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Vol.20 Summer 2013 (Page 74)
Korean Literature as the Next Wave?
LTI Korea President Kim Seong-Kon Meets Dennis Maloney,
Editor/Publisher of White Pine Press

Editor’s Note: White Pine Press is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and holding poetry readings around the United States, commemorating the event. White Pine Press has also been selected as one of the three recipients of the Distinguished Service Award to be given by LTI Korea this year. Kim Seong-Kon, President of LTI Korea, met Dennis Maloney, poet, editor, and publisher of White Pine Press, in San Diego in March, signed the MOU for publishing the Korean Voices Series, and interviewed him about the promotion of Korean literature overseas.

Kim: This year you are celebrating the 40th anniversary of White Pine Press. Forty years means that you have devoted your whole life to publishing books, especially books on Asian and Latin American literature. What made you establish a publishing house and what prompted you to be interested in Asian and Latin American literature in the first place?

Dennis Maloney

      Maloney: The idea behind White Pine Press germinated in the spring of 1973 while I was spending my final semester of college in Kyoto, Japan, on an independent study project. My degree is in landscape architecture and I was studying Japanese gardens, but I was also writing and translating poetry. While in Kyoto, I met the expatriate American poets Cid Corman and Edith Shiffert. Their work, highly influenced by Asian culture, impressed me so much that I decided that after college, I would begin a small publishing house and bring their work to an American audience. I was also interested in bringing voices from other cultures into the American conversation.

      Very little international literature was published in the United States prior to the late 1950s, early 1960s, when well-known American poets began translating and publishing poetry from other languages. One of my early poetic influences, Robert Bly, was a pioneer in bringing international voices into American culture during a time when American literature was very self-reverential. His work as a translator led me to start translating Pablo Neruda and Juan Ramón Jimenéz, and his work with the Sixties Press, which published both a literary magazine and books, was an inspiration. For the first time, American readers could access the literary work of poets from around the world, including Asia. My other main poetic influence at the time was Gary Snyder, whose work led me to classical Chinese and Japanese poetry. During and after college I read a great deal of Asian literature in translation.
      I established White Pine Press later in 1973 as a non-profit literary publisher of poetry, fiction, and literature in translation. Our mission was to develop and promote cultural awareness and understanding through the publication of literature from the American mosaic and from around the world. To date, we have published work from over 20 languages—ranging from Spanish and French to lesser-known languages such as Slovenian and East Greenland Eskimo. We are proud to have published the first work in English of many fine foreign writers, thus introducing them to a larger audience.

      Kim: Because the younger generation tends not to read paper books any more, do you think we have to heavily lean on online media in the future to promote Korean literature overseas? These days, indeed, young people share many things, using electronic devices such as iPads and smartphones and SNS such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. As a result, all boundaries are rapidly and radically dismantling, disintegrating, and collapsing. And cross-cultural activities are actively pursued every day on the Internet. What, then, do you think of the importance of e-books, online games, and social media in promoting Korean literature?

Kim Seong-Kon

      Maloney: I think that the world of books and how we encounter texts is changing, particularly with the younger generation. In the U.S. there has been a huge increase in the sale of e-books in genre fiction and nonfiction but less so with literary fiction and poetry. I expect that will change over the course of the next few years as iPads and other tablets grow in popularity. Students will increasingly read their college texts on e-books as opposed to carrying around a lot of textbooks. It is easy to see college professors, who presently make Xeroxed copies of portions of various books to create their course text, developing an e-book version for their students. My understanding is that in Japan there have been short novels written and published on cell phones, so this may be one wave of the future. On the other hand there is also a reverence for the book itself among many, and I don’t see the book ever disappearing as a medium for reading.
      We are increasingly seeing social media as a venue to promote books and reading. Many of our U.S. authors now have their own blogs which promote their work. There are also many literary blogs and online journals where people review books and readers can discuss them. This is an important review venue, particularly with the decline of print review media.

      Kim: When a book of Korean literature comes out by White Pine Press, how would you utilize Korean Studies professors at American universities in promoting the book? Currently, we have approximately 30 American or Korean- American professors who teach Korean literature at various universities in the States. In addition, what other means of promoting books on Korean literature do we have? Do you think, for example, that the writer/author’s promotion tour would significantly help promote the book?

      Maloney: We would like to develop a stronger relationship with the professors of Korean Studies in this country in the coming year. As we look at expanding our Korean Voices Series, we plan to work with this network of professors both to promote the titles we are publishing for use in their courses and also to ask their advice on what type of books they feel are missing in English translation. It is the goal of our Korean Voices Series to publish a diverse cross-section of contemporary and classic Korean literature, both fiction and poetry, and we welcome input. We also plan to advertise more in academic journals to alert the wider audience of Asian Studies professors to our series.
      In the past, we have had some success with touring authors who have visited various Korean and Asian Studies programs. The author must be fluent in English or, as has happened in some cases, travel with a translator. We would like to build on this and expand their presence to academic conferences, where the authors can interact with a greater professional audience.

      Kim: Hallyu or the Korean Wave has been recently so popular all over the world. For example, Korean soap operas such as “Daejanggeum” and “Winter Sonata,” Korean film, and K-pop have been well received by the international community lately. The huge success of PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” too, played an important role in introducing the world to South Korea. As Korean television dramas and K-pop spreads across Asia, Middle Eastern countries, and even some parts of Europe, however, some Koreans have begun asking, “Does Korean entertainment represent true Korean culture?” In the past, however, we tried without much success to bring our high culture to the world, but we were not successful until Hallyu made inroads into other countries Do you believe that it is time we actively promoted Korean literature overseas, using the paths that Hallyu has prepared?

      Maloney: Clearly, the Korean Wave has opened the door for Korean culture. The trick now will be for Korean literature to find a way to walk through that door. Thus far, it seems to be mainly younger audiences who are initially embracing Hallyu, but it eventually encourages the spread of Hallyu to older generations. Consequently, I think an initial focus on very contemporary authors whose work will resonate with younger American readers would be beneficial. Targeted promotions, perhaps advertising in "hipper" publications, would be worth exploring. I also perceive a building interest in classical Asian literature among U.S. readers whose interests include Eastern traditions. To date, Chinese and Japanese classical literature seems to have established a strong foothold in the U.S., while the rich literary history of Korea remains virtually unknown. I think targeted promotions of the classical Korean literature published in the U.S. would create awareness and build an audience for this literature.
      It is difficult and costly for individual publishers to cover the various outlets that would be effective for promotion. Consequently, I wonder whether it is high time for the launch of a major initiative, both in print and online that would include all the U.S. publishers currently producing volumes of Korean literature. This would serve as a sort of complete catalog of Korean literature in translation available in the U.S. It would need to be updated to coincide with U.S. publishing seasons. Presenting a large block of books available would seem to give Korean literature a greater presence and impact than can be achieved by each publisher’s individual marketing efforts. Once you have this initiative in place, it might make sense to hire a professional book publicist on a trial basis to see if that would raise the profile of Korean literature in the U.S.
      I believe the Korean Wave has raised the profile of Korean popular culture in this country. K-pop has spread to this country and there have been festivals and many K-pop concerts. PSY’s worldwide success has extended here to the point where he is now appearing in American commercials. But I don’t know that Korean popular culture has any more relation to Korean literature than American popular culture does to American literature. Literature appeals to a much smaller audience than most popular culture so I don’t know if it will translate well to try and follow the commercial pathways.
      Unfortunately the most Korea-related news in the U.S. media these days stems from the antics of your northern neighbor.

      Kim: What is your future plan for the Korean Voices Series? In the past you have published mainly books of Korean poetry. Are you planning to publish Korean novels or anthologies of Korean literature in the future?

      Ma loney: With the help of LTI Korea we a re expanding our Korean Voices Series in the near future to two volumes per year and will increase our publication of contemporary short stories and novels. We are particularly interested in adding the work of younger writers and voices to our series, and we believe a well-edited anthology of fiction by younger Korean writers would be an excellent way to introduce their work to an American audience. I also think it is essential that LTI Korea continue to send authors to major international festivals and academic conferences as these contacts build the profile of Korean literature. LTI Korea might also undertake to develop social media sites in different major languages to promote its activities and that of Korean authors overseas.

      Kim: What do you expect from LTI Korea in the future? What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of LTI Korea?

      Maloney: I hope to continue our long-term partnership with LTI Korea to expand and further develop our Korean Voices Series. In addition to increasing the number of publications to two per year, we plan to work with LTI Korea to create e-books for the entire series over the next two years. We also plan to launch a major advertising campaign in academic and literary journals to promote the series.
      LTI Korea has one of the most active programs of any country I know of to promote their country’s literature around the world. The support provided to translators and publishers is clearly a strong point. I think that LTI Korea is undertaking many activities already to promote Korean literature overseas. The main programs, which provide generous grants to translators and publishers, are essential and one of the best programs of its type in the world. Many other countries offer grants for translation but not for publication, and both are essential to raising the number of Korean works published in major languages.
      I believe that more attention needs to be paid to ensuring that the work that gets published is very well translated and edited and that cultural references are noted and explained when necessary. In addition to the many important programs LTI Korea undertakes, I would suggest that you increase the number of Korean authors you send abroad to literary festivals and academic conferences to make audiences aware of Korean work and increase the professional contacts between authors and academics as well as general audiences. In addition, more investment in marketing will yield long-term benefits in promoting Korean literature in other major languages.