Hwang Sun-Won: Among His Peers and Pupils


Archive of “the people’s memories”

Hwang Sun-Won’s writing encompasses sixty years of history, spanning events such as the occupation of Korea by Japan, liberation, and national division. Even if we were to discuss his works alone, from his debut in 1931 with the poem “My Dream” to his short story “Rain Shower” (1953), extending through to his last novel Dice of the Gods (1982) and his return to poetry with “On Death” (1992), his writing spans over sixty years. As a result, his writing is an archive of “the people’s memories,” (Yu Jongho) and constitutes such an enormous body of work that it approaches being what Kwon Youngmin has described as “the entire history of Korean literature after liberation.”

     Born in 1915 in Taedong, South Pyongan Province, Hwang began his literary career with the publication of “My Dream” in the journal Eastern Light (Donggwang) in July 1931. After that, he graduated from Osan Middle School in 1934, and left for Tokyo to attend Waseda High School. In the same year, together with Lee Haerang, Kim Dongwon, and others, he established a performing arts collective called the Tokyo Student Arts Group. Hwang’s first poetry collection, Wayward Songs (Bangga, 1934), included “My Dream” and twenty-six other poems. In particular, he writes about the wild romantic passion of the teenage years in a fiery and resolute tone, just as Yang Ju-dong (writing under the penname Mu-ae) had done in Seomun.


Tokyo Student Arts Group

When performing a survey of Hwang Sun-Won’s literary relationships, the first group that must be considered is the Tokyo Student Arts Group. This was a theater collective established in Tokyo in 1934 for Korean students studying there, and it launched a theatrical reform movement. Students majoring in literature, drama, and film contemplated their concerns, and eventually, Park Dong-geun, Hwang Sun-Won, and thirteen others developed a new arts movement that had as its goals sound theatrical development and the stirring of the people’s spirit. They published the first bulletin in the history of Korean university theater, titled Act (Mak). Under the slogan, “the new theater of Joseon will begin with original scripts,” their first performance was held in June 1935 at the Tsukiji Small Theatre, where the Japanese theater reform movement had begun. The theater company grew and matured while staging Ju Yeongseop’s one-act play, Naru, and Yu Chijin’s three-act play, The Ox, but was disbanded in 1940 due to a crackdown by the Japanese government.


Surrealist leanings: Three Four Literature club

The second group Hwang was involved in was the “Three Four Literature” club. Three Four Literature was a literary magazine that published six consecutive issues from September 1934 until December 1935. It was published and edited by Shin Baeksu, with a first issue that ran up to 200 copies. Apparently the title Three Four Literature was chosen in order to emphasize that it was published in 1934. Jung Hyunwoong and ten others were the founding members of the club, and Hwang Sun-Won participated after the third issue. The published works generally demonstrated surrealist tendencies, and were modernist in character.


Towards imagism: Creative Writing club

The third literary group was the “Creative Writing” club. Creative Writing was a literary magazine published from November 1935 until July 1937, for a total of three issues. The editor and publisher of the first issue was Han Jeokseon, the second was Han Cheon, and the third was Shin Baeksu. Ju Yeongseop contributed five poems for the first issue, Jeong Byeongho five,

Shin Baeksu two, Han Cheon three, Jang Yeonggi three, and Hwang Sun-Won three. It was during this time, in May 1936, that Hwang Sun-Won published his second collection of poetry, Antiques. In it he demonstrated a modernist orientation, with poems that were constructed using images or short single phrases, generally about his immediate impressions of an inanimate object.


Towards the psychological: Dislocation club

The fourth group was the “Dislocation” club. A total of three issues of Dislocation were released, from April 1937 until February 1938. Park Yongdeok was both editor and publisher, and it was published in Pyongyang. A distinguishing feature was that its first publication was referred to as “book one” rather than “the first issue.” The main writers featured in the magazine—novelist Kim Iseok, Kim Jogyu, and Hwang Sun-Won—published Dislocation as a friendly, collaborative effort. Critics have described the writing as psychological in approach.


Literary colleagues Kim Tong-ni, Son So-Hui, Kim Malbong, Kang So-cheon, and Seo Jeong-ju

After migrating from North Korea ...