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Seoul International Writers’ Festival to bridge language and discord through literature

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Aug. 29, 2023 - 17:20

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Chinese writer Yu Hua (left) and Korean writer Jeong Ji-a (Prunsoop, Lee Dae-jin/SIWF) Chinese writer Yu Hua (left) and Korean writer Jeong Ji-a (Prunsoop, Lee Dae-jin/SIWF)

A literary festival bringing together 24 Korean and international writers will take place on Nodeul Island in Seoul in September.

Under the theme of “Crossing the Bridge of Language,” the 2023 Seoul International Writers’ Festival responds to the heightened isolation and discord brought about by the pandemic. The annual festival is organized by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, also known as LTI Korea.

“There was an anticipation that things would return to normalcy after the pandemic, as if by a blessing. However, we find ourselves shrouded by disconnection, isolation and conflict,” said LTI Korea President Kwak Hyo-hwan at a press conference held in Jongno-gu, central Seoul, on Monday.

“Increasingly, individuals and societies alike are becoming isolated. In the midst of all this, we thought about what the Seoul International Writers’ Festival could do."

The SIWF, as always, will discuss literature while aiming to think beyond the linguistic and cultural limits that constrain our thinking, Kwak explained.

The festival will kick off Sept. 8 with an opening keynote speech by renowned Chinese author Yu Hua and bestselling Korean author Jeong Ji-a -- two storytellers who have brought forth strong narratives overcoming the whirlwind of modern history.

Yu, the author of “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant,” is one of the most prominent writers in the contemporary Chinese literary scene. Jeong, best known for her bestselling novel “Father’s Liberation Diary” (2022) which humorously portrays the death of a partisan father, received positive reviews for reconciling characters from different generations and ideologies.

"The two writers share a common side in the literary world, exploring issues faced by marginalized people and historical traumas. It will be interesting to see how they are alike or different,” said Hwang Jong-yon from the organizing committee.

From left: Jin Eun-young, Eun Hee-kyung, Kim Keum-hee, Lim Sol-ah and Jeon Sung-tae (Changbi Publishers, Blossom Creative, Park Dong-hee / SIWF) From left: Jin Eun-young, Eun Hee-kyung, Kim Keum-hee, Lim Sol-ah and Jeon Sung-tae (Changbi Publishers, Blossom Creative, Park Dong-hee / SIWF)

Literary conversations will unfold through intimate dialogues, pairing one Korean and one overseas author each day, exploring pressing social themes ranging from gender, diaspora, memory and trauma to care, violence, division and solidarity.

The five pairs are: Poet Jin Eun-young and British writer Bernardine Evaristo, the first Black woman to win the Booker Prize in 2019 alongside Margaret Atwood; Eun Hee-kyung and Andrew Porter of “The Theory of Light and Matter”; Kim Keum-hee and Brazilian writer Martha Batalha; Lim Sol-ah and Cameroonian writer Djaili Amadou Amal; Jeon Sung-tae and Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi, who was longlisted for the International Booker Prize.

Clockwise from top left: Bernardine Evaristo, Andrew Porter, Ahmed Saadawi, Djaili Amadou Amal and Martha Batalha (Jennie Scott, Sarah E. Cooper, Safa Alwan, Amas Flash, Devin Stison / SIWF) Clockwise from top left: Bernardine Evaristo, Andrew Porter, Ahmed Saadawi, Djaili Amadou Amal and Martha Batalha (Jennie Scott, Sarah E. Cooper, Safa Alwan, Amas Flash, Devin Stison / SIWF)

Additionally, four days of “Writers in Conversation” will feature Korean authors Kim Hee-sun, Hwang Mo-gua, Choi Eun-young, Seo Hyo-in, Park Sang-young, Baek Eun-sun, Jung Ji-don and Yoo Su-yeon. Writers from overseas in the series include Karin Tidbeck from Sweden; Wendy Erskine from Northern Ireland; Olivia Laing from the UK; and Grace Chia from Singapore.

The festival also embraces the realms of exhibition and performance, creating a unique synergy between literature and traditional Korean pansori, or narrative singing, in particular.

Star pansori singer Kim Jun-soo will take the opening stage on Sept. 8. The works of Jeong and Yu will be reimagined as pansori performances on Sept. 9 and 10 respectively.

Pansori singer Lee So-yeon will deliver a performance inspired by Jeong’s “Father’s Liberation Diary,” while Lee Gwang-bok and Cho Yu-a will perform a piece inspired by Yu’s “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant,” bringing characters from the novels to life in three dimensions.

A selection of programs will be recorded and shared online at a later date through LTI Korea’s YouTube channel.