Every year KTLIT visits the Seoul International Book Fair, but this year the event was both a bit smaller and more scattered than in previous years, due to the MERS panic of the previous summer, which resulted in postponement and meant that several major participants were scheduled elsewhere. On the one hand this made it possible to just waltz into the Yi Mun-yol and Ko Un sessions and find seats, but on the other hand it meant far fewer booths to explore. All in all I think I prefer the bigger version, but it was nice not to have to indulge in hand-to-hand combat just to navigate the alleyways of the fair. Also, because the schoolyear has already begun, there seemed to be far fewer academic publishers present at the Fair.
First order of business was YI Munyol, and he seemed restrained, even for himself. However, he kept the crowd rapt by pointing out a changing trend of our society in literature which includes a change in a method of communication and readers’ demand for “production” of literature. The method of communication has changed and it became more difficult for people to make a habit of reading since there is a summary readily available on Internet. With the wide availability of Internet, people could learn from teachers, Naver, or any other website but he emphasizes that we should learn from books directly. We need to take time to learn to decipher and understand books. He gave advice to the audience as readers: after figuring out few important concepts in a book, readers should locate them in a context. He also noted that it was difficult for him to choose his own favorite book because he believes each one has a distinct meaning and a thought-provoking point, but if he has to choose one, he said he would choose 사람의 아들 which has transformed him from a relatively obscure author to a prestigious author. It is not only because 사람의 아들 has brought him under the spotlight, but above all, he believes it is the most similar to a book he had desired to publish in his youth.
Then came poet (and recent non-Nobel Prize winner) Ko Un who was his normal charming self and, as he always seems to do, talked about food as well as literature. He’s an interesting guy. Sylvia Bre, Ambassador from Italy to South Korea, and Italian scholars were also present at the place. 고은 has repeatedly demonstrated his affection for Italy throughout the session. He mentioned how in Italy, art consists most of their life. He explained how art is embedded in every corner of street and village in Italy. 고은 read about four poems of which three were by Sylvia Bre. After Sylvia covered serious topics about a relationship between “art” and “realism”, 고은 tried to lighten up the atmosphere by telling audience how he likes Italian movies because it includes every detail of reality whereas Blockbuster movies in US are exhilarating but often unrealistic.
General questions were then asked and 고은 concluded the meeting, appreciating Italian ambassadors, scholars, and Sylvia’s visit to Korea. 고은 says that he has showed up as a poet of both Korea and Italy. He explained that this applies to Sylvia too in that Sylvia had showed up at the meeting as a poet of both Italy and Korea. Finally, he mentioned the ties which Italy and Korea share. This, it should be noted, is classically고은, who always stresses the links between life, eternity, and poetry.
While were were there we were also lucky enough to meet Mythili Rao who is is a producer at WNYC. She wanted to talk a little bit Korean literature, preferably in English, so Ms. Lee and I obliged her and will report here if we hear when our interviews will be aired.
WNYC describes her:
She leads production of The Takeaway’s author interviews, reports on books for the WNYC newsroom, and hosts literary events at the Greene Space and other venues. She additionally helps oversee planning and production of The Takeaway’s daily editorial content.
Mythili is also a contributing writer for The Daily Beast, where her reviews regularly appear in the site’s National Magazine Award-winning books section. Her reporting and criticism have additionally appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, and Words Without Borders, among others.
[She has] worked for CNN’s New York Bureau, where she field produced and filed breaking-news stories on everything from Bernie Madoff to Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and was part of the network’s Peabody-winning coverage of the 2008 elections.
2013, she was elected to the board of the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA).
As usual, the Literature Translation Institute of Korea had one of the best booths – you could see it from all the way across the fair and it was both beautiful, modern, and comfortable. Unfortunately as usual the staff were way too shy when foreigners passed by. As an experiment I had Ms. Mythili walk by the booth and did so myself, even stopping to take pictures, and not one staff member attempted to make contact/connection with either of us.
This just seems like the waste of an opportunity.ㅠㅠ
Advertising for the event was a bit week as well. This weekend there is a beer festival in Seoul and you can’t go anywhere they serve beer without seeing a poster about it. At Kyobo and Seoul Selection (to pick two obvious places) there were no posters about the book fair, and if the event was advertised online at all, I never saw it. If it weren’t for my “liking” the LTI Korea web-page (which you can do here), I would never have been lucky enough to know of the fair.
This problem needs to be addressed in the years to come. LTI and other publishers that publish in foreign languages should put together an “overseas pavilion” (Please don’t use the unnecessarily dismissive word ‘foreigner!’) with plenty of books available for browsing and an endless cup of coffee for visitors.
We were also lucky enough to run into an old student who was running tours of the fair, and because the numbers were so small, we were taken on a semi-private tour of the fair.
Italy was the guest of honor with a pavilion designed by famed architect Peior Chiefa. The pavilion included a wide variety of Italian books, a photo exhibition, and spaces for discussions between authors and publishers.
The “Book and Art Zone” was, as usual, one of the most stimulating areas with a “Book Meets Art” area featuring areas in which book publication goes beyond the “traditional text-based aspects of books”, book art production, calligraphy, typography, animation and independent publishing. Readers interested in this kind of topic should watch KTLIT this week as correspondent Jennifer Lopez will explore this topic in detail, particularly with regard to Park Min-Gyu’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess”
Finally, and perhaps doomed in Korea in which reading for pleasure ranks dead last in the OECD, there was a Book Reading Culture Campaign, which attempted to draw the relationship between literature and inspiration and freedom.
Still, this is an annual fair, usually in summer, and completely, COMPLETELY worth checking out if just to look at the book-art and enjoy the awesome lounge-like vibe of the LTI Korea booth.