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April 6, 2010

Distinguished Korean Poet Ko Un to Read at Smith

ko unNORTHAMPTON, Mass.— Smith College will present a reading by the distinguished Korean poet Ko Un at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 20, in Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall. This event is free and open to the public. Ko Un will present his poems in Korean, and David McCann, Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Literature at Harvard University, will introduce Ko Un and read the English translations.

Described as “a force of nature” and frequently mentioned as a favorite for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Ko Un is a beloved cultural figure who has helped to shape contemporary literature. The preeminent and most prolific Korean living writer, he has published more than 135 volumes of poetry, fiction, essays, translations and drama and has twice won the prestigious Korean Literature Prize. Poet Allen Ginsberg called him “a magnificent poet, a combination of Buddhist cognoscente, passionate political libertarian and naturalist historian.”

Ko Un’s remarkable life is reflected in the many lives his literary output embodies. Born into a peasant family in 1933, Ko Un began writing poems from an early age. Traumatized by the horrors of the Korean War, he entered a monastery and became a monk. “If I hadn’t met Buddhism,” he has said, “I wouldn’t be here today, since I was lost at one time.” After leaving the Buddhist community in 1962, another “lost” decade of despair followed, including problems with alcohol and multiple suicide attempts, though his poetic output continued through these years of tribulation. After a profound political awakening in 1972, he joined in vigorous opposition to the military regime and in the struggle for human rights. He was detained, tortured and imprisoned repeatedly and for long periods, during which time his practice of Buddhist meditation sustained him. Finally freed in 1980, Ko Un married, moved to the countryside, fathered a daughter and entered a period of stability and happiness, though he was still considered a dissident, and it would be more than another decade before he would be granted a passport.

Finally allowed to travel, Ko Un visited India, Tibet, the United States, and, at last, made his first trip to North Korea. In 2000, he accompanied President Kim Dae-Jung to the historic reunification summit in Pyongyang, reading his poetry before the leaders of the two Koreas. Later that year, he was an invited speaker at the United Nations Millennium Peace Summit in New York. Once his work was translated (into 17 languages), Ko Un quickly gained an international reputation and gave readings widely, including in Poland, Greece, Colombia, Sweden, Italy and China.

Now with more than a dozen works in English, Ko Un has presented his poems at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival in Stanhope, N. J., and, in 1999, he was appointed visiting professor at the Korea Institute at Harvard University. In 2008, he was honored with the Lifetime Recognition Award from Canada’s Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry. Presenting Ko Un with this distinguished honor, poet Robert Hass praised him as “a remarkable poet and one of the heroes of human freedom in this half century.”

Ko Un’s visit is supported by the Smith College Lecture Committee, the Ada Howe Kent Fund, the department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, East Asian Studies, the Korean American Students of Smith, the Sunshik Min Endowment for the Advancement of Korean Literature at the Korea Institute at Harvard University, and the Daesan Foundation. The reading will be followed by a book sale and signing. For further information, contact Michaela Cahillane in the Poetry Center office at (413) 585-4891 or Ellen Doré Watson, Poetry Center director, at (413) 585-3368.

For disability access information or to request accommodations, call (413) 585-2407. To request a sign language interpreter specifically, call (413) 585-2071 (voice or TTY) or e-mail All requests must be made at least 10 days prior to the event.

Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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