The Korea Herald


Poet Jin Eun-young, Booker winner Bernardine Evaristo discuss 'collapse,' rising from the ruins at writer's festival

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Sept. 11, 2023 - 19:25

    • Link copied

From left: Poet Jin Eun-young, writer Bernardine Evaristo and literary critic Song Jong-won take part in a From left: Poet Jin Eun-young, writer Bernardine Evaristo and literary critic Song Jong-won take part in a "One on One" conversation at the Seoul International Writers' Festival, in Seoul, Saturday. (SIWF, LTI Korea)

An insightful conversation unfolded in the middle of the Han River on Nodeulseom on Saturday afternoon between two distinguished female literary figures from Korea and the UK.

South Korean poet Jin Eun-young and the Booker Prize-winning Bernardine Evaristo took part in a “One on One” conversation as part of the 2023 Seoul International Writers’ Festival, which kicked off Friday.

The two discussed their literature and its connection to society under the theme of “In the Place of Collapsed Life.”

Despite differences in their backgrounds and literary styles, the conversation between the two writers gave a sincere and powerful voice to those who strive to rise above the ruins of a collapsed life.

Jin whose poems resonate with the suffering of individuals experiencing loss, talked about how she sought healing through her words. The poet addressed the pain hidden within the tranquility of everyday life and emphasized the duty of writers to capture the sufferings of others, particularly in the aftermath of the Sewol Ferry disaster. The 2014 tragic incident left a deep scar on the nation, as the ferry, carrying 476 passengers, including 325 students on a school trip, resulted in more than 300 deaths.

Evaristo, who made history as the first Black woman to receive the prestigious Booker Prize in 2019, alongside Margaret Atwood, was full of energy and life during the conversation. She emphasized the importance of fearlessly embracing challenges and using failure as a source of creativity.

“I Love You Like an Old Street” by Jin Eun-young (Moonji Publishing) “I Love You Like an Old Street” by Jin Eun-young (Moonji Publishing)

“Experiencing love is sometimes a complete collapse for a person, much like when we encounter great works of art, and it feels like my existence crumbles, starting a new life,” said Jin on the theme of collapse.

However, she pointed out, "Recently, some parts of our lives that should not collapse are collapsing," referring to incidents like bakery factory accidents where people were injured or killed on the job.

"In situations where workers are forced to work long hours for minimal wages and safety isn't prioritized, our peaceful everyday lives are ultimately based on someone else's collapsed life."

Regarding her poetry collection, “I Love You Like an Old Street” (2022), she explained, "After the Sewol Ferry disaster, we all had to confront how many people are living in places of collapse, and I tried to capture those experiences."

"Girl, Woman, Other" By Bernardine Evaristo (Penguin Books)

“Some of the infrastructures in the world feel like they are on the verge of collapsing. We are returning to states that nobody should ever want to return to politically -- in terms of nations, the move to the right wing, and the revoking of civil rights in places where we thought that we had progressed,” said Everisto referring to abortion rights taken away in several US states in the last year.

“I think this makes us feel fragile about progress.”

What greatly concern her as a writer are, she explained, overdue patriarchy, racism and racist infrastructure that underpins aspects of culture.

“And part of that means challenging and interrogating everything that we accept as the establishment, as normal and as institutional."

The conversation was moderated by literary critic Song Jong-won, and simultaneous interpretation was provided.

The SIWF continues until Wednesday. Conversations with participating writers will be edited by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea and released via its official YouTube channel.