Jennifer McKeon '13
What degree(s) of study did you receive and when?
I received a BA in Japanese (the joint Linguistics and Japanese track) in 2013.
How did you discover your interest/passion for the program(s)?
I’ve always enjoyed studying languages, and was especially interested in learning Japanese because of my love for manga and other Japanese media from a young age. When I initially came to UMass Amherst, I only intended to minor in Japanese, but quickly found that I wanted to devote more of my studies to the program. I took a Linguistics class for a gen ed requirement and found it intriguing and fun, so I ended up taking the Japanese and linguistics route and never looked back.
What professional experience do you have post-graduation?
After graduation, I entered a contest called the Manga Translation Battle and was lucky enough to win first place, which resulted in an opportunity to work with Vertical to translate “Nichijou” (“My Ordinary Life”), one of my favorite manga series. From there, one of my fellow graduates helped me get started finding other gigs as a freelancer. I began working with other publishers, like Yen Press and Seven Seas, and soon became a full-time translator of manga and light novels. Aside from Nichijou, some of the titles I’ve worked on include Blank Canvas, Bloom into You, Satoko and Nada, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Kino’s Journey, and So I’m a Spider, So What?, among many others. I’ve now translated over a hundred manga volumes and around thirty light novel volumes, with many more to come!
What advice do you have for current students currently in the department/in general?
It’s a cliché, but make use of the resources available to you! The East Asian Collection at the library is wonderful, and the collection’s librarian, Sharon Domier, is extremely friendly and helpful. I also benefited greatly from the Thatcher Language Program, which is a program that existed when I was a student; but even if you're not on campus or in the same dorm, I would still highly recommend forming a study group with friends. Often, your classmates in Japanese 100 or 110 will be with you throughout your college career (and beyond!), so quiz each other on kanji and vocab, practice conversing in Japanese whenever you can, and try to read/watch/listen to things you enjoy in that language too! There are plenty of study apps to choose from these days, so find one or two that work for you. And at the same time, don’t forget to relax and have fun once in a while (I miss all the free events in the Five-College area!), because you can’t memorize kanji if your brain is burnt out. (Also, I didn’t figure this out until after I graduated, but Hobonichi planners are a lifesaver!)
What were your favorite memories relevant to your studies?
Late nights eating wings and studying with friends in the Thatcher lounge; early mornings at Worcester and long dinners in the Oak Room; classical memes and “quantum squiggles” with Professor Forrest; Zazen meditation in Thatcher conversation class; the dramatic tale of Mary-san and Takeshi, and the occasional music video, with Yoshimura-sensei; our emotional last class of many with Koyama-sensei; some very unusual short stories in Seaman-sensei’s translation class; and drawing so, so many Marios.
What are some current projects you are working on? (personal/professional)
Professionally, I’ve wrapped up work on a few of my favorite manga series this year (Blank Canvas, Satoko and Nada, Bloom Into You), and am starting on some new projects, including Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon, The Demon Girl Next Door, and the manga adaptation of Ride Your Wave, as well as an as-yet unannounced light novel series.
On the personal front, I write and draw comics and stories of my own. I’ve been published in a few anthologies, and I’m actually working on collecting all of my comics about studying and translating Japanese into a self-published book, including the comic I made for my Honors College thesis. I also just finished a zine about cat-related Japanese idioms with a fellow UMass alum who goes by Momo Black, and we’re working on a sequel!
What’s next for you?
Even more manga and light novels, I’m sure! I’m also planning on crowdfunding my comic collection once it’s complete. My comics and information can be found at http://www.jlmkart.com/, and I post about translation and such on Twitter at @JLMKart, so I’ll post updates in those places when that happens!