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Korean literature becoming popular overseas

Dec. 22, 2021 - 17:36 By Song Seung-hyun
Cover of the English-language translation of Ma Yeong-shin‘s graphic novel ”Moms“ (LTI Korea)

Reflecting the growing popularity of Korean literature, 180 literary works were translated into 29 different languages with assistance from the Literature Translation Institute of Korea this year.

This is the largest number of works translated in a year since LTI Korea was established in 1996.

LTI Korea said the increased demand for Korean literature in overseas markets is also shown in the number of requests for translation support that it received this year.

A total of 156 overseas publishers applied for LTI Korea‘s translation and publication support after purchasing copyrights for Korean literary works this year. The institute added that there were only 13 requests for this support when it was first launched in 2014.

“We used to mostly work with Korean publishers trying to expand overseas. But this figure shows that foreign publishers‘ demand for Korean literature has increased,” an LTI Korea official told The Korea Herald. “Since not all books are being translated and published overseas through us, we think that there could very well be more cases of foreign publishers purchasing copyrights of Korean literature.”

Cover of the English-language translation of Yun Ko-eun’s ”The Disaster Tourist“ (LTI Korea)

LTI Korea added that increased interest in Korean literature is due to Hallyu’s ever-growing global influence as well as quality translations.

These changes are partially due to several Korean writers like Yun Ko-eun and Ma Yeong-shin winning international awards, LTI Korea said.

In July, Yun’s novel “The Disaster Tourist” became the first in Korea to win in the Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger category at the CWA Daggers. The Dagger awards, given by the Crime Writers’ Association in the UK, recognize excellence in the art of crime writing.

Ma’s graphic novel “Moms” won the Harvey Award for the Best International Book of the year in October. Established in 1988, The Harvey Awards has been selecting quality comic books, graphic novels and manga to commemorate the literary achievements of Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993).

The demand for translated editions of books by South Korean novelist Han Kang, who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016, has increased dramatically in recent years as well.

According to LTI Korea, a total of 47 translations of works by Han received its support for translation, whereas less than 10 translations were available before she won the prize in 2016.

There are more than 200 Korean books in translation -- including “Three Generations of Railworkers“ by Hwang Sok-yong that is being published in Spain, and “28” by Jeong You-jeong that is being published in Indonesia -- that will come out in foreign languages next year.

To respond to the surge in demand, the institute said it will soon come up with publishing strategies for different countries.