Kang Hwa Gil (writer)
Kang Hwa Gil
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Jeonju, South Korea
|Years active||2012 - Present|
|Known for||Feminist writing|
Kang Hwa Gil (born 1986) is a South Korean writer. She is one of the “young feminists,” who has consistently written about women since her literary debut in 2012. Her writing has been influenced by gothic romance and thrillers written by women writers in the 19th century. She often employs the use of “unreliable narrators” to trigger the reader’s anxiety. She is a recipient of the Munhakdongne Young Writers’ Award (2017) and the Hankyoreh Literary Award (2017).
Kang was born in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, in 1986. Since her childhood, she enjoyed activities that could be performed alone, and reading was her favorite activity by far. In her teens, she dreamed of becoming a writer and received prizes in writing contests. She became a Korean literature major to write, but the lack of creative writing classes led her to join a joint literary review club in college. While considering her future career, she took a semester off from college and focused on writing. To achieve her dream of becoming a writer, she enrolled in a graduate program for narrative creation and continued to write. In 2012, she made her literary debut with the short story “Bang” (방 Room).
Since her debut, Kang has consistently written about issues related to women, which earned her the description “feminist writer” and “young feminist”. Stories in Gwaenchaneun saram (괜찮은 사람 A Good Person) (2016), Dareun saram (다른 사람 A Different Person) (2017) are laced with anxieties contemporary women have felt at one point in time or another in various situations. Kang believes that women’s issues are an important topic and also feels a sense of duty to write about them, but she takes care not to make them the sole aim of her work. She said that many people warned her about the possibility of being stereotyped as a woman writer who writes about women, since her debut. However, Kang believes that such self-regulation can end up limiting women’s issues that occur within the social structure to personal problems. She is planning to continue and delve into femininity, as it is an interesting and important topic that can be further expanded. She says that she is still in the process of becoming a feminist, and she will strive to show her world through her works.
Kang was influenced by the works of 19th-century Western women writers, including the Brontë sisters and Mary Shelley, and is particularly interested in the gothic romance and thriller narratives. So Kang’s fiction makes use of the grammar and atmosphere of mystery thrillers in general. In addition, unreliable narrators in Kang’s stories heighten the sense of mystery. When the reader, who has been following and trusting the voice of the narrator, realizes the ruptures in the narrative, the narrator becomes an unreliable person. The hunch that there is something else that you cannot quite put your finger on intensifies the reader’s anxiety, leaving the reader to wonder what is underneath the surface of the story. Often the ambivalence that feeds the reader’s anxiety is left unresolved in the work.
The anxiety and fear that envelopes Kang Hwa Gil’s stories are linked to the specific real-life events that women in our society encounter in their daily lives. Most of the narrators in Kang’s stories are women, and their statements about their feelings and experiences tend to seem somewhat lacking and at times make them seem overly sensitive. However, as these situations recur, the reader gradually realizes that whether or not what the narrators are saying is true is not the issue at hand. The point is that women cannot but feel anxious and fearful when left in the dark about men’s intentions even if they are good intentions—and the unknowable truth brings suffering upon humans.
Gwaenchanneun saram (2016) is a short story collection that features stories with characters who are troubled at heart. It makes the readers ask why the author wrote such characters and what she wants to say through them. This is a reason why we also need to look closely at Kang’s saram (person or people) series.
In the titular story “Gwaenchanneun saram,” the first-person narrator has a fiancé. But she is unsure whether the action of her fiancé, which resulted in her getting hurt, was accidental or intentional. Without knowing whether his action was a result of his consideration for her or a threat, the narrator is left to anxiously wonder whether he really is a good person or not.
“Nikkola yuchiwon-gwihan saram” (니꼴라 유치원-귀한 사람 Nikola Kindergarten – A Precious Person 니꼴라 유치원-귀한 사람) features a narrator who wants to send her son to a respectable kindergarten, out of a twisted feeling of inferiority. The mysterious atmosphere of the story continues to build, as the narrator learns the reason her son who was second on the waiting list received the chance to attend the kindergarten and hears strange rumors about the kindergarten. Toward the end of the story, it makes the reader question what a “precious person” is and whether the narrator wishes her son or herself to be a “precious person”. “Hosu-dareun saram” (호수-다른 사람 Lake-Other People) begins with an assault. When her friend is found assaulted, the first-person narrator begins to look into what happened to her friend along with the friend’s boyfriend named Ihan. However, as time passes, the narrator feels terrorized by Ihan, but to Ihan she appears to be an overly sensitive person who asks questions that are unrelated to the incident. The only objective fact is that her friend is lying unconscious in the hospital. The narrator and Ihan are “other people” who were not the victims of assault.
Kang Hwa Gil’s novel Dareun saram (2017) begins with Jin-a, who was subjected to dating abuse, calling the police on her boyfriend. Upset about the soft punishment the perpetrator received, Jin-a writes about what happened to her online but ends up getting hurt by vicious comments about her instead. While scrolling through the comments, she notices one that seems to have been written by someone who knew her in the past and is reminded of a friend named Yu-ri, who died. The narrative continues with stories of dating abuse, hate comments on the internet, and sexual assault in school. Although initially these experiences seem personal, they are eventually revealed to be violence pervasive in Korean society, shared by many people. In addition, Jin-a’s struggle to understand what happened to her as she experiences self-hatred, victim mentality, and self-defense makes the reader wonder if she really is a “different person” from us. At the end of the novel, the author writes “you,” pointing to the people who neglected the victims of abuse around them, thinking that they were different.
Seo-u (서우) (2018) is a story that combines the fear of taking a cab late at night and an urban legend that has become plausible in the era of misogyny. The first-person narrator takes a cab to go to a neighborhood where female cab drivers go missing. The narrator gets into the cab feeling safe as the driver is a woman, but her unpleasant speech is reminiscent of male cab drivers and the narrator soon grows uncomfortable. However, the twist does not end with the point that women can also be perpetrators. As the story about the narrator’s psychopathic tendencies in her childhood surfaces, suddenly the narrator turns into an unreliable narrator and a key suspect. Seo-u distorts the typical structure of an urban legend and also puts a twist into the idea that women are clueless victims.
Short Story Collections
《괜찮은 사람》, 문학동네, 2016 / Gwaenchanneun saram (A Good Person), Munhakdongne, 2016
《우리는 사랑했다》, 키미앤일이 그림 미메시스, 2018 / Urineun saranghaetta (We Loved), illustrated by Kimi and 12, Mimesis, 2018
《다른 사람》, 한겨레출판, 2017 / Dareun saram (A Different Person), Hani Book, 2017
〈황녀〉, 강화길 외, 《우리는 날마다》, 걷는 사람, 2018 / “Hwangnyeo” (Imperial Princess), Kang Hwa Gil et al., Urineun nalmada (Everyday We), Walker, 2018
〈카밀라〉, 《사랑을 멈추지 말아요》, 큐큐, 2018 / “Camila,” Sarangeul meomchuji marayo (Don’t Stop Loving), QQ Books, 2018 〈꿈엔들 잊힐 리야〉, 《멜랑콜리 해피엔딩》, 작가정신, 2019 / “Kkumendeul ichilliya” (Could Not Be Forgotten Even In a Dream), Melangcoli haepiending (Melancholic Happy-Ending), Jakkajungsin, 2019
Works in Translation
《서우》 K-픽션 22, 도서출판 아시아, 2018 / Seo-u, K-Fiction 22, ASIA, 2018
- Munhakdongne Young Writers’ Award (2017)
- Hankyoreh Literary Award (2017) (for Dareun saram)
- Ku Sang Literature Prize for Young Writers (2018) (for Seo-u)
Short Story “Bang”: “’2012 Kyunghyang Daily News New Writer’s Award for Fiction / Kang Hwa Gil – ‘Bang,’” Kyunghyang Shinmun, January 1, 2012.
- "Kang Hwa Gil, 'Reading is an Extremely Personal Experience'". Channel Yes. September 27, 2017.
- Yun, Hyo-jeong (October 10, 2017). "Writer Kang Hwa Gil, 'Women's Issues? I Wrote About Them Because They Had to be Written About". Book DB.
- Han, Yun-jeong (January 15, 2012). "Contemporary Literature Only Enjoys Political Freedom Within the Permitted Limit". Kyunghyang Shinmun.
- There is an anecdote related to Kang’s literary debut. The organizers of the literary competition lost her personal information and had to search online for her contact information. They eventually found information for “Kang Hwa Gil, Korean Literature Department” from an internet message board for a class and contacted her parents. Kang learned about receiving the literary prize from her parents and called the organizers back to confirm. Im, Na-ri, “Kang Hwa Gil, ‘It Doesn’t Get Talked About, But It Happens All the Time,” Channel Yes, September 13, 2017. http://ch.yes24.com/Article/View/34296
- “Young Feminists” refer to younger women writers who have different perspectives than the women writers of the previous generation (1990s and 2000s). While the women writers of the previous generation metaphorically alluded to violence against women in their writing, Young Feminists directly paint women as political agents. They differ from the previous generation of women writers in that they actively respond through literature to the social request to fight against the various violence against women. Young Feminists include Choi Eunyoung, Cho Nam-ju, Kang Hwa Gil, and Park Min-jung. Lee, Yun-ju, “The ‘Feminism Fever’ Is Creating a Meaningful Trend,” Hankook Ilbo, December 28, 2017. https://www.hankookilbo.com/News/Read/201712281794644576 Jeong, Seo-rin, “[2017 Culture] Women’s Wave Brings About Social Introspection, Offering Comfort Through Dialogue,” Seoul Shinmun, December 21, 2017. http://www.seoul.co.kr/news/newsView.php?id=20171222024011&wlog_tag3=naver
- Lee, Yun-ju (December 28, 2017). "The 'Feminism Fever' Is Creating a Meaningful Trend". Hankook Ilbo.
- Im, Na-ri (September 13, 2017). "Kang Hwa Gil, 'It Doesn't Get Talked About, But It Happens All the Time". Channel Yes.
- Video interview (September 8, 2017). "#Book Episode 3: Dareun saram (Kang Hwa Gil)". Hankyoreh.
- Kang expressed her interest in gothic romance thrillers written by 19th-century women writers—stories characterized by limited space, elements of mystery, and romance that was thought to be safe but is not. As though reflecting her thoughts, Kang quotes Shirley Jackson in the writer’s note for Gwaenchanneun saram: “I am the captain of my fate. Laughter is possible laughter is possible laughter is possible.” The reviewer of Kang’s book clarified that Jackson said this at a time when she was being emotionally abused by her husband and brings our attention to the topic of “women’s liberation.” “Kang Hwa Gil, ‘Reading is an Extremely Personal Experience,’” Channel Yes, September 27, 2017.http://ch.yes24.com/Article/View/34395 Book information for Gwaenchanneun saram https://www.aladin.co.kr/shop/wproduct.aspx?ItemId=97804554
- Roh, Dae-won, “Critical Acclaim,” Seo-u, ASIA, 2018.
- Roh, Dae-won (2018). "Critical Acclaim". Seo-u. ASIA.
- 지음, 강화길. "괜찮은 사람". aladin. Retrieved 2019-11-27.
- Hwang, Hyeon-gyeong, “Moreuneun saram” (Someone We Don’t Know), Gwaenchaneun saram, Munhakdongne, 2016.
- In an interview, Kang explained that she started writing the “people” series, which eventually led to her novel Dareun saram (2017). Video interview, “#Book Episode 3: Dareun saram (Kang Hwa Gil),” Hankyoreh, September 8, 2017. http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/culture/book/812907.html
- 지음, 강화길. "다른 사람". aladin. Retrieved 2019-11-27.
- Oh, Hye-jin, “The Political Possibilities of ‘Pleasurable Murder’ and ‘Women’s Thrillers,’” Seo-u, ASIA, 2018.
- This book is part of the “Take-Out” series, in which 20 young writers have been paired up with 20 illustrators to create books with matching illustrations. Kang participated in the fifth installment of the series along with illustrator Kimi and 12. Book information for Urineun saranghaetta https://www.aladin.co.kr/shop/wproduct.aspx?ItemId=152565925 Mimesis Blog, Introduction of the Take-Out Series https://m.post.naver.com/viewer/postView.nhn?volumeNo=15948777&memberNo=4806582&navigationType=push
- 옮김, 강화길 지음, 스텔라 김. "서우 Seo-u". aladin. Retrieved 2019-11-27.
- Choi, Jae-bong (May 25, 2017). "'I Wanted to Say That Things Like This Don't Just Happen to Someone Else'". Hankyoreh.
- "Ku Sang Literature Prize Grand Prize Goes to Kim Hae-ja, Young Writer's Prize Goes to Kang Hwa Gil". Yonhap News. November 8, 2018.
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