Works of Five Writers Short-listed for 2020 Pak Kyongni Prize Bringing Attention to ‘Cultural Solution’ on How Their Literary Works Heal Contradictions and Conflicts of Society
Interview with Kim Uchang, chairperson of The 2020 Pak Kyongni Prize and emeritus professor of Korea University. This article appeared in Dong-A Il-bo, one of Korea's major daily newspapers.
2020 marks the 10th year of Pak Kyongni Prize and five writers were short-listed for the Prize this year. The candidates include Ben Okri (born in 1959, Nigeria), Seo Jeong-in (born in 1936, Korea), Yun Heunggil (born in 1942, Korea), Jonathan Franzen (born in 1959, the U.S.), and Hwang Sok-yong (born in 1943, Korea).
Pak Kyongni Prize was established in 2011 by Toji Cultural Foundation to commemorate the late Pak Kyongni (1926 – 2008), who wrote her life-long 20-volume Toji, the epic sage of Korea’s modern history involving generations of a family, The Prize is awarded to a writer with life-long literary achievements evident in the entire body of works by one author, not just a single title of excellence. It is the first international level literary award for writers from around the world.
“Writers should not fail to closely link ideological frames such as undeniable experience, society, politics, and history,” Kim Uchang, chairperson of the Committee, said. “Five novelists were shortlisted. They exposed contradictions and conflicts taking place in society and tried to show in their works that they edge toward a solution of cultural bearings with their own unique perspectives, which brought them to the short list of this year.”
It is noteworthy that three Korean writers are included in the short list of 2020. The glory of the first 2011 Pak Kyongni Prize winner went to Choi In-hun (1936-2018), Korean writer. Since then, writers from global community have been honored for eight consecutive years. “The 2020 Pak Kyongni Prize Selection Committee has directed its eyes to literary works of Korean writers who tried to seek after a key not only to looking at realities as they were, but to rising above them in the fights and campaigns of Koreans against the Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945, in the independence that followed, in the nationalism, and in the socialism, while being exposed to major, unprecedented historic changes all at the same time that were rarely witnessed around the world,” the chairperson said.
Ben Okri is a Nigerian poet and novelist, who is often described as one of the foremost African authors. His major works among novels, poetry, essays and short story collections include The Famished Road (1991), Songs of Enchantment (1993), Infinite Riches (1998), and The Age of Magic (2014). He is widely considered one of Africa’s leading writers. “The Famished Road is his representative work that shows the world of a magical realism, where one world of colony capitalism and the other fantasy, fairy-tale world of unexploited old-growth forest appear at the same time,” Kim Uchang commented.
Seo Jeong-in is a Korean novelist. He wrote novels depicting many facets of the Korean society, using sense of humor and ironic tone, through sharply critical conscience of writers, rather than showing how ideologically conflicting or how much confusing the society was. He has written short stories, short story collections, and novels and his representative work, among others, includes Dalgung, Story of Bakdalmak. “Seo Jeong-in brought out works designed to break free of and transcend the history, while using the art of symbolism, existential perspectives, and narrative technique,” the chairperson mentioned.
Yun Heunggil is also a Korean novelist. His representative novels, The Rainy Spell (1973) and The Tattoo (2018), depicted a concerted effort of humans working hard to rise above perverted realities of the history as well as the absurdity and a labyrinth of irregularities in life, through tragedies of the Korean War, a myriad of ideological conflicts and the industrialization. “His works plainly show contradictions and conflicts of the traditional society, the pre-industrial society, just the way they were. “Works of Yun Heunggil show the likelihood of reconciliation through emotional, basic bonding that runs deep beneath the traditional Korean society, while revealing the way the things actually were, namely, contradictions and conflicts in the pre-industrial society of Korea,” Kim Uchang, the chairperson, remarked.
Jonathan Franzen is an American novelist and essayist. In The Corrections (2001) and Freedom (2010), two of which are also among his critically finest works, Jonathan Franzen described the American society with a broad view through middle income family stories combined with farce and tragedy. He is considered one of highly acclaimed, popular writers in the American literature. His writing encompasses environment, values of sincerity, and many other subjects.
Hwang Sok-yong is a Korean novelist. In Strange Land (1971) and On the Road to Sampo (1973), he continuously endeavored to embody the ordeal of Korea’s modern history and the life of the working class. The Three Generations of Railroad Worker (2020), the most recent work, depicts major tendencies stretching over the modernization of Korea under the Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945, liberation campaigns and movement that eventually led up to the freedom in 1945, and socialism movement afterward. “Idea with philosophy and crusade take up the principle of wholeness demonstrated in his novels,” Kim Uchang said.
Each year Pak Kyongni Prize Selection Committee is comprised to decide one prize winner. Chairperson of The 2020 Pak Kyongni Prize Selection Committee is Kim Uchang, emeritus professor of Korea University, and the Committee has five other members: Kwon gi-dae, translator; Kim Seung-ok, emeritus professor of Korea University; Lee se-gi, novelist; Yoo Seok-ho, emeritus professor of Yon Sei University; and Chang Kyung-ryul, emeritus professor of Seoul National University.
One final winner will be announced on Sep., 17 and the award ceremony will take place on Oct., 24 in Toji Cultural Centre, Wonju city, Korea.