One of the most intertextual of contemporary Korean fiction writers, Kim Kyung-uk was born in 1971 in Kwangju, South Chŏlla Province. He earned a BA and an MA in English literature and Korean literature, respectively, from Seoul National University and teaches creative writing at Korean National University of Arts. Since his debut in 1993 with the novella "Outsider" (Autsaidŏ), published in Chakka segye (Writers world), he has produced more than a dozen story collections and novels.
Kim is evaluated perhaps too facilely by the critics for incorporating elements of popular culture in his works—understandable when we consider the titles of stories and novels such as Morrison Hotel (Morisŭn Hot'el), "Who Killed Kurt Cobain?" (Nu ka K'ŏt'ŭ K'obein ŭl chugyŏnnŭnga?), and "Leslie Cheung Is Dead, You Say?" (Chang Kug-yŏng i chugŏttago?). But the importance of such works extends beyond mere parody to challenge readers to reevaluate cultural icons and stereotypes—a project that is central to modern Korean fiction, to judge from the multiple intertextual fictional renderings of icons from classical Korea, such as Hwang Chin-i, and the many contemporary retellings of some of Korea's best-known folktales, such as "The Woodcutter and the Nymph." Kim is especially interested in how individuals manage to re-invent themselves and/or live double [End Page 11] lives, and in crafting portraits of such characters he reflects writing by both Korean and non-Korean authors. In its gravitas and apocalyptic background "Young Hearts Never Grow Old" (Sonyŏn ŭn nŭkchi annŭnda, 2013), for example, echoes both P'yŏn Hye-yŏng's "Mallow Gardens" (Aoi kadŭn, 2003) and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The reading therapist in "Dangerous Reading" (Wihŏmhan toksŏ, 2006) resembles the suicide consultant in Kim Yŏng-ha's I Have the Right to Destroy Myself (Na nŭn na rŭl p'agoehal kwŏlli ka itta, 1996) and would be at home in a story by John Cheever. And with his 2007 novel Kingdom of a Thousand Years (Ch'ŏn nyŏn ŭi wangguk), inspired by the story of Hendrik Hamel and his band of castaway Dutch sailors, Kim has reached far back into Chosŏn history for a most unusual tale of adaptation and survival.
Kim's interest in intertextuality goes back at least as far as his apprenticeship in creative writing. In his acceptance speech upon being awarded the 2016 Yi Sang Literature Prize for "Ch'ŏnguk ŭi mun" (translated here by Soomin Yoo as "Heaven's Gate"), Kim observed that whenever he is about to submit a work for publication he realizes anew that he is a yŏngwŏnhan chimangsaeng ("forever-aspiring writer") who reads incessantly the works of his peers, regardless of their age. In doing so Kim reverts to the role of reader, understanding that without a readership Korean literature would be like the Titanic, with writers assuming the role of the doomed cruise ship's orchestra, which continued to play on even as the vessel was sinking.
In recent years Kim has begun to attract attention among English-language readers. He is now represented in English by "The Queen of Love" (Yŏnae ŭi yŏwang), translated by Ryan Yu in Acta Koreana (2012); "Young Hearts Never Grow Old," translated by Deborah Smith in Azalea 6 (2013); "99%" (thus titled in Korean as well), translated by Jane Lee and Bruce Fulton in World Literature Today (2013); "Dangerous Reading," translated by Brother Anthony in Koreana (2014); God Has No Grandchildren, a collection of his [End Page 12] stories translated by Sunok Kang and Melissa Thomson (2015); and "Spray" (Sŭp'ŭrei), translated by Jason Woodruff in an online feature in Asymptote (2017).
The following selection of Kim's writing includes a short essay by the author, translations of two of his stories, and the translation of an excerpt from his most recent novel. "The Mailman, Olivia Hussey, and Robert Redford" (Uch'ebu wa Ollibia Hasse wa Robŏt'ŭ Redŭp'odŭ) is included in his 1999 story collection Pet'i rŭl mannarŏ kada (Off to...