This is post four of a multi-post series on Korean GLBT Literature, featuring a Q&A with Gabriel Sylvian, the founder of The Korea Gay Literature Project.
You can find post one, discussing the history of gays and lesbians in pre-modern literature here; post two discussing gays and lesbians in modern Korean literature here, and; post three discussing Yi Kwang-su.
In the final installment of KTLIT’s interview with Gabriel Sylvian, we discuss existing gay translations, the Korea Gay Literature Project, and suggested future translations.
Q: Other than “Last of Hanako” are you aware of any translations of gay/lesbian literature into English?
A: Well, before I answer that, I agree that the relationship in “Last of Hanako” was probably intended to imply a same-sex relationship, but Koreans have sometimes dodged that implication by objecting that Choe Yun did not use the word “baeuja” (partner) but rather “friend”. Choe is a serious writer and “Hanako” is not without meaning for feminism and perhaps lesbian politics; but frankly speaking, thematizing same-sex love has always been more of an attention-getting device for mainstream writers with no commitment or sense of serious responsibility to sexual minorities. The exceptions are the two “fellow travelers” I mentioned, and maybe Bae Su-a, who has always written forcefully against patriarchy and social conservatism. For same-sex themes, I’m thinking of her “Essayist’s Desk” and a short story called “To Majjan”, and perhaps the amorphous novel “Ivanna” which might be a side-ways nod to amorphous Ivan (gay) subjectivity. But you asked about translations. Well. most existing ones I know of, I did myself in 2005-6 with support from the KLTI: Shin Gyeong-suk’s “Strawberry Field”; Song Gyeong-a’s “Trout and Sweetfish”; Yun Dae-nyeong’s “Playing with Stag Monument”, Choe In-seok’s “Well of My Soul” and some others. I’ve translated them but all except the first are unpublished. I also translated Yi Nam-hui’s “Plastic Sex” trilogy and put Part 1 up recently on the Three Wise Monkeys website with help from one of its editors John Rodgers, who is a supporter of Korea’s LGBTs. As for works by actual LGBT writers, there’s “Coming Out” by Jeon Myeong-an, which I mentioned. The author later revised and re-titled it “A Mother’s Horrible Son”. It’s among the best LGBT works written to date. I updated my original translation and posted it with the others on my old Korea Gay Literature Project Myspace page. For poetry, I’ve translated some poems by Choe Seung-ja and all of Gi Hyeong-do’s poems, a dozen or so are online.
Q: Tell us something about the Korea Gay Literature Project.
A: Well, the project proposed to “use literature as a tool for change” because it seemed it was the one strategy remaining that had not been tried, and which possessed high potential for success given that literature conveys ideas in aesthetic and more subtly persuasive ways than do sociological discourses, for example. Project goals are researching Korean “LGBT” history and literary history, and translating same-sex works by Koreans. The Gi Hyeong-do project has, I think, potential to make some impact if Gi’s life story and the English translations of his poetry touch the hearts of the international LGBT communities. Gi’s complete poems are also coming out in French translation by a professor at Chungnam University, according to Gi’s sister. If the global community accepts Gi, I think Korea will also come to accept him as their national same-sex poet and be rightfully proud of him as such.
Q: Anything else you’d like to mention or discuss?
A: Since your journal is devoted to translations of Korean literature, maybe I should mention a few other titles possibly worth consideration for translation into English. Yi Nam-hui’s Ecstacy (Hwanghol ), She’s Mine by Gweon So-yeon, Ugly Transgender (Mossaenggin teuraenseugendeo) by Gim Bi, and just about anything by Jeon Myeong-an, who is wonderful.
A couple of final notes on this excellent series.
In this post Gabriel refers to his excellent work at The Three Wise Monkeys, and if you missed that link above, it is worth checking out, as it has a detailed exploration of Yi Nam-hui’s ‘Plastic Sex’ in the context of the larger social reality, as well as discussion of some other lesbian fiction.
Finally, and it’s for me to chase down, Oh Jung-hee (mentioned in this series) has been described to me elsewhere as a writer who wrote about lesbian love, although I don’t find a lot of comment supporting this on the internet, and what I have read of hers doesn’t seem to strongly support this interpretation.
NOTE: I edited the previous paragraph to eliminate the false (and lazy on my part) claim that Oh was a “lesbian” writer (the changes words are in italics). Thanks to Marzena!
Anyone out there know anything about this?