The Korean Literary Scene


After eighteen years of research and hard work, Kim Ja-hyun, a professor of East Asian History and Culture at the university of Illinois, finished her translation of The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong(Hanjungnok) last year and, this season, not surprisingly, won the Third Korean Literature Translation Award, a biannual ceremony organized by the Korean Culture and Arts Foundation in order to promote Korean literature overseas. The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong reveals the dark side of Korean history--about a prince imprisoned, by his own father's order, in a wooden rice chest and died from asphyxiation. At the age of 71, Lady Hyegyong, the widow of the dead prince, recounts the tragic incident in her memoirs. Her memoirs are significant not only as a historical document illuminating on the private lives of the royal family in eighteenth-century Korea but as a female autobiographical writing in Asia. The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong is, for the first time as Korean literary work, now included in a reading list of "Asian Humanities" at Columbia University. Professor Kim was awarded $50,000 for her translation and the University of California Press $10,000 for publishing the prize-winning book by the Korean Culture and Arts Foundation.
The Korea Times, one of the major English newspapers in Korea, announced the winners of its translation prizes this fall. The Korea Times Translation Prizes were awarded to Rodney E. Tyson, a professor at Dajin University, and Mira Choi Tyson for their translation of Jeon Kyeong-rin's short story "A Woman and a Goat" and to Yom Syng-sup, a professor at Keimyung University, for the translation of a militant workers' poem by Paek Moo-san, "Galley of Hell 2--A Shipyard."
Each year, to promote the development of the domestic literary circle, the Daesan Foundation grants one of the biggest literary prizes in the nation for the best works in the five categories such as poetry, novel, literary theory, play, and translation, The 5th Daesan Literature Award was given to Kim Choon-soo in poetry, Park Wan-suh in fiction, Kim Byung-ik in literary criticism. No winners have been selected in the drama and translation area, and the prize-winning novel by Park, Is It True That the Mountain Was There, and collection of Kim's poems, I Can Hear, Dostoevsky, will be translated into foreign languages.
It was A Cart Drawn by a White Ox, a collection of Park Bum-shin's newly written stories, that received the most attention from both the reading public and literary critics during this season. In the seventies and eighties, Park produced more than twenty novels including such bestselling novels as A Sleep Deeper than Death, Lying Down like Grass, A Nation of Water, A Nation of Fire, The Forest Never Sleeps, and a total of over three million copies were sold. In 1993, saying that his creative imagination had dried up, he announced he was giving up writing, which made a shocking literary news. Then, he spent three years planting gardens in a small town without resuming his literary career. A Cart Drawn by a White Ox reveals a novelist's desire to embrace life and literature with love and enthusiasm to humanity and, thus, reads as Park's vow to follow the vocation of a writer.
Since a bilateral literature exchange program beteen Korea and Germany was launched in 1992 as "the Korean Literature Week" in Germany, the literary event has been held alternately in both countries. This year, "the German Literature Week" was held in Korea October 27 to November 1, hosted by the Goethe Institute in Seoul and Wookyung Cultural Foundation. Hans-Urich Treichel, a poet and novelist, Burkhard Spinnen, a novelist and professor at Munster University, and Wolfgang Hermann, a poet and writer, held a reading session and talked with Korean college students majoring in German literature. Four Korean writers including Poet Chung Hyun-jong, Novelist Oh Jung-hee, Poet Kim Kwang-kyu, and Literary Critic Kim Byung-ik participated in the literary event.
A literary meeting between Korean and Japanese writers was also held in Kyongju November 3 to 6, 1997, hosted by the Wookyung Cultural Foundation, and a total of forty literary people from the two countries discussed "end-of-century literature" during the symposium. Ha Jai-bong known as a poet, novelist, and performance artist, presented papers on the survival and development of literature in the age of new media. In his paper titled "The Issue of Letters," Japanese Literary Critic Karatani Kojin talked about the cultural difference between the two nations in their way of accepting foreign culture. Novelist Kim Won-woo provided a reflective examination of the relationship between literature and changes in sexual morals.
Recently, Korean art gained world wide appeal and, in Philadelphia, November 8 through January 4, 1998, an exhibition titled "Inside Out--Four Artists from Korea" is being held at the Institute of Contemporary Art affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania. During the exhibition, Kim Yong-jin, Park Wha-yong, Bae Bien-u, and Lim Yong-sun Present their works. To strengthen cultral exchanges with the global community of art, on international seminar was also held in Korea on October 8, 1997 by the National Academy of Arts. French sculptor Marino Di Teana delivered a speech on the historical meaning of cities as a manifestation of human civilization and suggested the concept of a future city based on the human-centered principle. Cho Byung-hwa, president of the Academy, Kim Jong-gil, Lee Ho-chul, and Jeun Loi-jin Participated in the seminar as moderators and panelists.
The ISCM World Music Days '97, and international festival of contemporary music, was held in Seoul September 26 to October 3 hosted by the International Society of Contemporary Music. The festival introduced the most recent development in contemporary music such as music theater, sound installations, electro-acoustic and interactive computer music in addition to the latest symphonic and chamber music. In commemoration of the eightieth birthday of the late composer Yun Isang, his Violin Concerto No. 3 was played for the first time in Asia by violinist Kang Dong-suk and the KBS Symphony in the opening concert at the Seoul Arts Center.
In recent years, as has been the case around the world, visual awareness has rapidly grown up in Korea and film has become one of the most favorite form of expression as art and entertainment. Reflecting the rise of film in the age of multimedia, the Second Pusan International Film Festival was held in Pusan October 10 to 18, 1997, and 163 movies from 33 countries were presented during the festival. PIFF attracted a total of 180,000 people and more than half of the tickets were sold in advance before the opening ceremony. Among the seven sections of the festival, the "New Currents" section designed to discover and promote new filmmaking talents in Asia received the most enthusiastic reaction from the audience by introducing the latest trends in Asian filmmaking. Undoubtedly, the Second Pusan International Film Festival was not only a feast for movie fans but a big step towards the representative film festival of Asia.