Literature meets art at this year's Korea Times Translation Awards ceremony

Participants of the 54th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards pose during the award ceremony at Grand Hyatt Seoul in Yongsan District, central Seoul, Monday. From left, judge Min Eun-kyung, professor of English language and literature at Seoul National University; judge Jung Ha-yun, associate professor of interpreting and translation at Ewha Womans University; The Korea Times President-Publisher Oh Young-jin; judge Brother Anthony, professor emeritus of English language and literature at Sogang University; fiction Commendation Award winner Sunnie Chae; fiction Grand Prize winner Noh Hye-yeon; poetry Commendation Award winner Levi Lee; Yu Byung-chae, deputy minister for culture and arts policy of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism; and Jeong Mun-cheol, senior executive vice president of KB Kookmin Bank. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Lee Gyu-lee

The Korea Times held the 54th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards ceremony in Seoul on Monday.

However, this year's award ceremony, which took place at Grand Hyatt Seoul in Yongsan District, and was sponsored by KB Financial Group, took the form of a literary salon. It opened with poem readings by poet Hwang In-chan and Deputy Ambassador Gareth Weir from the British Embassy in Seoul and was accompanied by an ajaeng performance by Shin Hyun-sik against the backdrop of media art by artist Lee Root.

Hwang read one of his poems, "Let's Say This Is My Heart," which was also read in English by the deputy ambassador. The English version won the Commendation Award in poetry at this year's contest.

"Today's ceremony, unlike the previous ones, has incorporated exhibitions and performances to bring more vitality. This is an expression to convey the reality that our literature has been moving beyond the static atmosphere to engage with people worldwide," The Korea Times President-Publisher Oh Young-jin said during the ceremony.

Gareth Weir, deputy ambassador at the British Embassy in Seoul, reads translated work of Hwang In-chan's poem at the award ceremony of the 54th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards at Grand Hyatt Seoul in Yongsan District, central Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Emphasizing the importance of translation in bridging Korean literature with the global community, Oh said the newspaper will continue to do its best to support aspiring translators.

"Translation can be a challenging task, especially when we search for non-existent answers. However, it is essential in introducing our literature to the world ... The Korea Times will strive to further develop the Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards in the future," he said.

Yu Byung-chae, deputy minister for culture and arts policy at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, congratulated the winners.

"Translators play the lead role of the work and create a new world through their interpretations and language. We hope you take great pride in the path you are walking," he said.

From left, Lee Jae-keun, CEO of KB Kookmin Bank, The Korea Times President-Publisher Oh Young-jin and Yu Byung-chae, deputy minister for culture and arts policy of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, talk during the award ceremony of the 54th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards at Grand Hyatt Seoul in Yongsan District, central Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Nohé Yeon, also known as Noh Hye-yeon, won the highest honor, the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Award, as well as the Grand Prize in fiction, for her translation of novelist Kim Ji-yeon's "SAKUTEIKI." Expressing that she used to have some doubts about her translation, she said the award helped boost her confidence.

"I was never 100 percent confident or satisfied with my work, but I am now very excited, because I know this will be such a powerful motivation for me to keep pushing myself and work in literary translation, particularly English translation," she said.

The Commendation Award in fiction went to Sunnie Chae, who translated Park Seon-woo's "We in the Same Place." Chae expressed her appreciation for the late professor Shynne Gwang-hyun, who inspired her to pursue a career in literary translation.

"Many years ago, when I was a student of English literature, there was a professor who encouraged me to take an interest in Korean literature and put my English to good use by translating Korean works. I promised him I would. It took me a long time to keep that promise. I would like to dedicate this award to him," Chae said.

Fiction Grand Prize winner Noh Hye-yeon, left, poses with Yu Byung-chae, deputy minister for culture and arts policy of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, after receiving the award during the 54th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards ceremony at Grand Hyatt Seoul in Yongsan District, central Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Levi Lee received the Commendation Award in poetry for his translation of poems by Hwang, including "A Bright Room." Mentioning the successes the Korean entertainment industry has seen in recent years, he expressed hopes that the Korean literature industry would receive the same spotlight.

"A lot of good things have happened through the past four years I've been in Korea. ‘Parasite' won the Academy Award, BTS went to Billboard and there was ‘Squid Game.' And I've hoped that there also could be good news in Korean literature," he said.

"As someone who has his foot in both the United States and Korea, I've come to have a dream to contribute to Korean culture … I take this award as an encouragement to strive diligently and work hard (toward that dream)."

Fiction Commendation Award winner Sunnie Chae, left, poses with Jeong Mun-cheol, senior executive vice president of KB Kookmin Bank, at the award ceremony of the 54th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards at Grand Hyatt Seoul in Yongsan District, central Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

The three judges ― Brother Anthony, also known as An Son-jae, a professor emeritus of English language and literature at Sogang University; Jung Ha-yun, an associate professor of interpreting and translation at Ewha Woman's University; and Min Eun-kyung, a professor of English language and literature at Seoul National University ― said this year's entries reflect the emotions of Korea in the 21st century.

"To win this award requires a lot of passion and creativity from the translators. As I prepare the speech and look back, I think in the past 54 years, translators exhibit immense passion and creativity in the process of choosing the works to introduce to global readers," Jung said. "As we three look through the entries, we've realized that so many pieces reflect the essence of our lives and emotions in the 21st century of Korea."

This year marks the last year for professors Anthony and Min to serve as judges, ending their decades-long journey with the awards. Following professor Anthony last year, The Korea Times conferred an appreciation award to Min to honor her commitment over the past 23 years.

Poetry Commendation Award winner Levi Lee, left, poses with The Korea Times President-Publisher Oh Young-jin at the award ceremony of the 54th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards at Grand Hyatt Seoul in Yongsan District, central Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

"Meeting the winners in person and sharing their happiness was the driving force that led me to continue as a judge," Min said.

"They say there are fewer people reading literature, but as you can see from the ceremony, there are still young adults who enjoy literature and love them enough to translate. I feel we are entering into an era where Korean literature is spreading across the world. So I'm sure there will be a new platform and era for Korean literature translation."

Professor Anthony wished good luck to aspiring translators, expressing hope for the award to draw more attention from global translators.

"The most difficult part, more difficult than translating, is (getting) a publisher … All you need is self-satisfaction (toward your work). Do it happily," he said. "I hope more translators around the world would recognize that there's such a contest."

Audience members applaud at the award ceremony of the 54th edition of the Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards, sponsored by KB Financial Group, at Grand Hyatt Seoul in Yongsan District, central Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Lee Gyu-lee gyulee@koreatimes.co.kr

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