Festival News

Festival Postscript 1: Jeju

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Beautiful Jeju Island served as the venue for the first gathering of the authors participating in the 2014 Seoul International Writers' Festival.
 
As if even the Heavens held this connection precious, the island’s weather was particularly sunny on the two days the authors stayed there. Argentinean writer Oliverio Coelho, who arrived in Jeju after flying across the ocean for aggregate time of 30 hours, and Mongolian writer G. Ayurzana and American writer Susan Choi, who were both worn out because they had arrived at early dawn, all forgot their arduous journey and exclaimed at the beauty of the island. Japanese poet Akiko Fujiwara said she regretted not visiting the island earlier in spite of living close by.
 
Some of the Korean writers cherished a special bond with the island. Poet Cho Yunno who spent his childhood in Jeju said it was the first time he had visited the island after leaving his hometown. Writer Hwang Jung Eun said she visited Jeju frequently after falling in love with the island, but that it was her first time travelling in the company of so many people.

 

 

 

 

 

Don't you get a giddy thrill when someone you thought you would never get to meet suddenly appears in front of you? It was the same with the writers. The faces of the Korean writers were alight with joy on greeting the foreign writers they had wanted to meet. Poets Kang Jeong and Claude Mouchard, who were reuniting after a long time, put out their hands for a handshake as firm as their friendship. Reviving the memories of the time they spent together at University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, writers Hae Yisoo and Lucy Fricke enveloped each other in a tight hug. On the other hand, the writers who were meeting for the first time could not conceal their slight awkwardness and anxiety. Writer Hwang Jung Eun revealed in an interview that when she first met Yoko Tawada whom she had invited to be her partner in the festival she orbited around her like a satellite.
 
Though the writers were not yet close, curiosity and delight acted like gravity. The writers’ conversations started off with small talk like resident cities, favorite dishes and then moved on to earnest tête-à-têtes about their literary works and lives as writers. Their conversation were not affected by the venue or ambiance, whether they were tasting seafood hot pot, feasting on black pork barbecue, exploring the Seogwipo Olle Market or sauntering down Lee Jung Seop Street.


 

 

 

 

The favorite haunt of the writers was the seashore their hotel faced. That is why there are so many photographs of the writers with the sea as the background. Writer G. Ayurzana from Mongol, the land of spacious meadows and desert, confessed he was excited at the prospect of seeing the sea even before arriving in Jeju. Susan Choi was so captivated by the beauty of the coastline that she could not bear to leave, forgetting that she had not slept properly the previous night. From the backs of the writers watching the sea and the remoteness of their gaze, a new language seemed to bloom. The scenery of the shoreline near Beophwan Port seemed incomplete without the writers who lingered near it during their two days and one night stay at Jeju.

 

 

 

 

Planning committee member, poetess Kim Haengsook acted as the MC of the welcoming reception that formally kicked off the festival. 

The reception started off quite solemn and serious but soon the writers were in splits when the MC misread the year as 1914 instead of 2014. 

Poetess Kim Haengsook admitted that the beauty of Jeju had upset her sense of time. After the bouts of laughter had lightened the mood, 

the writers took turns to introduce themselves and express their feelings on being part of the festival.

 

 

 

 

Designated intangible cultural asset and yeo-chang gagok (traditional lyric song cycles accompanied by an orchestra) singer Kang Kwon-sun’s performance was met with a standing ovation. Geomungo player Park Woo-jae is a young Korean classical musician who is both a lyricist and a music composer. Jeongga, which is one of three traditional Korean vocal music genres along with pansori and beompae, has many pauses and long breaths so it felt like one was "listening" to a poem. Kang Kwon-sun is active in adapting poems to the melody of jeongga. The writers kept exclaiming that the performance was marvelous. Poet Cho Yunno who declared publicly that he was Kang's fervent fan said that he was glad he could watch the performance up-close.

 

 

 

  

The group of twenty-eight writers narrowly missed the typhoon that was advancing north and boarded the plane to Gimpo Airport. As the plane took off, the faces of the writers betrayed mixed emotions: excitement on making new writer friends, regret on leaving Jeju, and even a hangover from a long night. The plane bearing the writers who carried different emotions in their bosom landed at Gimpo. Four days chock-a-block with "Free Talks" and "Book Readings" awaited them in Seoul.

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