South Korea’s Literary Awards
Authors of South Korea usually start their careers by writing short stories. Every January 1st, South Korea’s key newspapers print literary works that have snagged awards, like short novels, poems, reviews and fairy tales. These contests by the papers are called “sinchunmunye”, which would translate into “spring literary contest”. This tradition began in 1925 by DongA Ilbo newspaper and for the next near century, South Korea’s key writers would first meet readers through this method. South Korea’s literary editors read these works at the beginning of the year, assess the literary potential the writers have and start contacting the new authors. The writers usually win around 5 million won per prize and winning an award at these annual competitions is considered a great honor. For many, a long time is spent honing their craft.
Prominent literary magazines like Literature and Society, Munhakdongne (Literary Neighborhood), Creation and Critique and Hyundae Munhak (Modern Literature) also hold contests of their own for up and coming writers. There are many South Korean writers who begin their literary careers by winning prizes in these competitions as well. If the aforementioned contests held by newspapers are geared more towards existing readers, the magazines tend to select innovative and experimental works that fit the respective magazines’ images. There is one competition just for university students that began in 2002 by the Daesan Foundation in hand with Changbi Publishers. Writers like Kim Ae-ran, Yoon Go-eun and Jung Han-ah appeared on the literary scene thanks to this contest.
There are other ways to debut as a writer or “deungdan” (appear on the stage) without going through the ritual of being reviewed by other writers, critics or literary editors. Those who bypass newspaper or literary magazine contests usually win prizes in competitions for full-length novels. This kind of contest began in 1977 by Minumsa called “Today’s Writer Award” and the contest aims to award prizes to the best unpublished full-length novel regardless of whether the author is new or not. At times, these contests are used by writers who have already debuted to test out their creative abilities. The prize money can range from 30 million won to 100 million won but the more important thing is that the prize-winning novel gets to be published by a distinguished publishing house. Competitions like these hosted by Hankyoreh, Munhakdongne and Changbi all have ended up publishing novels that later gain much attention on the market.
The Hankyoreh Literary Award given out by The Hankyoreh, a newspaper in South Korea, from 1996 has introduced acclaimed novels to the world like Park Min-kyu’s The Last Fan Club of the Sammi Super Stars, Seo Jin’s Welcome to the Underground, Shim Yun-kyung’s My Beautiful Garden, Yoon Go-eun’s Weightlessness Syndrome, Chang Kang-myung’s Bleach and Choi Jin-young’s The Name of the Girl Who Passed By You. The most recent recipient of the award would be Kang Hwa-gil for Different Person.
The Munhakdongne novel award hosted by Munhakdongne Publishing Group from 1995 has resulted in bringing the most prominent authors of this generation to the forefront. Kim Un-su’s Cabinet, Eun Hee-kyung’s The Bird’s Present, Jeon Kyung-rin’s The Man Who Was Nowhere, Cho Nam-joo’s When You Listen Closely and Chun Myung-gwan’s Whale all received awards in this competition and the most recent recipient of this award would be Hwang Yeo-jung for The Ghosts of Algeria. Changbi has also been managing their own competition from 2007 and Seo Yu-mi’s One Cool Step and Jeong Se-rang’s This Close have been awarded prizes.
“Today’s Writer Award,” which has seen authors like Yi Mun-yol, Cho Sung-ki, Lee Hye-kyung and Lee Man-kyo receive prizes, changed their rules in 2015 to award only published works. After the rules were changed, younger authors have gone home with the top prizes, like Gu Byung-mo for Hoping That Won’t Be Me (Moonji Publishing), Chang Kang-myung for Reply Army (Eunhaengnamu) and Cho Nam-joo for Ji-young Kim Born in ’82.
South Korea’s literary market tends to strongly prefer short stories. Monthly and or quarterly literary magazines usually have four to seven short stories published in every issue and there are many competitions that give out awards once a year to the best one. The Hyundae Munhak award, which has been around in 1956, in addition to the Yi Sang award and Hwang Sun-won award have all received acclaim from readers, naturally lifting the status of the prize-winning works. One factor that sets these awards is that the prize winning works are published every year in a separate collection with runner-ups.
Awards are not distributed based on varying values by the hosts, but rather their literary value on a whole. This is the reason why key South Korean authors have already received these literary awards. The more popular or central you are in the South Korean literary world, the more likely you’ve received an award for short stories. Most awards hosts prefer avoiding giving one author more than one award, but there is no limit to the number of stories you can enter so at times, leafing through award-winning story collections will end up featuring many famous South Korean authors.
The Hyundae Munhak award is managed by Hyundae Munhak, which is the country’s oldest’ literary magazine. Awards are given out in three categories: poetry, novels and commentaries. In the case of novels, authors like Kim Young-ha, Pak Kyong-ni, Park Wan-suh, Song Sok-ze, Son Chang-sop, Shin Kyung-sook, Yoon Dae-nyung, Yi Mun-yol, Lee Seung-woo and Lee Je-ha have all received this award. Other recent recipients of this prize were Pyun Hye-young for Sonyuniro, Kim Chae-won’s Berlin Phil, Kim Kum-hee’s All of Chess and Kim Song-jung’s Inheritance.
The Yi Sang literary award is being managed by Literature & Thought and it was established in 1977 to commemorate Yi Sang, a Korean author who is credited with creating modern Korean literature. The Yi Sang literary award has contributed to creating the tradition of publishing not only award-winning literary works but also the runner-up works in addition to handing out prizes. It is an award that has received much love from readers who seek out good short stories every year. Key award winners of this prize include Kim Seung-ok, Kim Yeon-su, Park Min-kyu, Shin Kyung-sook, Oh Jeong-hee, Eun Hee-kyung, Yi Mun-yol, Lee Chung-joon and Han Kang. Kim Soom’s The Roots Story, Kim Kyung-wook’s The Door to Heaven, Gu Hyo-suh’s The Sound of the Wind-bell and Son Hong-gyu’s I Said I Dreamed A Dream are the most recent recipients of the award.
Another South Korean daily newspaper, the JoongAng Ilbo, started giving out its own literary award, called the Hwang Sun-won Award after the famous Korean writer Hwang Sun-won, in 2001. Every July, the newspaper receives ten literary recommendations each from key literature critics and novelists. The thirty works that receive the most recommendations are long-listed, after which ten make it to the short list. One is selected for the award. Key award recipients have been Kim Young-ha, Kim Won-il, Kim Hoon, Park Wan-suh, Yoon Sung-hee, Lee Seung-woo and Ha Sung-ran. Recent recipients are Han Kang for While One Snowflake Melted, Chung Yong-joon for Walk Through Seonreung and Lee Ki-ho for Han Jung-hee and Me.
There are literary awards that give prizes to relatively‘new’ authors for whom their debut date was less than a decade ago. These would be Munhakdongne’s young author award that began in 2010 and the Moonji Literary Award managed by Moonji Publishing. Grand prize winners for Munhakdongne’s young author award have included Kim Kum-hee, Son Bo-mi, Lim Hyun, Chung Ji-don and Hwang Jeong-eun. The 2018 recipient was Park Min-jung for Cecile, Joo-hee. The grand prize winners for the Moonji Literary Award have included Kim Tae-yong, Park Sol-moe, Yoon Yi-hyung, Lee Jang-wook, Jeong Ji-don and Park Min-jeong. The 2017 recipient of this award was Paek Su-rin for The Summer Villa. These awards give readers opportunities to meet new, talented authors.
From a broader point of view, the Shin Dong-yub literary award managed by Changbi that gives awards in both novel and poetry categories also plays a similar role. Changbi started giving this award in 1982 in memory of Korean poet Shin Dong-yub and his fighting spirit. At first the award was managed as a support fund for authors who showed exceptional talent, but currently the recipients and their award winning works are announced to the public. Authors who have received this award would include Gong Sun-ok, Kim Mi-wol, Kim Ae-ran, Park Min-kyu, Yi Mun-gu, Chun Sung-tae, Cho Hae-jin, Chun Woon-young, Choi Jin-young, Hyun Ki-young and Hwang Jeong-eun. Kim Kum-hee’s Sentimental Goes One or Two Days, Kum Hee’s My House That Doesn’t Exist On Earth and Kim Jeong-ah’s Thorn have also been awarded this prize.
While most literary awards in South Korea are linked to publishing houses, literary awards managed by key newspapers like the Hankook Ilbo literary award and Dongin literary award and contests like the Daesan literary award by the Daesan Foundation give prizes to already-published works and rather aim to recognize writers for their contribution to the country’s literary sphere.
The Hankook Ilbo literary award was first given out in 1968 by the Hankook Ilbo newspaper in order to drive authors to use their creativity more and write pure literature, moving beyond commercial success and literary divides. At first the paper also received applicants with short to medium length stories, but now the grand prize is only given to works that have already been published. It is widely considered the most coveted prize by young Korean authors. Key recipients would include Kwon Yeo-sun, Kim Kyung-wook, Kim Ae-ran, Bae Soo-ah, Song Sok-ze, Shin Kyung-sook, Lee Ki-ho, Yi Mun-gu, Lee In-sung, Lee Chung-joon, Lee Hye-kyung, Ha Sung-ran, Han Yu-ju and Hyun Ki-young. Chun Sung-tae’s The Two Self-Portraits (Changbi), Yoon Sung-hee’s I Lay On My Pillow (Munhakdongne) and Chung Se-rang’s Fifty People (Changbi) are more recent recipients of the prize.
The Dongin literary award was established in 1955 to commemorate Korean novelist Kim Dong-in. It experienced several hiatuses and from 1987 it has been managed by the nation’s biggest daily, the Chosun Ilbo. The judges for the award, who are usually in their roles for as long as possible, read through full-length novels and short story collections and come up with a long list every month. The reasons behind their selections are introduced in the newspaper and every autumn, a shortlist is announced. A deep discussion ensues and the final prize is awarded. Recipients of this prestigious award include Gu Hyo-suh, Kim Sung-han, Kim Young-ha, Kim Hoon, Sun Woo-hwi, Song Sok-ze, Yi Mun-wol, Lee Seung-woo, Lee Ho-chul, Cho Se-hee, Choi In-hoon and Pyun Hye-young. Kim Jung-hyuk’s The Embrace With Fake Arms (Munhakdongne), Kwon Yeo-sun’s Farewell Drunkard (Changbi) and Kim Ae-ran’s Outside is Summer (Munhakdongne) have been recent recipients of the award.
The Daesan literary award was established by the Daesan Foundation to contribute to the globalization of Korean literature. It looks at literary works from the most previous two years and prizes are given to the best poems, novels, play scripts, commentaries and translated works. The foundation is known for its work in recognizing translated Korean works and as such, the prize winners for the poetry, novel and play categories are given opportunities for their work to be translated in a different language. Recipients of the Daesan award include Gu Hyo-suh, Kim Soom, Kim Yeon-su, Kim In-sook, Kim Ju-young, Park Hyung-suh, Lee Seung-woo, Lee Chung-joon, Chung Young-moon and Hwang Sok-yong. Hwang Jeong-eun’s I’ll Keep Going (Changbi), Kim Yi-jeong’s Time of the Ghost (Silcheon), Son Bo-mi’s Dear Ralph Lauren (Munhakdongne) are recent recipients of the award. In the play or drama category, Go Yeon-ok, Park Geun-hyung, Bae Sam-sik, Oh Tae-suk, Lee Kang-baek, Lee Man-hee have received the award while most recent awards have gone to Kim Jae-yub’s The Alibi Chronicles and Chang Woo-jae’s Isn’t This Joyful As Well. Poets who have received the Daesan award include Ko Un, Kim Sa-in, Kim Chun-su, Baek Moo-san, Shin Kyeong-nim, Lee Seong-bok, Lee Chang-wook, Jin Eun-young, Choi Seung-ho, Hwang Dong-gyu and Hwang Ji-woo. Seo Hyo-in’s Yeosu (Moonji Publishing) was its most recent recipient.
Korean poets also make themselves known via new poet contests held by literary magazines, similar to novelists and their newspaper contests.
The Kim Soo-young literary award was created in 1981 by Minumsa to honor Kim Soo-young, one of Korea’s most renowned poets. At first the award was handed to published works only, but from 2006 it was turned into an open contest, giving young poets the opportunity to win the top prize. Recipients of this award include Kim Kyung-joo, Kim Ki-taek, Kim Hye-soon, Song Chan-ho, Lee Seong-bok, Chang Jeong-il, Chung Hee-song, Cho Jeong-kwon, Choi Seung-ho, Hwang In-chan and Hwang Ji-woo. The 2017 recipient was Moon Bo-young for Book Pillar.
The Nojak literary award was established in 2001 to commemorate Korean poet Hong Sa-yong. This award is usually given to young poets who write experimental works of poetry and the award itself is considered as a weathercock of sorts for the future of South Korea’s modern poetry. Key recipients include Kim So-yeon, Kim Haeng-sook, Moon Tae-jun, Son Taek-su, Shin Yong-mok, Shim Bo-sun, Lee Moon-jae and Lee Young-gwang. In 2017, the award was given to Hong Sin-sun’s On the Hapdeokjang Road.
The two literary awards created to remember the two most famous poets who contributed to modernizing traditional Korean emotion, Kim So-wol and Seo Jeong-ju, cannot be left out. The So-wol poetry literary award was first established by Literature & Thought in 1986 and the Midang literary award has been managed by JoongAng Ilbo from 2001 along with the Hwang Sun-won award. After the prize winners are selected, their works are published along with the runner-ups. Key recipients of the Midang literary award include Kim Ki-taek, Kim Un, Kim Haeng-sook, Kim Hye-soon, Moon Tae-joon, Lee Young-gwang, Chung Hyun-jong, Choi Seung-ho, Hwang Byung-seung and Hwang Ji-woo. The recipient in 2017 was Park Sang-soon’s Endless Trembling, Endless Embrace. Meanwhile, the recipients for the So-wol literary award have included Kim Yong-taek, Na Hee-deok, Moon Jeong-hee, Moon Tae-jun, Song Soo-kwon, Oh Se-young and Lee Seong-bok. In 2017, Yoo Hong-jun’s The Bukchon Crow received the prize.
The Kim Dal-jin literary award was established in 1990 in memory of poet Kim Dal-jin. The award is usually given to poets whose work focuses on spiritualism in the world of materialism and awards are given out in two categories: poetry and poetic commentary. Recipients of this award include Kim Myung-in, Na Hee-deok, Moon In-su, Song Jae-hak, Oh Se-young, Lee Mun-jae, Cho Jung-kwon, Chung Hyun-jong, Choi Jeong-re and Hwang Dong-gyu. In 2017, Lee Gun-chung’s There Was A Horse in the Gokmadan’s Backyard (Seojeongsihak) won the top prize.
The Manhae literary award was established by Changbi in 1974 to commemorate Korean poet Han Yong-un. The judges for this award consider all literary works regardless of genre, including poetry, novels, commentaries and reports, over the most recent three years. Recipient poets have included Ko Un, Kim Ji-ha, Baek Mu-san, Shin Kyeong-nim and Lee Si-young. Novelists who have received this award include Gong Sun-ok, Kim Young-ha, Park Wan-suh, Shin Kyung-sook, Yoon Young-soo, Yi Mun-gu, Han Kang, Hyun Ki-young and Kwang Sok-yong. Last year, Kim Jung-hwan’s The Name That Befell Me (Munhakdongne) received the top prize while a special award was given to recognize a report by Hwang Sok-yong and others regarding the situation in Gwangju, South Korea after a military coup in May 1980, called Past Death, Past the Darkness of This Age (Changbi).
Aside these, there are other literary awards in South Korea that are too many for this limited space. According to one statistic, there are more than 250 such prizes. In honest truth, it is easy to establish a literary award and then go on to select a good novelist or poet. However, it is a far more difficult task finding unique writers or poets like literary awards should when dealing with a minority language like Korean. After organizing this list of excellent literary awards that show the uniqueness of Korean literature, one cannot help but hope for more diverse literary prizes.
Written by Jang Eunsu(President of Editing Cultures Institute)