It was, once again, a disappointment for the South Korean people. After years of anticipating the nation’s first winner of the Nobel literature prize, the coveted prize once again went elsewhere, although the media had been abuzz with the possibility of poet Ko Un’s winning of the award.
Literature experts in the media in Stockholm had bet on Ko winning earlier, saying Nobel literature awards had been excessively dominated by European novelists.
Since 1994, when Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe took the Nobel literature prize, Stockholm has been criticized for turning a cold shoulder not only to Asia but to North and South America and the Middle East.
Credited for his literary and social achievements, it has been speculated that the 77-year-old poet had been shortlisted for the Nobel prize several times before.
Born in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, in 1933, Ko is regarded as one of the most prolific Korean contemporary writers at present and is now leading reunification efforts with North Korea. In 2000, he visited North Korea as one of the special delegates for the inter-Korean Summit and read a poem written while attending a state banquet there.
Ko was imprisoned several times for fighting against the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s.
The one-time Buddhist monk is famous for writing about those who are usually considered insignificant people, such as children, farmers and village women.
“Maninbo,” also known as “Ten Thousand Lives,” is one of his most representative works, depicting every person he encountered through his life through poems.
Brother Anthony, Korean literature translator and emeritus professor at Sogang University, said the 16-member panel’s selection of Nobel literature laureates is very shrouded and secretive, making it impossible to predict the winner.
He translated seven of Ko’s works, including a collection of his poems “Songs for Tomorrow” and the first 10 volumes of the 30-volumed “Ten Thousand Lives” into English.
“Korean people should remember that it’s not given to the nation. Nobody knows why they choose. It’s very arbitrary,” Brother Anthony said.
“No writer who is worth reading writes his work in order to receive the Nobel prize.”
Ko Un’s works are well known in many countries and more than 30 works by Ko have been translated and published in various languages in more than 15 countries.
Brother Anthony said as long as Ko is alive, he and his literary works will still be admired.
The Swedish Academy has selected the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature since 1901.
By Kim Yoon-mi