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Poet Kim Hye-soon wins at National Book Critics Circle Awards

March 22, 2024 - 15:56 By Hwang Dong-hee
Poet Kim Hye-soon in 2022 (Moonji Publishing)

The English translation of acclaimed poet Kim Hye-soon's collection, “Phantom Pain Wings,” translated by Don Mee Choi, has clinched the poetry prize at the National Book Critics Circle Awards in the US, making Kim the first Korean awardee.

The NBCC announced her as the winner in the poetry category during this year's awards ceremony Thursday held at the New School Auditorium in New York.

The NBCC, a nonprofit set up by book critics in New York in 1974, annually selects the best books written in English in five categories, including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and biography.

"I never expected to win," Kim was quoted as saying by Moonji Publishing, her the poet's Korean publisher. The poet and the translator did not attend the ceremony.

"It's surprising and delightful that they honored the award to an Asian woman. I'm grateful to (Don Mee) Choi, who has been with me for a long time with her excellent translations."

Poet Kim Hye-soon (left) and Don Mee Choi during the award ceremony at the International Griffin Poetry Prize in 2019. (Moonji Publishing)

Kim's “Phantom Pain Wings” is the only translated work among the five finalists. The four other are “All Souls” by Saskia Hamilton; “The Gathering of Bastards” by Romeo Oriogun; “Information Desk” by Robyn Schiff; and “Trace Evidence” by Charif Shanahan.

“Phantom Pain Wings” was also among six finalists for the 2023 NBCC’s Gregg Barrios Book in Translation Prize.

Since 2023, NBCC also started recognizing artistic and literary value in translated works across all genres in English, at its Gregg Barrios Book in Translation Prize.

"Cold Nights of Childhood" by Tezer Ozlu won last year's prize.

Korean edition (left) and English edition of "Phantom Pain Wings" by Kim Hye-soon, translated by Don Mee Choi (Moonji Publishing, New Directions Publishing)

“Phantom Pain Wings,” which consists of 72 poems, was published in 2019 in her 40th year in the literary scene, with its English version released in May last year.

That book depicts “the memory of war trauma and the collective grief of parting through what (Kim) calls an ‘I-do-bird-sequence,’ where ‘Bird-human is the ‘I,’” according to the English publisher.

In 2019, Kim was the first Asian woman to win the 2019 award at Canada’s prestigious International Griffin Poetry Prize. Choi, the translator, also worked on her 2016 "Autobiography of Death.”