* This post is written by 정재경 and translated by Karin Yoo for the Korean Cultural Service in New York.
Five Authors from Korea and the U.S. reunite in New York: KLTI U.S Forum “Meet the Authors”
On October 28th, 2011, Korea Literature Translation Institute hosted its U.S Forum in Korean Cultural Service New York under the theme of “Meet the Authors”, in which authors from Korea and the U.S. are brought together. At the event, three authors from Korea, Mah Chonggi, Gong Jiyoung, and Cheon Woon-young, and two authors from the U.S., Susan Choi and Ben Ryder Howe, were invited. This forum was a continuation of the forum held on October 25th at Binghamton University under the slogan of “Rediscovering Korean Literature—The Diversity of Contemporaneous Korean Literature” and was undertaken with discussions of each author’s literary work and the current status of literary interactions between Korea and the U.S.
On the evening when New York’s fall was in harmony with literature, the five Korean-American authors gave recitals of their major literary works—poet Mah Chonggi gave recitals of ‘The reason for flowers’, ‘Allegorical river’ and five others, Gong Jiyoung narrated ‘Our Happy Time,’ writer Cheon Woon-young recited ‘Ginger’, Susan Choi gave a reading of ‘The Foreign Student,’ and Ben Ryder Howe recited a part of ‘My Korean Deli’.
Poet Mah Chonggi immigrated to the U.S. in 1966 and has constantly expressed Korean sentiments by writing a number of poems while working as a physician. Mah’s poems, which are aesthetic contemplations of life and death, have been published not only in Korea, but also in English prints in the U.S.A.
Susan Choi bases her protagonist, Chang Ahn, on her father Chang Choi and depicts the life of Chang on her novel ‘The Foreign Student’. Highly acclaimed by critics, The Foreign Student is the story of a Korean man, Chang Ahn, who leads a reclusive life after moving to Tennessee to rid himself of the troubles and nightmares of the Korean War and meets a woman named Katherine. Selected as the ‘Best 10 novels in America’ by Los Angeles Times, The Foreign Student is an extraordinary romance novel marked with a meticulous plot and an elegant prose.
The original author of the recent movie ‘Dogani’ that became an enormous social issue in Korea, Gong Jiyoung said that the common theme of her twenty-five published novels is ‘empathy and understanding’, and further stated that what she can do as an author is to inform and enlighten others of an issue through a novel. Her novels, ‘Our Happy Time’ and ‘Dogani’ will be adapted into English versions by Barbara J Zitwer who planned the English translation of Shin Kyungsook’s ‘Please Look After Mom’.
Before reciting a part of her novel ‘Ginger’ which utilized torture engineer Lee Keun Ahn as the motive, Cheon Woon-young said that even those who are unfamiliar with Korean language should try not to rely on English translated version, but instead try to appreciate the Korean pronunciation and tone as they are in their entirety during her recital. Cheon further said that the process of posing a question and answering it has become the contents of her novel and explained that the plots of her novels ‘Ginger’ and ‘Needle’ have started from questions that she has presented to herself.
Ben Ryder Howe’s ‘My Korean Deli’ is a humorously chaotic and tumultuous essay that shows how Ben, a New England Puritan, marries a Korean woman whom he met in University of Chicago and struggles as he works both as an editor at Paris Review and as a manager of a delicatessen owned by his in-laws in Brooklyn, New York. As a novel that vividly and entertainingly portrays incidents that arise from cultural and emotional differences, it is projected that the novel will be adapted into a drama in the near future.
In the interview emceed by Barbara J Zitwer, the five authors had a semi-casual exchange about the episodes they had encountered while translating their works into foreign languages and discussed prospective literary interactions between Korea and the U.S. Since translating Korean into English and English into Korean is not a mere word-by-word translation but is almost similar to composing a new piece of writing, the importance of having a highly competent translator who is capable of facilely translating subtle sentimental differences was raised during the discussion. Furthermore, the significance of an agency that can efficiently manage such process for the cultural exchanges between two countries if not more was also emphasized.
The current demand for Korean literature is minimal in American market. However, with recent success of Korean culture being internationally expanded, Korean literature is also starting to spread across the regions. With such cultural exchanges, it is projected that the gap between Korea and the U.S. will soon be bridged and further advancement in raising international awareness of Korean culture is in the making.