KLN at Ten (Message from the Publisher)

  • onSeptember 5, 2018
  • byKim Sa-in

Korean Literature Now (KLN) has played an important part in introducing Korean literature to international readers in the ten years since it launched in fall 2008 as _list: Books from Korea. For example, Han Kang, who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016 for The Vegetarian, has been featured regularly in KLN since 2011, through interviews, book reviews, essays, and excerpts. We have also published the latest writers to come under the global spotlight, including Lee Seung-U, Bae Su-ah, Pyun Hye-young, Jeong You-jeong, and Kim Un-su.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of KLN, we have put together a special issue for Korean literature lovers around the world. Ten unfamiliar, yet refreshing writers and their works await you.

The five stories presented in this anniversary special reflect the truly wide spectrum of subject matter, styles, and perspectives that Korean fiction has to offer. In “While They Laughed,” Yoon Sung-hee sketches the hopeless lives of Korean youth who are falling behind in the rat race. But she turns the story on its head with humor and breezy prose, as if to say, “Depending on how you look at it, this isn’t a big deal. Don’t be so sad.” In “Raptors Upstream,” Hwang Junge un quietly and delicately relates the everyday humiliations that good people suffer in their weary lives, but does not let her readers feel mortified for them. “Snowman” by Seo Yoo Mi is a Kafkaesque allegory that ridicules the oppressive realities of working and commuting, those universal requirementsfor modern-day survival. Jung Young Su’s “Traces of Summer” relies heavily on chance and subjectivity to introduce times and places, but Jung’s engaging style and narrative have the power to keep readers hanging on to his every word. In “Carol,” a story about a lyricist whose lyrics have dire consequences, Lee Jae Ryang questions whether rational and moral arguments measure up against reality and takes her investigation to extremes. This thriller of a tale will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The poetry presented here shows how fiercely Korean poets agonize over and love the realities of their homeland, how desperately they wish for people to lead happy, beautiful lives through literature. Shin Cheolgyu meditates on death without sentimentalizing it; Kim Min Jeong invokes names and scenes that, despite their concrete reality, are considered taboo under the tyranny of ethics and morality; SeoHyoin casts a humorous yet cynical gaze on the many facets of the world around us; Song Kyung-dong resists money and political violence by writing poems that he etches into every corner of his body, poems that he cries out with every muscle; Song Chanho composes short, but deeply evocative lyric poetry set in the world of Korean folklore.

These ten writers and works were not chosen arbitrarily. We asked ten renowned Korean writers and literary critics to each pick one author and work from the last decade that they would like to recommend to international readers. We thank them for their thoughtful contributions, and hope the readers will enjoy this collection as a special gift. It will give you a taste of the variety and dynamism of today’s Korean literary scene.

That being said, we don’t believe Korean literature is confined to the Seoul-centric literature currently coming out of South Korea—though this branch of literature is crucial no doubt—nor to elite literature for that matter. It is only right that we should include within our purview Korean-language literature from all corners of the peninsula, Korean-language literature by overseas Koreans, and more broadly, foreign-language literature about Korean subjects written by second- and third-generation members of the diaspora. Broadening our perspective as such is a literary attempt to rise above the tragic division of Korea, forge unity in the Korean diaspora, and rediscover Korean literature in its totality.

We are also committed to expanding the temporal boundaries of Korean literature; contemporary literature, which settled in this land a century ago through contact with the West, is enormously important in its own right, but it must be understood in relation to Korea’s traditional literary heritage spanning five millennia. The potential of traditional literature—including the vast body of texts written in literary Chinese, oral literature, sijo, and other forms of classical poetry—should be channeled into new creative endeavors under the banner of Korean literature.

We at LTI Korea have the duty to restore Korean literature to its spatial and temporal whole and present it to readers worldwide. In sharing Korean literature with the rest of the world and gaining a better understanding of one another, we, together with the global community, must seek how humanity can live with value.

Thank you to the many writers, translators, scholars, and readers who have loved and cherished Korean literature and accompanied us in our journey over the past decade. We promise to redouble our efforts in the decade to come. 



by Kim Sa-in, President, LTI Korea