Why the breakthrough international Korean author might be unexpected (in Korea, anyway)

KTLIT LogoAn excellent article from the British Council about short fiction in Korea. (That Alas no longer works due to link rot!)

This is, of course, in the run up to the London Book Fair 2014, which the British Council have been heavily involved with (“done yeoman’s work” as they might say in their rough local dialect^^) with respect to the Korean selection as the ‘Market Focus’ country.

The author of the piece is Katie Slade, an editor from the brilliant Comma Press, which puts out collections of short stories (in translation) based on particular cities, which is a brilliant concept. Comma Press then waits to see if one of the authors in the collection seems to particularly resonate with English readers, and if they do, a book collecting stories from that author is published.

LOL, I’m jealous at the cleverness of that marketing approach.

But the article, in the most subtle way imaginable, also begins to poke a needle into one of the most terribly inflated balloons in domestic Korean literature – that is the need for an author to be an “OFFICIAL” author before he or she can be published.

In the course of talking about several brilliant Korean authors (Kim Young-ha and Lee Gi-ho are two examples) the article drops a name that …. well.. no Koreans will likely know. Here is the money quote

Suhzuck Yoon’s short story It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World looks at Seoul from the perspective of a lonely American expat named Bruce, who bizarrely projects his desperation for intimacy onto Korean national treasure, Sungnyemun Gate. In the opening pages of the booklet handed to me, the author has written, ‘Seoul is full of people’s desires and frustrations. I think the desires and frustrations make Seoul a city that is beautiful.’

But… wait.. Suhzuck….. Who? Hu? Hoo? What?

Oh.. Suhzuck Yoon, a really excellent Korean author who, unfortunately, has yet to win one of the Korean Literary Prizes (Yep, in literature, as well as everything else in Korea, you have to pass a test to gain a title… Don’t get one of the prizes? You’re not an ‘author’).

And here is being talked about in the press (non-Korean, anyway) for the quality of his work, not his awards.

It’s a bit shocking really!^^

But awesome, because the needle-eye of the Korean literary prize system effectively locks out so many writers and so much literature (Science Fiction or Fantasy, for instance, which are generally relegated to online communities) that it either needs to be expanded, or melted down as slag.

So.. props to Ms. Slade and the British Council for seeing an author for their works and not their awards, and let’s hope this kind of thinking can expand to include, even, Korean literature.^^



5 thoughts on “Why the breakthrough international Korean author might be unexpected (in Korea, anyway)

  1. ROK seems fixated on high brow lit.

    Yet the are few sales there.

    So, you are certainly right that any breakout author will not be found where the ROK establishment wants them to be found.

    What about either a thriller writer — Panmunjom has soooooo much potential in a thriller — or an erotic book — Suzy Wong did sell books, as has 50 Shades of Grey?

  2. LOL.. forget sex, at least for now… OR, if it does come (so to speak) it will be outside of the formal (high brow) constrictions of the internal Korean system. It’s there, or it’s developing, but that is taking place on communities on the internet…

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