Writers' Notes

On My Twentieth-Century Trilogy
I was born in 1943 in Changchun, Manchuria — an area that was occupied by imperial Japan at the time. Around the time of my birth, the fascist powers-that-be had been driven out by the strategic cooperation of the socialist and capitalist camps. Throughout the world, the nations that had favored direct rule and the tenets of imperialism gave every sign of backing off. In point of fact, however, these countries remained chained, militarily speaking, to the politics and economy of their former suzerain states. In our country, America took the position that had formerly been held by Japan. As...
Jungeun by Hwang Jungeun
The title of this essay is my name. That’s how I spell it in English. It’s spelled the same way on my passport. I began learning English in middle school. It was the first foreign language I learned. I remember staring blankly at the words “Good Morning” and “Good Evening” in my textbook on the first day of class, clueless of how to read them (the classmate who sat with me made fun of me at the time, but I had my revenge later when I used her name in a novel…). Soon after the semester began, I went down...
World of Lint
I’ve never been to New York. I haven’t been to Singapore, either. I don’t like rum. Rum, to me, is sacred music. The desk where I do my writing is two meters long. Those two meters are divided into four zones of exactly fifty centimeters each. Paper and pencil to the left, something to drink on the right, and a laptop in the middle. In the mornings, I drink coffee, and in the evenings, water. I’ve been to London. I love the weather there. I’ve been to Paris too, but the weather in Paris isn’t as dark and damp as...
Mirrors, Memories, and Moments
The room I woke up in was still wrapped in faint twilight so it took me a while to realize I was in a small town in northern Germany where I’d arrived on the previous night’s rain. I tend to wake up at first light when I’m away from home, perhaps because of the strain of travel. Spending that interlude of time, from the moment I wake till my day begins, by going back to sleep, reading a book, or taking a morning stroll seems like a waste, so I usually fling open the window in my room and gaze...
An Artist Who Fails … And Fails Yet Again by Kim Takhwan
What is so special about being a writer? From time to time, I get asked this question. It sounds like a run-of-the-mill question, but answering it isn’t easy. When I started off as a writer, I could afford to be evasive. But now that nearly twenty years have passed, I’ve come up with two answers to this question. The first is that writers are artists who live within overlapping time periods. Anywhere from one year to five years, Kim Takhwan the writer criss-crosses the timeline of the year he is living in and that of the novel he is working...
The Girl in Black by Bae Suah
When I was a child, Korea was like an island. A society with a thick wall of taboos, oppression, secrets, irrationality. From as far back as I can remember, I was like a child trapped inside a mirror. There was another world, a real world, on the far side of the mirror’s transparent wall, and though my gaze could reach beyond that wall, and though I could imagine all that lay there, it wasn’t something I could touch with my own two hands. I think it was probably due to growing up in such an environment that the very first...
Apartment Fiction by Pyun Hye Young
A large proportion of homes in Seoul are in multipurpose residential compounds called apartment complexes. Following the construction of a large complex in 1964 of a similar design to those of the present day, apartment complexes have expanded and been built all throughout the city. The first modern apartments built with the concept of being a complex were in a district of Seoul called Mapo, which is also where I currently live. When I have to introduce the writer “Pyun Hye Young” to people, sometimes I want to begin by talking about this. What I mean is to point out...
Making the Impossible Possible by Kim Kyung-uk
A few years ago I took part in an international creative writing program held at an American university. A variety of events were planned, including public readings, and there was even an opportunity to meet students who were studying world literature. As I wrapped up my short presentation on writing novels, one student asked me what I thought were the differences between American and Korean novels. I took a moment to contemplate my answer to this unexpected question and replied, “American novels are written in English and Korean novels in Korean.” The laughter that erupted from the students surprised me...
Why I Am Captivated by Literature
Why do I do literature? Even among difficult questions that one is particularly hard to answer. I have to think it over. Why, even after not writing for a while, do I always come back to literature? How wonderful it would be to be able to give such a lucid response as, “to help humanity live more humanely” or “for my own salvation and that of those around me.” Or even, “to present life as it truly is.” Such things, however, are too grand to be my aims. You and I live in an era where we are all frantically...
On Seeing Nothing of Worth by Jo Kyung Ran
I was twenty-five when I started college with the goal of studying literature. The usual age that Koreans get accepted to university is around eighteen or nineteen, after graduating high school. When I was that age, I failed my entrance exam. After that, since I didn’t have any particular skills, even finding a job was difficult. A bigger problem was that I didn’t know what I wanted, nor did I have a clue about what type of person I wanted to be. I wanted to find whatever it was that could answer these questions. So, from the age of nineteen...

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