[Web Exclusive] KLN at TEN: Interviews with Writers

  • onOctober 2, 2018
  • Vol.41 Autumn 2018
  • byKorean Literature Now


Yoon Sung-Hee

KLN: Your story “While They Laughed” portrays a distinctively unfunny part of life. Could you tell us more about it?

Yoon: I wrote “While They Laughed” about 10 years ago. I can’t even imagine how it would read in another language. I do wonder what people will read it, that’s a nice kind of wondering. Before writing this story, I wrote a story called “What If.” It was about four high school girls on their graduation trip who all die and become ghosts. When I was writing that I knew I wanted to write a companion piece with boys. And then I heard a story about somebody going to the movies and stealing a sofa. That along with the desire I already had to write a companion piece to “What If” gave me the impetus to write this story. While I was writing it, I was determined to make the characters laugh at the end because during the story they go through such sadness. That’s why the title became, “While They Laughed.”


KLN: What do you think distinguishes Korean literature from that of other countries?

Yoon: I’ve been thinking a lot about the sadness of others, how far writers are capable of understanding and writing about it. That’s doubly true since we as a country experienced a collective sadness. These days I’m thinking, I need to be more careful, I need to think more about this when it comes to the sadness of others.



Jung Young Su

KLN: What does writing fiction mean to you, and how was “Traces of Summer” written?

Jung: When I write, the book is never the result, it’s a means of pursuing a train of thought. So I’m not the type to have everything thought out beforehand. For me, writing means sitting down and starting to think. For instance, when I wrote “Traces of Summer” I only had the image of coming face to face with a strange, ancient creature at the natural history museum. Then there came the scene with the ex-wife, and then I just ran with it from there. The ending turned out completely different from what I thought in the beginning. I enjoy this way of working and for now it’s the only way to write for me.


KLN: What do you think distinguishes Korean literature from that of other countries?

Jung: Korean novels dig deeper into literature itself compared to novels from Europe or the States or Japan. Literature is an art that uses language to express what cannot be expressed in language. Korean literature is more about the human condition, the meaning of life, it’s continuing those old questions that have always been part of literature.



Seo Yoo Mi

KLN: In “Snowman,” the heavy snowfall is a metaphor for the modern human condition, reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. Could you tell us more about the story?

Seo: In 1984 we have Big Brother’s totalitarian gaze. “Snowman” starts with a heavy snowfall at the beginning of the new year, with the protagonist having to dig in the snow to go to work. In my story the Big Brother is big capitalism rather than totalitarianism. When I was writing this story, I was thinking, my protagonist isn’t just digging into the frozen snow, he’s digging into the all-seeing gaze of capitalism, the whole vast system. In the neo-capitalist world we live in, going to work every day becomes something very strict and hard to escape, like the gaze in 1984. That was what I wanted to write about with this story.


KLN: What do you think distinguishes Korean literature from that of other countries?

Seo: The feeling I have these days is that Korean society is quietly simmering. Writers are looking at what’s happening now, picking up on different issues according to their point of view. I feel like there’s a real urgency about contemporary issues compared to writers from other countries. So for those writers and readers from other countries, that could be quite interesting. 



Lee Jae Ryang

KLN: “Carol” asks us to question the value of truth. What did you wish to convey with this story?

Lee: We talk a lot about truth these days. Tell me the truth, what do you really think about this or that? I was hearing those words a lot, in the media, from people I know, and I started to think about what lies at the end of truth. What would happen if I pursued that to the end? That was the beginning of “Carol.” I have to say that finishing the story hasn’t helped me reach a definitive answer. I think that my story, like all stories, is more of a question than an answer. If readers of the story reach their own conclusions, that would make me very happy.



Hwang Jungeun

KLN: Your story “Raptors Upstream” appears in the collection Being Nobody. How did you decide on that title? 

Hwang: I wrote “Raptors Upstream” before the title of the collection was decided. I think it’s still a good fit for that title. Being Nobody was originally the title of another story in the book that’s now called “Myeongsil.” It was published as “Myeongsil, Being Nobody,” on the web, but a surprising lot of people read it as “Myeongsil, Being Nothing.” That was quite interesting to me, and I thought for my next collection, that should be the title Being Nobody. So for the stories I wrote after “Myeongsil,” I consciously had that title in mind.


KLN: What do you think distinguishes Korean literature from that of other countries?

Hwang: I don’t think so much about how Korean literature compares to that of other countries. For me, the question is how to communicate with readers from other countries, how to find common ground. When a translation of one of my books came out recently, I was curious and worried to see how it would be read in a different social context than the one I wrote it in, from what point people would relate to it. That was all I could think about, I was worried as well. So I don’t think I can comment on how my work or other works of Korean literature compare to, say, Japanese or British or French literature.