Writers' Notes

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...
Writing About Special, Ordinary Lives by Cheon Myeong-kwan
I started writing fiction in my forties. Before then, I’d never nursed the hope or dream of becoming a writer. I had always thought literature was the realm of very special people. For a long time, writers occupied an exalted position in Korea. They were regarded as people gifted with great knowledge, lofty consciousness, profound insight and inspiration about the world, and so there was something mysterious about them. At least that was how I felt. Not even in my wildest dreams could I imagine someone ignorant and ordinary like me becoming a writer. Before turning to fiction, I worked...
In Search of the Mountain by Kim Kwang-Kyu
I’m a late bloomer whose poems first appeared in the summer issue of Literature and Intelligence in 1975. I was a professor of German literature in his mid-30s with two kids under my care at the time, so I’m not exaggerating when I call myself a late bloomer. My debut work, Tht Last Dream to Drench Us , carries a poem titled “Spirit Mountain,” written on the subject of mountains. Three-quarters of Korea is mountainous. Baesan-imsu , literally “a mountain in the back and a river in the front,” is the guiding principle behind all forms of settlement and dwelling...
My Small Steps Towards Foreign Fiction by Kim Yeonsu
A while ago, I started taking Japanese classes at a language school near my home. It is a small school offering only Japanese, located on the seventh floor of a sparsely frequented building in the outskirts of Seoul, a fact that I like. The first class I went to only had three students including me. When I was an actual schoolboy I used to nod off in class, but in this one I’m constantly kept on my toes since I never know when the teacher will ask a question. So I’m coming along with my Japanese better than I thought...
Meeting You Face to Face by Kim Ae-ran
I was in the computer lab at my school when I got the news that I had won the new writer’s competition. I asked the caller, “Fiction or poetry?” and the answer was fiction. My poetry submission hadn’t even made it to the first round. I had a simple reason for asking this embarrassing question when I would have gotten the answer soon enough. I wanted to know if I was a novelist or a poet. I hung up and had to stop myself from turning somersaults, mindful of the “Silence” sign hanging in the lab. After all these years...
Living Inside Life, with Others by Kim Nam Jo
Poetry is an intimate monologue. When poems are shared with readers, the poet is cut off from her own words and becomes a person who sits calmly in front of a new blank piece of paper. Therein lies the challenge, that only after tearing out the bark of the dark and destitute world , can one find a certain truth and the language of that truth. I was born during the shameful era of our country when Korea was forcibly occupied by Japan. I grew up a colonial child, and about the time when I graduated high school, I welcomed...
A Letter to My Readers Around the World by Yi Mun-yol
To my unknown co-inhabitants of Earth who aren’t able to read my books in the original language: I am Yi Mun-yol, from South Korea, an East Asian country. I was born in 1948 and have devoted all of my life to writing novels. My last name “Yi” comes from the Chinese character 李 which signifies the tree, and “Mun-yol” is a compound Sino-Korean word of which “mun ( 文 )” means letters or literature and “yol ( 烈 )” means hot or ferocious. However, the name given to me by my parents and recorded in the family register was the...
Part1. North Korean Defectors in Fiction - Drawing a Map of Sadness by Jeong Do-sang
I didn’t plan to write Brier Rose . At the time, all I wanted to do was go on a long trip or an adventure. I was waiting for something, an adventure that I could throw myself into wholeheartedly — the kind that would find me wading through swamps with leeches sucking the blood from my thighs and chest, after which I would get lost in a deserted grassland, and when I finally threw off my soiled clothing, a few dried-out leeches would fall out. I wanted to spend the winter in Harbin or Jiandao, the temperature below minus 30...
The Journey to Meet Lo Kiwan by Cho Haejin
I Met Lo Kiwan is my second novel. It tells the story of three principal characters: Lo Kiwan, who leaves North Korea for Belgium and applies for refugee status there; South Korean writer Kim, who goes on a wild-goose chase after Lo Kiwan in Belgium, and later, England; and Park Yoon-cheol, who aids Lo Kiwan and brings Lo and Kim together. What connects these seemingly random characters is their pain. Each suffers from the guilt that they owe their lives to another’s sacrifice, or the feeling that they are somehow responsible for another’s death. United by this shared guilt, the...

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