Novelist Hwang Sok-yong

Not born in Gwangju, but a Gwangju person in temperament, is Hwang Sok-Yong. His life as a writer is a paper with the holes from the pencil pushed through from writing on the wall as he lived a life that transitioned from political talk to political action.

He’s written several novels, some which have been translated into English. His books include The Pagoda, The Chronicle of a Man Named Han, a collection of short stories in The Road to Samp, The Shadow of Arms, Garden(The Old Garden or The Ancient Garden), and The Guest. Chang Kil-san, a story in The Road to Samp, was a huge success in North as well as South Korea. It remains a bestseller in Korea today.

Born in Manchuria, college educated in Seoul at Dongguk, his path led him to be jailed and meet more like minded dissidents like himself. He then moved into the working class by taking jobs at construction sites and factories, yet he served, although unwillingly, in the Vietnam War on the US’s behalf. From his experiences as a grave digger in the war, he wrote and received acclaim for The Pagoda.

But he is mentioned here in this blog because of his participation in the Gwangju Massacre, or Gwangju Democratization Movement, as is PC to now call it.

After several of the members of a theatrical company were killed while performing his play during the 1980 Uprising, he then joined the movement writing more plays, pamphlets, and songs as well as organizing a group of writers against the South Korean dictatorship. In 1985 he was arrested with Lee Jae-eui for letting him use his name to market his book, Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness of Age, a diary about the Gwangju movement. Hwang continued to brazenly dance around the arbitrary lines splitting the Korean peninsula, and lived in the US and Germany when the Berlin wall came down, while he was being investigated as a spy by South Korea. Upon his return to South Korea in 1993 he was imprisoned until pardoned by the Kim DaeJung administration in 1998.

Arguably one of Korea’s most renowned writers, he has received Korea’s highest literary prizes and was shortlisted for the Prix Femina Etranger. His novels have been published in North and South Korea, Japan, China, France, Germany, and the US. The Ancient Garden was also made into a film, starring Ji Jin-hee. You can find some online translations at Hwang Sok-Yong.

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