The Korea Times Writers Group; Globalization of Korean Literature

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), December 6, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Korea Times Writers Group; Globalization of Korean Literature


The Korea Times is doing a great thing for Korean literature. The Times is now offering a translation award annually. As a poet and writer, I admire the Times' effort to globalize Korean literature. Korean literature is marketable to all nations but unfortunately it has been basically confined to this peninsula.

When I was young, I read Shakespeare, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Hesse, Mann, Kafka, Rilke, Frost, Chung Chi-yong, Kim Ki-lim, Cho Chi-hoon, Park Mok-wol and Park Doo-chin, among others. Their works are still considered classic literature to people in this country and of this world. They gave me my dream to become a poet and writer. I became a poet during my college days at Yonsei. I felt as though I had caught a star when my first poem was printed in the Hyundae Munhak (Modern Literature Monthly) in 1962. The Hyundae Munhak was the best literary magazine in Korea in the 1960s.

Literature is the property of all mankind. However, Korean literature has so far only been the property of the Korean people. I have been lucky to write my poems and short stories in English and to have them published in first class literary magazines and college textbooks by major publishers in the United States during my long stay in that country.

I can proudly say that I was the first Korean poet to read my poems in the U.S. Library of Congress under the auspices of the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund on April 28, 1994. My poems have been translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil by a comparative literature professor and his graduate students at the University of Espirito Santo in Brazil in the 1970s.

In 1996, I returned to Korea as a visiting professor and permanently returned to Korea in the spring of 1999. I realize that the Korea Times' effort and the Daesan Foundation's funding of translators of Korean literary works for globalization is tremendously important.

Globalization of Korean literature requires more than good translators. Good literary works are the starting point. From my three-year personal observations in Korea, I dare say we need both. Well, that is an axiomatic truth.

The first task is to acquire able translators who have mastered Korean, English and other languages. They are not numerous and they are not well respected in this country. No one called me and expressed thanks for my translating their works. If my works are translated by someone, I express my gratitude to the person. I have translated several works so far. No one has called to express their thanks to me. One of my translations was critically evaluated by reviewers. I may deserve one critical review for my liberal translating of some sentences which could be ridiculous if literally translated. Some Korean writers make contradictions in their writing. Simple errors. How can I translate errors? But reviewers considered my ability far short of a good translation. …

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