The Korean Literary Scene


For Korea's literary world, the most significant event this season was the Fourth International Symposium of Foreign Scholars and Translators of Korean Literature which was held in Seoul on August 22, 1997, hosted by the Korean Pen. This event was perhaps the most significant event for the Korean literary world this season. The symposium was structured to allow the theme "Literature in the Changing World" to be examined from many angles like genre, gender, and region, in the belief that light from only one approach would inevitably fail to illuminate its vast complexity. The President of the Russian PEN, Andrei Bitov, led off with a fine-tuned exploration into the change of the conventional literary establishment in the world. Albert Gelpi, a professor of English Literature at Stanford University, in his paper  "The View from Lowell: Jack Kerouac's Tragic Vision," spoke about poetry and novel in the changing society. Professor Suh Ji-moon's "Vitalizing Forces in Korean Literature in the 1900s: Three Women Writers" and Professor Babara Gelpi's "Feminist Literary Criticism: An Historical Review" were delivered at the session on woman's literature in the changing society. Helga Picht, a former professor at Berlin University, provided a reflective examination of Korean studies in Germany. Professor Lee Hyun-bok, Novelist Lee Ho-chul, Professor Lee Yong-geol, Poet Hong Yun-sook, Novelist Kim Joo-yong, Professor Choi-Jin-young, Korean-Russian Poet Lee Din, and many other Korean scholars and writers participated in the discussion at the symposium.
A declaration against North Korean regime's threat to take revenge on the Chosun Ilbo, an influential daily newspaper in Korea, after it published  an unfavorable editorial about the leadership of Kim Jong-il, by the use of terrorism was proposed by the Korean P.E.N. and received positive responses from the assembled Writers Associations of the World.
In his literary career spanning seven decades, Hwang Sun-woon produced two volumes of poetry, seven novels, and more than one hundred stories, most of which showed his craftsmanship, his variety of narrative techniques, and his vivid artistic imagination. This season, with his former students, Hwang published a collection of short stories Return to Old Love, titled from his early poem, and received much attention from both the press and reading public. From 1957 to 1993, he taught Korean Literature at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, and twelve novelists and six literary critics who had once been Hwang's students participated in Return to Old Love. The works of the following eighteen writers and critics, all of whom had begun their literary study under Hwang, appeared in Return to Old Love. Novelists: Chun Sang-kuk, Cho Hae-il, Ko Won-jeong, Lee Yu-bum, Yu Jae-joo, Lee Hye-kyung, Lee Yon-chul, Park Deok-kyu, Suh Ha-jin, Kim Yong-sung, Cho Se-hee, Kim Hyung-kyung. Literary Critics: Kim Jong-hwei, Shin Deok-ryong Kang Ung-sik, Moon Heng-sool, Ha Eung-bak, Han Won-kyn. In memory of the fortieth anniversary of her death, The Complete Works of Noh Chun-myung was published by Sol Publishing Company. As the Literary Critic Kim Yun-sik points out, Noh produced poems unexcelled in  beauty by any other modern Korean woman poets. The complete edition of Noh's works includes "On the Spring Grass," "Ode to Women's Garden," and "Mounting on Chok Suk Roo."which have never appeared in any collection of her poems before.
This season, Korean literary magazines and publishing companies announced the winners for their literary prizes. Kwon Taek-yong, Professor of English at Kyung Hee University, was selected as the recipient of Kim Whan-tae Literary Criticism Award hosted by Moon Hak Sa Sang Sa. The Tenth Dong Suh Literary Prize was awarded to Jeong Ho-seung in poetry and Eun Hui-kyung in fiction, and the Yi Sang Literary Prize to Ma Jong-ki, a Korean poet living in the United States. Novelist Han Seung-won and Poet Kim Myung-soo received the First Korean Marine Literary Prize, and Kim Yon won the Second Hankyorae Literary Award for the novel Once I Climbed A White Birch. Choi Myung-hee who had completed her novel Soul Fire last year received an honorary doctorate of literature from the Chun Book National University.
Recently, Korean art gained worldwide appeal and, this season, a special issue featuring five contemporary Korean artists, Lee Jong-sang, Park Dae-sung, Lee Wal-jong, Hwang Chang-bae, Kim Byung-jong, was published by Beaux arts, a representative art monthly magazine in France, with an introduction to Korean art by Art Critic O Kwang-soo. Another meaningful event in the field of Korean art was the Second Kwangju Biennale held from September 1 to November 27, 1997, with the theme "Unmapping the Earth." The theme signifies new attitudes, practices, and values of creative minds as people approach the new millenium, and the main exhibition of the '97 Kwangju Biennale consists of five sections organized around the five subthemes of Speed/Water, Space/Fire, Hybrid/Wood, Power/Metal, and Becoming/Earth. These five subthemes intend to expose vigorous forces, interstices, ruptures, and singularities, activated in the complex diversity of problems currently confronting the earth. In total over one hundred and thirteen artists and eleven art groups are participating in this international contemporary art show. Participating artists include architects, documentary photographers, and filmmakers whose works cover the entire range of artistic media from installation, painting, and sculpture to video, computer, film, photography, architecture, performance and cartooning.
Theatre of Nations, the most comprehensive international performing arts festival, was held in Seoul and in Kyoggi Province from August 31 to October 15, 1997, sponsored by the ITI. It accommodated one hundred and thirteen performances of theatre, dance, opera, and other stage art genres from twenty six nations. Theatre of Nations in 1997 presents many plays whrch seek to modernize traditional forms of performing arts as well as new styles of plays and daces representing a new ethos for the twenty first century. Hosted in the Asian region for the first time, Theatre of Nations highlights productions of Asian performing arts reflecting the diverse and rich artistic heritages of many Asian cultures. A number of other nation-wide festivals and special programs including Seoul Theatre Festival and Chang-Mu International Festival, and symposiums and workshops are also scheduled to correspond with the festival.
A lively interaction with international culture resulted from hosting the International Symposium and various cultural events like Biennale and Theatre of Nations. Such interactions can be a pivotal element in the establishment of a cultural infrastructure in Korea. However, for Korean culture to be meaningful, the problem of how to reconcile the "local" with the "global" should be solved. And that is the main assignment given to Korean writers and artists.