvia Lin and Howard Goldblatt speak with Huang Chunming, who could not attend the gathering due to a recent diagnosis of cancer, during Tales of a Beautiful Island, a reading of famous fictions written in Mandarin by Huang Chunming and translated into English by former SF State Professor Howard Goldblatt. Eric Gorman/Xpress.

Chunming could not attend Saturday’s presentation due to recently being diagnosed with cancer. Instead, he was projected on a screen live to the audience through a webcam from his home in Taiwan. Li provided translations to the audience as Chunming conversed with Green and Goldblatt.

After the introductions, various works by the writer were read by Goldblatt and his wife Sylvia Lin. The readings were then followed by a discussion of the work, a question and answer segment and a reception.

“Whenever Goldblatt would come to Taiwan, we would meet and we would talk like old friends,” said Chunming.

Audience members were kept engaged between readings from the many comedic stories Goldblatt shared.

Goldblatt first started studying Chinese after completing his tour of duty at a naval base in Taiwan. He said he fell in love with the environment and immersed himself in the country’s culture and people.

“I go through a day and don’t even think in English,” he said. “There’s nothing better than that!”

Sam Triplett, an international business and flagship Chinese major, attended the event and had the opportunity to talk to Goldblatt a day prior. Triplett said Goldblatt is a very interesting man full of stories to share.

“I was lectured on how it’s very necessary to understand both the culture and the language of Chinese,” he said.

It has been over a decade since Goldblatt’s last visit to SF State and he said that the University has improved vastly since his time as a professor here.

“I’m happy that the workload is a lot more calm for professors,” Goldblatt said. “I was a workaholic and invested over 80 hours of week into teaching.”

He left SF State to teach at the University of Colorado from 1988-2002, then moved to the University of Notre Dame until he retired in 2006.

Though he invested many years at SF State, the former professor admitted that wouldn’t come back to teach again.

“No way, not at my age,” Goldblatt said.

 

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