About the Writer: Lee Ho-Cheol

  • onOctober 20, 2016
  • Vol.33 Autumn 2016
  • byLee Ho-cheol

Editor’s Note

Lee Ho-cheol, one of Korea’s most renowned writers, passed away at the age of eighty-five on September 18, 2016. Experiencing historical upheavals, division, war, displacement, and the birth pangs of democracy in South Korea, Lee spent a lifetime studying the issues of war and division. To commemorate Lee’s journey to overcome division and achieve the unification of the Korean peninsula, the Featured Writer section includes an interview conducted in 2013, as well as write-ups from both Korean and foreign critics about his works.


Born on March 15, 1932 in Wonsan, South Hamgyeong Province, now part of North Korea, Lee Ho-cheol was in his last year of high school when the Korean War broke out in 1950. After being sent to war as a soldier and then getting captured as a prisoner of war, he managed to return to his hometown, only to be separated from his family again when he fled south alone. He made his literary debut when “Far from Home” was published in Literary Arts in 1955 on the recommendation of his literary idol, Hwang Sun-Won. In 1960 as a journalist he was sent to observe talks held at the border in Panmunjom and was able to talk with fellow journalists from North Korea. The short story “Panmunjom” is based on this experience. During the 1970s and 80s he was heavily involved in the anti-dictatorship, prodemocracy struggle as a governor of the NGO Citizens for the Defense of Democracy, president of the Association of Writers for Actualized Freedom (the organization which went on to become the Writers Association of Korea), and joint president of the National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution. At the same time he also wrote prolifically, and won the Hyundae Literary Award, the Dongin Literary Award, and the Daesan Literary Award. In 2002 he was also awarded the Republic of Korea's Eungwan Order of Cultural Merit and in 2004 he received the Schiller Medal from Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany. Lee was elected to the National Academy of Arts of The Republic of Korea in 1992. His most notable works include the novels Seoul Is Heaving (1966), South Wind, North Wind (1977), Petit Bourgeoisie (1979), and Southerners, Northerners (1996); and the short story collections Stripped Bare (1961), Big Mountain (1972), Wasting Away (1974), Gate (1981), and Panmunjom (1988). His works have been translated into English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Polish, and Hungarian.