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Korea’s Flagship Literary Awards for Poems

“Kim Su-Young Literary Award” and “Sowol Poetry Award”




Poet Kim Su-Young (1921-1968), Sowol Kim Jung-Sik (1902-1934)

Poet Kim Su-Young (1921-1968), Sowol Kim Jung-Sik (1902-1934)



Kim Su-Young Literary Award


Kim Su-Young, a representative poet in Korea who participated in movements with literature, entered the literary world in 1947 when his poem The Song of Myojeong was published in a literary magazine Art Village (Yesul Burak). His passion for art never faded amidst the gloomy reality during the Japanese occupation. With endless efforts to equalize poems with life, the language used in his poems did not draw a line between poetic and daily expressions for the first time in Korea’s modern poems. He began as a modernist in the beginning criticizing the modern civilization and urban life; Kim Su-Young’s poetic world encountered a drastic change when historical incidents, the fraudulent election on March 15, 1960, and the April 19 Revolution took place. Through a rough but powerful tone, he strongly called for civil participation and social justice while vehemently criticizing the social reality. This gave birth to “acting poetics” where the poems themselves become a social activity. Also, along with his famous poems, his other popular prose Spit, Poetry! is praised as an innovative comment that breaks the boundary of existing perceptions of poems.
He passed away in an accident at the age of 48 in 1968. Led by representative writers in Korea including Kim Dong-Ni and Park Mok-Wol, a monument on which a poem is engraved was set up to honor his life and his literary works. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of his birth, Minumsa established the “Kim Su-Young Literary Award” in 1981. The award played a role as a gateway for numerous poets that represent Korea, including Jung Hee-Sung, the 1st winner with the work Rinsing the Shovel in the Twilight River, Lee Sung-Bok, the 2nd winner with When do rolling stones wake up?, Hwang Ji-Woo, the 3rd winner with Even Birds Leave the World, and not to mention No, It Is Not (1984) by Kim Kwang-Kyu (1984), The Hedgehog Village (1985) by Choi Seung-Ho, A Sunny Day (1986) by Kim Yong-Taek, and Meditation on Burgers (1998) by Jang Jeong-Il. Also in the 1990s, Love of the Sewoon Shopping Mall's Kid (1996) By Yoo Ha, and That Place Isn't Far away (1998) by Na Hui-Duk won the award, while Natural Walk (2004) by Hwang In-Sook and Soft Power (2005) by Hahm Min-Bok were the winners in the 2000s.
The Kim Su-Young Literary Award receives more than 50 poem submissions written by rookie poets or those whose career is less than 10 years old every year, and the winner is announced in the quarterly journal of Minumsa World Literature in winter along with 10 million won of cash prize. The collection of winning works that has been published by major publishers such as Changbi, Munji Books, Segyesa, Munse Books and Minumsa began to be published as the Poems of Minum series by Minumsa since 2006.
By opening the gate for the award to professional poets and prospective poets in the future that have not yet made a debut since 2006, the award discovered talented poets including Kim Kyung-Joo with her work For the Parallax (2009) and Hwang In-Chan with his work Washing the Mynah (2012).


The 7th winner of Kim Su-Young Literary Award, <Meditation on Burgers (Minumsa)>, Jang Jung-IlThe 38th winner of Kim Su-Young Literary Award, <Time to Understand (Minumsa)>, Kwon Bak

The 7th winner of Kim Su-Young Literary Award, Meditation on Burgers (Minumsa), Jang Jung-Il
Jang Jung-IlThe 38th winner of Kim Su-Young Literary Award, Time to Understand (Minumsa), Kwon Bak



Sowol Poetry Award


More famous for his pen name “Sowol (素月; white moon)” than his own name, Kim Jung-Sik is referred to as a representative poet of Korea for his poems expressing the emotions and unique resentment rooted deep inside the minds of Koreans rather than pursuing the Western-style of writing poems during the Japanese occupation. Encouraged by his Korean language teacher and a poet Kim Eok who early appreciated Kim Jung Sik’s talent, he made a debut in 1920 with five poems including Wanderer’s Spring in the 5th volume of the magazine Changjo. Even though he lived a short life of 33 years, his one and only poem collection Azaleas published in 1925 has 127 invaluable poems most loved by Koreans such as Mother, Sister and Unforgettable. He is known as the number one poet in Koreans’ heart as some even say that you are not a true Korean if you do not know Kim Sowol, as his work Azaleas is the number one beloved song of Koreans; Kim Sowol is the best poet picked by poets and a poet whose works were most turned into a song.
Established in 1986 by Literature & Thought to honor and inherit the poetic ideals of Sowl Kim Jung-Sik, the Sowol Poetry Award is presented every year. The first winner in 1987 was Oh Se-Young with his work A Bowl 1, followed by By the Imjin River (1988) by Jung Ho-Seung, Painful Regret (1993) by Hwang Ji-Woo, Why Don’t the People Know (1997) by Kim Yong-Taek, Waiting for the Whale (1998) by Ahn Do-Hyun, Ripen Apples (2000) by Kim Hye-Soon, Autumn of Earth (2002) by Lee Mun-Jae, and My Heart Slightly Leans by Na Tae-Joo in 2019, marking its 30th anniversary.
Centering around literary magazines, the Sowol Poetry Award awards the Main Prize and Special Prize to works published in all types of regular publications. Winners of the Grand Prize and Excellence Prize are published in Sowol Poetry Award Winners Collection. Then, as the awarding system was abolished in 2012, winning works have been published in the “Commemorative Poem Collection of Sowol Poetry Award” in the form of a representative poem collection of winners.


<Sowol Poetry Award Winners Collection> in 2001, 2010, and 2011

Sowol Poetry Award Winners Collection in 2001, 2010, and 2011


The Kim Su-Young Literary Award has been a gateway for numerous poets in Korea and invigorated their careers. Honoring and inheriting the poet’s poetic ideals, the Sowol Poetry Award marked its 30th anniversary.


Below are the poets and their works who are actively continuing their career today among the awardees of the Kim Su-Young Literary Award and the Sowol Poetry Award.


There are poets who won both the prizes: Lee Sung-Bok in 1982 and 1989, Hwang Ji-Woo in 1983 and 1993, Kim Yong-Taek in 1986 and 1997, Kim Hye-Seon and Na Hui-Deok in 1998 and 2007. Kim Hye-Soon, in particular, won Kim Su-Young Literary Award in 1997 with her work Poor Love Machine and Sowol Poetry Award in 2000 with Ripen Apples in 2000. And as the first poet in Korea, her Autobiography of Death (Munhaksilhumsil, translated by poet Choi Don-Mi) won the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize, which is the most prominent literary award in Canada.
Famous for the Seomjingang River Series, Kim Yong-Taek is appraised as a “poet that walks in the footprint of Kim Sowol and Baek Seok by bringing nature into the center of life with temperate language.” His work A Sunny Day and Why Don’t the People Know won the Kim So-Young Literary Award and the Sowol Poetry Award in 1986 and 1997 respectively, while he published Maybe The Stars Will Take Your Sorrow (2015, Wisdom House) in 2015. He also starred as a supporting actor in director Lee Chang-Dong’s movie “Poetry” who produced an independent movie “Field (Deul)” in 2001 and won Award for Best Screenplay at Cannes Film Festival in 2010.
Na Tae-Joo’s short poem Grass Flower (2002) which consists of only three lines – Pretty, with a close look/ Lovely, with a long gaze/ So are you – has been loved nationwide receiving greatest support among the countless number of poem phrases displayed on the giant banner board in Gwanghwamun (the banner board is hung on the Kyobo Bookstore building) for the past 25 years. He has also produced several best-selling poem collections including I See You Like a Flower (2015, Jihye), With You, Life is a Journey (2019, Yolimwon), and My Heart Slightly Leans (2019, Changbi).


<Autobiography of Death>, <Maybe The Stars Will Take Your Sorrow>, <My Heart Slightly Leans>

Autobiography of Death, Maybe The Stars Will Take Your Sorrow, My Heart Slightly Leans



Written by Kim Kyung-Soon (Freelance interpreter/translator, Export Advisor at Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea)


Kim Kyung-Soon (Freelance interpreter/translator, Export Advisor at Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea)

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