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(Yonhap Interview) Author Yun I-hyeong espouses political power of trivial feminine story

Interviews 10:00 September 28, 2019

By Park Boram

SEOUL, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) -- The random murder of a 20-something woman by a schizophrenic man in the heart of Seoul in 2016 was a symbolic moment that awakened many young Korean women to the lethality of simmering misogyny.

Hiding in a unisex public toilet adjoining a bar near the crowded Gangnam subway station, the assaulter in his 30s waited for 30 minutes while six men came and went before stabbing the first female toilet user to death.

The random murder case, all at once, sparked an acute consciousness of the danger of being female, instigating many young women to take to the streets to mourn the death and protest.

The ghastly case was a major moment of rebirth for novelist Yun I-hyeong as a female writer who, till then, unconsciously tried to keep her femininity from seeping into her literary works for fear of being bypassed for "feminine frivolousness."

Major #MeToo revelations against highly revered male authors around the same time keenly reminded Yun of her identity as a woman, awakening a feministic voice inside her.

"People used to say 'I don't wanna hear (read) about women's sentimental feelings' ... and I feared that my novels might be discounted as too private, frivolous or emotional," Yun said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Friday.

"(But the 2016 case) erased such consciousness, and I learned that such trivial episodes could make a better story. Since then, whatever I wrote naturally became about women," the 43-year-old writer said.

This image shows novelist Yun I-hyeong during a press conference on Jan. 7, 2019, after she won the 2019 Yi Sang Literary Award. (Yonhap)

The career-changing lesson was followed by her short story about marriage in 2018, which translates as "Their First and Second Cats."

A young couple gives up their occupational ambitions and individual tastes to sustain their three-member family with a little son.

As tensions over the couple's different visions of life come to a boiling point, they divorce each other as peacefully and tenderly as they fulfilled their marital duties.

The short story won Yun the highly acclaimed Yi Sang Literary Award this year.

Last month, Yun also published a new collection of short stories, translated as "A Club of Little Hearts" in English, which she had written since 2016.

The stories bring down the often intricate feminist discourse to a personal level through the lenses of, for example, a stay-at-home mom who hesitates about joining a public protest rally or a female office worker who hesitates about speaking up for a sexually abused female colleague with a bad reputation.

"My main interest has been on how people relate with other people, especially how different women could connect with each other despite their differences," she said.

"Whether we want to or not, we are living as a political being. Even every small decision we make every day is a political choice and decision even if it doesn't look like one," according to the writer.

For Yun, writing means opening discussions with other human beings about the absurdities of human life.

"I am a lonely person who needs someone to talk to. Sometimes living in this society is too burdening, and some bizarre affairs are out of my understanding. (So) I hope my works could open up a conversation (about them)," Yun noted.

"Before writing a story, I often wonder if there will be anyone (thinking) like me. And readers sometimes come up to me to say 'This is my story.' I like this feeling of being connected," she added.

Going forward, Yun plans to publish a medium-length novel about female friendship the following winter. She is also preparing a full-length novel, although details have not been fixed.

Earlier this month, she and six other writers published short stories under the shared title "The Square," a special publication project celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA).

Under the same title, "The Square," MMCA is hosting a special exhibition series at its three museums in Seoul, Gwacheon and Deoksu Palace, walking the visitors through major Korean artworks from 1900-2019.

On the sidelines, MMCA is throwing a variety of activities on museum premises, including an evening literary event on Friday where Yun and another fellow writer under the MMCA publication project recited their works.

This image shows novelist Yun I-hyeong during a press conference on Jan. 7, 2019, after she won the 2019 Yi Sang Literary Award. (Yonhap)

pbr@yna.co.kr
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