[Herald Interview] Now is time to talk about Korean literature

By Shim Woo-hyun
  • Published : Jun 21, 2018 - 16:11
  • Updated : Jun 21, 2018 - 16:50

Publishers choose the books to put out on bookstore shelves, hoping that some will buy and perhaps read them. Yet, many of them go unnoticed among the countless books that are released every day.

This is much more the case with translated materials. The odds are very low that an American would read Korean literature. 

Ira Silverberg looks for information in a book during an interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday at Coex in Seoul. (Shim Woo-hyun/The Korea Herald)

”It‘s hard for American writers to reach an audience. Then you start adding writers from another culture. To me, that’s exciting. That is what books are for,” said Ira Silverberg, a senior editor at Simon & Schuster, during an interview with The Korea Herald at Coex in southern Seoul on Wednesday. Silverberg was in Seoul to participate in the Korean Literature Showcase, hosted by the Literature Translation Institute, aimed at promoting Korean literature. “But publishers are scared about investing money and losing propositions,” Silverberg added.

”There is not a lot of translations in the US, not as much as there should be. The number that people say is three percent,” said Silverberg, offering a rather bleak prospects for world literature in the US. ”There will be always be an audience for literary books but it will just be small.”

Though world literature is a niche market in the US, efforts are being made, according to Silverberg, citing the recent addition of an award for translated literature at the National Book Awards as an example. “It opens up the doors for the translated literature in the US in a way that we have never seen before.”

Ira Silverberg, a senior editor at New York-based publishing house Simon & Schuster, speaks at the Korean Literature Showcase hosted by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea on Wednesday at Coex in Seoul. (Yonhap)

Korean literature might have a better chance attracting a reading public, especially after the success of Han Kang and all the news regarding the Korean Peninsula. ” I think it’s a good time for Korean fiction, especially right now with Korea being in the news so much in the states,” said Silverberg, adding, “There is quite a lot to talk about Korean fiction right now.”

As for what US readers would be interested in, Silverberg said, “It’s not like people want to read about the war (Korean War). The impact of that war on the American psyche -- I hope -- would lead to more curiosity in the same way that I think we are reckoning with Vietnam much more now than we ever have.“

Silverberg said he appreciates the efforts made by Literature Translation Institute of Korea, which offers the editors with translation samples of Korean literature, to which they would otherwise not have access.

The 2018 Seoul International Book Fair kicked off on Thursday at Coex under the theme of “New Definition.” The annual book fair has invited 234 Korean publishers and 91 foreign publishing companies from 32 overseas countries.

Along with publishing industry conferences, the book fair is hosting a number of events for the general public, including “Reading Clinic,” where people who have pre-registered get to talk with authors, who will, in turn, prescribe books for them. Another booth at the fair allows selected visitors to make their own audio books.

2018 Seoul International Book Fair (Yonhap)

The book fair runs through Sunday. For more information, visit

By Shim Woo-hyun (