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DGU: Still a Center of Excellence for the Study of Korean Literature

 

Seo Jung-ju

 “Perhaps in order to bring a chrysanthemum to full bloom
The cuckoo has been crying
So loud since springtime.”
  Have you ever read this poem?  It was written by the famous poet Seo Jung-ju.  Seo Jung-ju is one of the most well-known graduates of DongGuk University(DGU).  His work is imbued with the traditional emotion of Korea and tempered by a historical consciousness. This combination has brought him an international audience: he has been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times in 1990, 1994 and 1995.  "From the old times up until now, many people say that the history of the modern Korea literature is the history of DGU literature," said Jang young-woo, chairman of the Dept of Creative Writing.  In the past, DGU has produced many great writers.  Then what about now?
 
Part 1. DGU Writers Sweep the Spring Literary Contest Awards.
  Recently, several writers from DGU won prizes in the 2009 Spring Literary Contest.  For example, three of our people received prizes from the Chosun Ilbo.  And a special mention must be given to one of the winners, Lee Ju-young, who is still only an undergraduate student.
  The Spring Literary Contest is seen as the first step to a successful career for future writers.  Many commentators from the literary world said that it was a rare thing to have eight winners from one university (DGU). 
   

Jeong Young-hyo

 The Post reporter interviewed Jeong Young-hyo, a winner of the Seoul Newspaper poetry competition. 

Post : Congratulations on winning the poetry prize in the Spring Literary Contest.  Please tell us about a few words.

Jeong Young-hyo(Jeong) : Though I won a prize, it is still only the beginning. Writing can be an onerous experience; it involves a lot of hard work.  I hope this will be the beginning of a successful career.  I won the prize thanks largely to the efforts of the many professors in the poetry department who helped guide me. In this sense, I feel very lucky.

Post : What is the hardest part of the creative process?

Jeong : The hardest thing is that the sometimes financial reward does not meet my efforts.  My friends make money but I can’t, so I am always worried about expensive tuition fees.  However, I like creating poetry; it is what I like to do the most. When I think this way it makes me feel as if I can overcome anything.


Post : What are your future plans?
Jeong : I want to publish my first collection of poems.  In fact, even if I find a publisher, the compensation won’t be sufficient - so I have to work hard at writing more poems.
 
Part 2. A History of Producing Writers
 
  In the Japanese colonial era, the literature was mostly anti-colonial in content. 

Han Yong-woon

The writer Han Yong-woon, as a kind of counterpoint to Japanese colonialism, introduced the concept of modern Buddhism.  He participated in the Independence Movement of March 1st, 1919.  His masterpieces are: 'The Ferry boat and The Passenger' and 'Love's Silence.'

  Seo Jung-ju first rose to prominence in 1942.  Through his masterpiece 'A Self-Portrait' and 'Beside Chrysanthemums', he explored the themes of self-consciousness and Buddhist phenomena. 
The contemporary writer, Cho Ji-hoon is famous for 'A Buddhist Dance' and ' In front of History.'  He was very active in the Civil Rights Defence movement.  

  These writers, along with Kim Dal-jin, Ham hyong-su and Lee Bum-sun, are the DGU's representative writers in the late colonial/early post-colonial period.


  From 1950s to 1960s, there were many eminent writers like Jo Jeong-rae and Shin Kyong-nim.

Jo Jeong-rae

  Jo Jeong-rae’s masterpiece is The Taebaek Mountain, Arirang and The Han River.  These historical novels have had a significant effect on Korean literature. 

 Shin Kyong-nim writes about the rural life in Korea.  Through this poem, he tries to empathize with the plight of poor Korean farm workers.  His masterpiece is 'A Farmer's Dance.'  He expresses movingly the farmer's joys and sorrows in this work.

  Hong Gi-sam is a former president of DGU.  He is also a great writer.  His most acclaimed work is The Weed has a Hometown, too.  In this book, he asserts that life is unlimited and invaluable.

  Other famous writers are Lee Won-kyu and Lee Sang-moon.  They also brought glory to DGU.


  The 1970s were very ideological times; therefore, the literature reflected such turbulence.  The famous writers of this period were Moon Jeong-hee, Hong Sin-sun and Park Je-cheon.  Their literary themes pursued the ideas of progress and development.


  In the 1980s, the social and economic contradictions reached an impasse.

Gong Gwang-gyu

The Gwangju Uprising exemplified this troubled, but exciting time.  The  DongGuk writers who tried to capture this period of unrest and transformation were Gong Gwang-gyu, Heo Hye-jeong, Lee Yun-hak and Yun Seong-geun.


  In 1990s, many people believed that literature was in a crisis of terminal decline.  The writers who tried to articulate this feeling were Jang Yeong-woo, Kim Chun-sik, Hwang Jong-yeon, Youn Jae-wung .  These writers are also cultural critics and teach at DGU.


  Entering to 2000s, many scenarist of a literary  application are produced like 'Shingijeon' and 'Cain and Abel.'

  The Post met two renowned DGU writers - Shin Kyong-nim, a poet and Lee Man-hee, a screen writer.  They are both professors at DGU, and are living representatives of DGU’s proud literary tradition. 


Shin Kyong-nim, a poet of the people (Minjung)

Shin Kyong-nim

Post: So, what have you been up to? 

So, what have you been up to? 

Shin: Recently, I've been doing some travelling, climbing and reading.  I usually get inspiration by meeting people on my travels. 

Post: Eight of our alumni were winners in this spring's literary contest.  How do you feel about this? 

Shin: I couldn't be happier with it.  It's like we’re getting back to our past reputation. 

Post: One of the winners is an undergraduate student.  Can we ask about your school days? 

Shin: In those days, money was much tighter.  Most students were poorly off but were fond of reading and writing.  We were very active in organizing literary sessions.  Through this operation, we were able to publish a volume of verse.  In addition, we interacted with other universities, especially Yonsei Univ. and Korea Univ; because of this, we were able to co-host a day of literature. 

Post: What inspired you to become a poet?

Shin: I used to like reading poems and novels and, because I majored in English literature, I was able to read widely.  It helped me in my dream to become a poet. 

Post: Who has been the greatest influence in your life as a poet? 

Shin: Seo Jung-ju, Jo Ji-hun and Lee Guen-sam.  As you know, all of them were eminent writers and respected teachers.  Some of the lectures like prof. Jo's Poetics and prof. Lee's the modern novel are still deeply impressed in my mind. 

Post: Is there anything that DGU should do to support students? 

Shin: I heard our school is only awarding scholarships to students who won the Spring Literary Contest.  It is not enough to produce outstanding writers. The school should support potential student writers as well. 

Post: Is there any good advice for students hoping to become writers? 

Shin: Don't fight alone!  A good poem must be well written and related to life; fundamentally, it must be associated with people. 
 
Lee Man-hee, a liberal screen writer

Post: How was your undergraduate life?

Lee: A well equipped environment enables students to write well.  When I was a student, whenever I had leisure time I usually wrote novels.  I preferred to write novels in a conversational style rather than straight narrative.  And then one of my friends suggested that I should write a play.  So I started to write one.  But, at this time, the dramatic medium was not very popular.  In those days, the trend was to copy the work of established writers; however, I didn’t have a favorite writer.  So I wrote in my own style.

Post: DGU produces a lot of writers. How do you feel about this?

Lee: DGU has a tradition of producing many eminent writers, especially in the field of poetry and the novel.  But DGU lost its reputation for several years.  Now many students, including winners of the Spring Literary Contest, show outstanding ability. I expect this trend to continue. 

Post: What is your teaching style?

Lee: I just help students write a good story from the perspective of a person who has experienced in the field.  All that I can do is give advice and share my experiences.  I emphasize two things: first, if you have only one funny story, try to make it specific and then elaborate on it.  The other thing is to write a commercial and popular story.  The most important thing is that it is read by many readers.  So if you want to write a funny story, you have to connect with the general public as much as possible.  These days, drama has become an industry so communicative skills play an important role in writing a drama.

Post: Where do you get your ideas in your stories?

Lee: I find material whenever I read newspapers, or watch TV by accident.  So I always have a lot of material when I begin to write.

Post: Do you have advice for any student who wants to be a writer?

Lee: It is not important to read theoretical books to become a writer. Writing as much as possible is the key to writing a good story. 

Post: What are your future plans?

Lee: The world has become globalized and industrialized, so competition in writing will increase.  To prepare for this situation, I have to do many things.
 
Part 3. DGU’s Secret for Cultivating Talented Writers
DGU produces many great writers every year.  What is the special secret behind DGU's success?  Let's see more details. 
University Supported Programs

A special preparatory class for the Spring Literary Contest
The deadline for the Spring Literary Contest is the beginning of December.  The Dept. of Creative Writing has a special class which helps prepare participants for the Spring Literary Contest.  They do this in November, a month before the contest.  Students who want to participate in the contest can take this class and choose a literary team in the field of poetry, the novel or drama.  Each team consists of three to six members.  When this is done, the department invites two lecturers, usually alumni of DGU, to preside over each field.  This enables students to receive comments by sending their work to their lecturers by email.  Additionally, students can meet the lecturer in person and get feedback on their work.  Participants can take part in these activities for free.  The lesson costs are paid for by the department. 

Summer Creation Camp
At the end of June, a summer creative writing camp for students is held by the Dept. of Creative Writings and Dept. of Korean Lang. & Lit. The camp has been established for 30 years and was instigated by the suggestion of Hong gi-sam, a former president of DGU.  The camp lasts for 4 days and 3 nights.  The students, professors and some seniors join the camp and agree on a meeting for a joint review of the students’ work.  “Many seniors come to camp and encourage juniors to feel a sense of pride,” said Jang young-woo, chairman of the Dept of Creative Writing.  Students who write exceptionally well in each field can get a scholarship.

Scholarship for writers
Good writers can win a scholarship.  A full tuition scholarship is offered to people who win a prize in the Spring Literary Contest.  The contest is sponsored by a metropolitan newspaper and an eminent literary magazine.  Winners of this contest sponsored by a local newspaper can receive a scholarship which reduces their tuition fees by 70 percent. A half-tuition scholarship is given to people who win the prize in a general literary magazine 
 
A Writing contest for High School Students
This contest has the longest history and is endorsed by the highest authorities in Korea.  The Dept of Creative Writing holds this contest between April and June every year.  The main purpose is to produce talented writers.  The student who wins first prize will receive a scholarship when he/she enters DGU.  A past judge of this event was Seo jung-ju, an eminent poet in Korea. 

Writing contest for freshmen
The Dept. of Creative Writing and the Dept. of Korean Lang. & Lit. holds a contest for freshmen at the end of April. Winners receive books as prizes.

Student-only seminar activities
Students in the Dept. of Creative Writing have been voluntarily involved in student-only seminar activities since they

seminar activities

 were freshmen.  These are divided into three fields: the novel, poetry, and drama.  “We have no advisory professor but we can get help from seniors, juniors and fellows,” said Yang Ee-seong a representative of ‘student-only seminar activities’.  They can share ideas about their work and study together.  “Many seniors help us write a better story; however, we hope interaction with the great writers who have graduated from DGU will become more prevalent.”    

The Dept. of Korean Lang. & Lit. also engages in student-only seminar activities.  These are divided into theory, the classics, reading, poetry, criticism and the novel.
These seminar activities are also very lively.  They need to be lively in order to be conferred seminar status.  If they are recognized then funding is allotted to them. One active seminar is DongdaeMimun, which is made up of graduate students.  Some of them are poets and critics.  They share ideas about their writing and try to publish their work every year. 

The Intimate Relation with Alumni
  Above all, the tradition of maintaining links with DGU’s creative alumni has been handed down from generation to generation and to the present day.  This is the mainspring for DGU’s great reputation for producing outstanding writers.  "Many alumni actively participate in the summer creative writing camps and in the homecoming game with students," Kim Chun-sik, chairman of the Dept. of Korean Lang. & Lit. said, "They like sharing with the students their own literary work and their honest appraisal of the participants’ writing helps stimulate them."
  They also show their support through financial assistance.  Some alumni, who are on board of publishing companies, have provided books as prizes to freshmen.  And some of them sometimes give a lecture.  Prof. Kim emphasized that the cultivation of good writers derives from "the affection that the alumni have for juniors," adding that these relations should be seen to “be more active than they were in the past.”
 
A Step Forward to a Brighter Future
  From the prominent poet, Manhae  Han Yong-woon, to the eight winners of this spring’s literary contest, DGU’s splendid literary tradition continues.  "No one can deny the truth that the leading writers of the day were, and are, from DGU." Moon hyo ghee, an executive director of the Korean pen club, said, "I trust that the great tradition lends itself well to the continued creation of our greatest writers."
  The result of this spring literary contest was like a "miracle" in the current crisis and may seem to regain the past glories of yesteryear.  They, the seven winners, have each endeavored to reach the heights, and also endured the pain of creation.  What helps relieve such pain is programs supported by the Dept. of Korean Lang. & Lit. and Creative Writing.  "We plan to make existing programs more effective and, from this, boost literary exchanges between students", Prof. Kim said. 
  Although the school budget for them is limited, the writers appear not to be concerned about public results.  "We don't know who the winner is," the school authority said.  If the school wants to retain the honor of being the greatest school in Korean literature, they should show their will through more financial support, not just by vicariously celebrating the laurels bestowed on the victors. 
  This February the Dept. of Lang. & Lit. was awarded one of  the Brain Korea 21 fellowships; as a consequence, 1.8 billion won is supposed to be forthcoming from the government.  Hwang Jong-yon, the head of BK 21 fellowship, said that because our team was based on a great tradition, we were able to survive in keen competition.  "Our project aims to establish a global basis for Korean literature," he added.  DGU should be taking this opportunity, the BK 21 fellowship and the result of the 2009 spring literary contest, to create a definite system for producing literary talents.

  Many would-be writers are preparing for a bright future at DGU.  Jeon Min-cheol, a freshman in the Dept. of  Lang. & Lit. entered the school as a prospective fantasy novel writer.  Jeon said he feels a great impulse to write, so he chose the Dept. of Lang. & Lit. to improve his writing skills.  “I remembered that DGU  is famous for producing great writers," he said.  "DGU will help me accomplish my dream of becoming a novelist who writes memorable stories."  The foundation for a great future for Korean literature is already laid at DGU. 

 

Jun Ji-min

Lee Soo-jin

Choi Jung-youn

Jun Ji-min, Lee Soo-jin  onlyonejm@dongguk.edu

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