Younger Writers

Apartment Fiction
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
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...
On Seeing Nothing of Worth
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...
The Vastness of Not Understanding
There are two ways to meet writers. One is to read their books first and make their acquaintance afterwards. The other is to meet them socially and then read their books. In both cases there is a slight disenchantment, a kind of disconnect. Either the book is better than the writer, or the writer appears to be a nice person who wrote a mediocre book. This happens because deep down we can’t really accept that books are written by normal people. What is “normal” anyway? Was Virginia Woolf normal? Or Flaubert? Or Goethe? Let me tell you about the one...
Writing About Special, Ordinary Lives
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...
An Author the Sum of His Characters
Would I recommend Cheon Myeong-kwan’s books? Of course. I’ve read all his books. That’s why I’d gladly recommend them. Each of his books is different. His short stories are different from one another and so are his novels. But if you were to ask me if his books all feel different then I’d have to say no. His books are all different and yet, they feel the same because he wrote them. Cheon’s a specialist. He’s a pro who manages to make distant, unrelated stories like Whale and The Turkey and the Running Laborer his own. He’s an unrelenting raconteur...
A Writer’s Back
I know his back quite well. In our early twenties we were roommates, and I’m sure I saw his back more often than his face (to exaggerate ever so slightly). He sat in front of his desk, facing the wall, and wrote all the time. When I got home drunk, there he would be at his desk, tapping away at something under the light of a small lamp. When I woke up he would still be writing. Had he been up all night? He very well may have. No surprise when he became a novelist, that one. Recently he published...
My Small Steps Towards Foreign Fiction
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...
I Went My Way, with Someone Beside Me
Sometimes I get the feeling that Ae-ran thinks with her eyes. Big, dark eyes turned mischievously on the world, taking a good, long, deep, lingering look, before turning inwards to herself. Storing up what they had just seen, no doubt. Only then does she put words to the objects of that good, long, deep, lingering gaze, taking her own sweet time producing each sentence. Sometimes it feels like that when she’s talking, too. If you ever catch Ae-ran suddenly falling silent in mid-sentence, blinking slowly and seemingly staring off into space, rest assured that what you are witnessing is nothing...
Meeting You Face to Face
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...

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