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Hwang Sun-won, a Leading Advocate of Pure Literature

2012-03-29

<b>Hwang Sun-won</b>, a Leading Advocate of Pure Literature
Essence of Pure Lyricism

Seeing the girl along the streamside, the boy could tell she was a granddaughter of the Yun family. The girl had been playing with water for days already. On the following day, the girl picked a white pebble from underwater and threw it toward the boy who was looking at her from the opposite side. She said, “You fool.” From the following day on, the boy appeared at the streamside a little later. The girl’s shadow was nowhere to be seen. He was relieved. But it was strange. As days that the girl was not seen continued, the boy came to feel something was missing in his heart.

The above passage is part of the famous short story [Rain Shower]. Described in a simple writing style, the beautiful yet sad story of first love between a boy in a rural village and a girl from an urban town exudes everlasting emotional resonance. The writer of this 1953 literary masterpiece consistently pursued the beauty and innocence of the human spirit and the nobility of freedom throughout his 70-year literary career. He is Hwang Sun-won, a great author in the history of modern Korean literature. March 26th of this year marked the 97th anniversary of the birth of this representative writer of pure literature, who inspired lyricism within Korean readers.


Starts as a Poet

Hwang was born in Daedong, South Pyongan Province on March 26th, 1915. He had great talent in writing as published poems such as ‘My Dream’ and ‘Son, Don’t be Afraid’ in a magazine when he attended Sungsil Middle School in Pyongyang in 1931.

Growing up in a wealthy family, he learned how to skate and play the violin when he was little. In 1934, Hwang went to Waseda Second High School in Tokyo to study. There, he launched a dramatic art society with other Korean students and published his first collection of lyric poems [Bangga](방가), meaning ‘loud singing’

Hwang’s literary aestheticism, which critics say sublimated the level of short stories into that of poetry, was initiated at this period of his writing. Having polished a simple writing style and lyrical sentences, Hwang began to show interest in writing short stories after entering Waseda University in 1936 to study English literature. He published his first short story ‘Adverb on the Street’ in July 1937 and a collection of short stories entitled [Swamp] three years later. From then on, he concentrated on short fiction.


Contains Reality, History in Pure Literature

Hwang published short stories one after another—[Stars] in 1941 and [Shade] in the following year. As Japan pressured him to write pro-Japan stories, however, he retired to his hometown in 1942 and chose to keep silent.

He wrote a number of pieces, such as [Wild Goose], [The Sick Butterfly] and [The Old Potter], although these works were not made public. After Korea’s liberation of Japanese colonial rule, he published short stories and novellas steadily, including the 1947 piece [Liquor].

All of his works reveal a simple yet sophisticated style, lyrical beauty and the most exceptional aesthetic elements that literature can ever seek. Hwang never lost interest in the reality and history that writers easily fail to notice when focusing on lyricism.

For example, [The Dog of Crossover Village] describes a confused society after Korea’s liberation in the form of a fable and [The Descendants of Cain] portrays conflict surrounding national division. These works shed light on the stark reality of life, but still seek to restore the beauty and innocence of human beings.


Like a Poem, Like a Crane---A Life of Aloofness

Born in the dark period of Japanese colonial rule, Hwang lived through turbulent decades of Korea’s modern history riddled with colonialism, national division, war and dictatorship. But as an upright writer, he remained firm in his principle that an author should speak only through his work. This principle was also applied to his personal life.

He never accepted any requests to write, saying that all works, except literature, are only trivial. He served as a member of the National Academy of Arts and as a professor at Kyunghee University. Except for that, he never held public posts, even refusing an offer to receive a doctorate. He also declined an Order of Cultural Merits conferred by the government in 1996. Hwang died on September 14, 2000. It is said that he looked very peaceful when he breathed his last breath, as if he had been asleep. The great writer led a simple life, never bragging or becoming distracted. Perhaps, that is why people call him ‘a white crane at the green mountain.’

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