First Place in Kim Man-jung Literature Awards
Lee Byung-cheol (Korean Literature, Ph.D.)
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Kim Man-jung was a famous novelist and a writer from the Joseon dynasty. He is known for his novels written in Hangul, the Korean alphabet. When Hangul was underestimated compared to Chinese alphabets at the time, Kim put much effort in promoting Hangul by writing novels. He suffered in his later life at places where he exiled- Kyung-nam and Nam-hae. To commemorate his accomplishments, Kim Man-jung literature awards is being held annually in Nam-hae since 2010. Lee Byung-cheol (Korean Literature, Ph.D.), a professor and poet won the first place in the 7th contest.
Choosing to be Demoted from Reality
“Just like Kim continued to write while he was banished from the outside world, I think being a poet is choosing to stay away from reality. This should be more evident today, when everything changes so fast in the 21st century,” Lee said. In Lee’s perspective, there are many objects, people or issues in real life that do not get much attention even when they deserve it. “Poets are the people who give new meaning and value to those subjects, introducing them to people through their poems.” As he mentioned, Lee always tries to focus on reinterpreting objects or scenes in his own perspective to see what other people have not found in objects.
Lee started to write poems when he was a highschooler. Just like other students who were preparing to enter universities in their 3rd year of high school, Lee had to ponder about his major. “When I had to choose my major, I looked back upon my years in middle and high schools, and remembered that I always won awards in literary contests." It was a rather simple motive for him to choose Korean literature as his major. "When I took my first poem class at university, it was a pleasant surprise for him to learn what a poem really was. I realized how beautiful and valuable a poem can be, and thought it was worthy enough to devote my youth to it.”
From Debut to Present
In Korea, writers make their debuts through different methods, like singers or bands do. Some of them try to make their debut extra special by competing in annual spring literary contests held by a range of different newspapers in Korea. If a writer wins the contest, his or her work appears on the newspaper at the first day of a given year. Lee also made his debut through the annual spring literary contest but failed to gain much attention as it was from a small and local newspaper. Thus, he attempted to make a second debut by applying to the 2014 New Poets Contest, and won first place. As it was from the renowned publisher called Moonhak Soochup, famous for publishing the Harry Potter series in Korean, it helped Lee to continue producing more work after his feat.
As the Kim Man-jung Awards is quite famous among novelists and poets in Korea, it wasn’t the first time Lee submitted his work to the contest. Since 2012, Lee participated in it annually. “I was glad that my work was judged fairly. All the works submitted in the contest was judged with no names of writers being known,” said Lee. Six works of his, including ‘To a person who lives in Maksabal island’, was reputed by the judges to be very delicate while having the power to maneuver readers to read it once again. By winning first place, Lee also won 14 million won, which resolved the financial difficulties he had.
It is generally hard to expect a lot, or even a stable income by being a writer. Thus, as a lot of other writers do, Lee works as a columnist and a professor, as well as being a poet. As a columnist of the Kyung-buk Daily News, he started to write columns starting in January 2016 about how he views certain issues in the field of politics, culture, economy and society. Once a week, he lectures about the basics of poems to college students. “It is only my second semester in, but I really enjoy giving lectures as I can tell people how poems gave me certain lessons in my life. If given a chance, I want to continue to work in universities as a professor,” asserted Lee.
A Poet Who Strives to Inspire
“One of the main issues in my life right now would be writing my paper for the doctorate degree in a year, or a year and a half. I also will try to form a more stable environment to focus on writing more poems. To do that, I will have to keep searching for jobs that I can handle along with poem writing,” Lee said. "As a poet, I want to be someone who leaves a good image to poem readers. I hope people will repute me as a poet who can inspire others. I know it is a hard goal to accomplish but that’s a vision I will be heading towards,” concluded Lee.
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