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[Foreword] Diversity and Dynamic Potential in Korean Literature

  • onMay 30, 2019
  • byKim Sa-in

Recently, we at the Literature Translation Institute of Korea (LTI Korea) have decided to expand our mandate to include literature from North Korea and the Korean diaspora. We will also be including Korean literary achievements from earlier periods as well as the twenty-first century. The organization believes that by broadening its vision, it will help foreign readers to better understand today’s Korean literature.

Also, LTI Korea will strengthen efforts to introduce literature in other languages to Koreans. We will thus endeavor to honor cultural diversity and promote reciprocal ties among various cultures worldwide.

South Korea’s economy developed rapidly after the 1960s. Although the period of intense growth has passed, the force that drove this change is now driving democratization and cultural production. Such brightness is inevitably accompanied by shadows, but these feats seem all the more wonderful in a country that has endured the division of the peninsula for over half a century.

The Korean literature scene is also about to explode with great force. In this issue of our magazine, we will provide a cross-section of its diversity and show its dynamic potential.

After the sinking of the Sewol ferry, Korean literature has been dealing with a variety of feminist issues. It is moving beyond just sympathy for sexual and gender minorities towards a recognition that the violence inherent in male-centric normality is something to be overcome. This issue’s special section on queer literature is dedicated to introducing this perspective in Korean literature. Yang Kyung-eon’s critical overview, together with selected poetry and fictional excerpts, shows that Korean literature is deeply attentive to the viewpoints of gender and sexual minorities. These are perhaps the most sensitive issues facing not only Korean literature, but also literature around the world.

Our featured writer, Park Min-gyu, has already garnered an enthusiastic readership within South Korea and abroad for his attractive prose style and his piercing insight into life and literature. By including his essay and drawing, his characteristically pithy responses to our interview questions, and excerpts from his fiction, we hope to give you a sampling of his unique charm.

And this is not all. The sincerity and diversity of Korean literature is on display in poems from Geppetto, who started out writing comments on internet news articles and has pioneered new poetic forms and content; in “Mothers” from Kim Yi-seol, who has probed the depths of life’s misery; and in “Armbands” from Yun Heunggil, who uses playful wit and dialect to satirize power as something impoverished at its essence.

Korean literature, alive and vibrant, is rooted in a long literary tradition, and we are reminded of this again in an introduction to The Nine Cloud Dream by Tomoyuki Someya and a short essay on sijo by Professor David McCann, who has enthusiastically led a campaign to popularize sijo in the English language.

Finally, reviews of seven works of fiction and poetry recently translated and published abroad provide us with a good chance to gauge the position of Korean literature as it stands in the world.

We hope that the great energy burning inside Korean literature, impelling it towards truth and beauty, will attract the love and curiosity of many readers.

 

Kim Sa-in
President of LTI Korea, Poet