18th Sejong Writing Competition Winners Entries (2023)

Page 34

18th Sejong Writing Competition

(April 2023)


■ 18th Sejong Writing Competition Announcement

■ Writing Competition Planning Committee

Essay Category

■ Winners

■ Competition Rules and Essay Topic

■ Winners Entries & Bio

■ Adult Division

■ Senior Division

■ Junior Division

■ Competition Judges

Sijo Category

■ Winners

■ Rules and a Basic Guide to Writing Sijo

■ Winners Entries & Bio

■ Adult Division

■ Pre-College Division

■ Competition Judges

Grants provided by: LTI of Korea, Korea Foundation, The Academy of Korean Studies, Overseas Korean Foundation, Illinois Arts Council Agency

Special Sponsors: Pacific Rim Cultural Foundation, Korea Times in Chicago, Korean Consulate General in Chicago, SNUAA Chicago, BISCO Charitable Foundation, DB Kim Jun Ki Cultural Foundation


DEADLINE MARCH 31, 2023 (11:59 PM CDT)

MISSION: The Sejong Writing Competition aims to introduce young adults to Korean culture through literature and poetry. ELIGIBILITY: Open to all residents of the US and Canada regardless of ethnic background



The sijo is a traditional three-line Korean poetic form organized technically and thematically by line and syllable count. Using the sijo form, write one poem in English on a topic of your choice. For examples of sijo, more information, and teaching materials – including teaching guides for sijo, please visit our website. *Only one entry per applicant is permitted.


Topic: The Glass Shield by Kim Jung-hyuk

Prompt: It may help to know that among Korean critics, Kim Jung-hyuk is often called an “everythingist” for his wideranging interests and abilities (he even draws his own cartoons). “The Glass Shield” is one of Kim’s signature stories for it s unusual tone and attitude but also for its confrontation of a major theme: What is art? It would be easy to classify “The Glass Shield” as a postmodern story and not apply standard rules to it, but the story is also very traditional. Describe how Kim uses both traditional and unexpected approaches to addressing the central theme of the story. Be sure to discuss the relationship between the unnamed narrator and his friend M along with the interrelated images in the story (lines and circles, for example ) and the role they play in the central drama.


Topic: Waxen Wings by Ha Seong-nan

Prompt: Ha Seong-nan is famous for what Korean critics call her “microscopic” (and often dispassionate) descriptions that transform everyday reality into a heightened awareness. Her story “Waxen Wings” seems to be a story about the repeated failures in the life of the character named “Birdie.” By American standards the story is probably a tragedy, but it does not follow the typical structure for that form. Is the story a tragedy? What is the underlying structure of “Waxen Wings,” and how does the use of the second person as the point of view change your reading of the story? Discuss some of the literary devices Ha uses to weave the story together and the effect they produce in the story as a whole


Korea has a rich tradition of storytelling and its folk tales reflect important aspects of its history and culture. Topics (Choose one): each topic refers to the list of Korean folktales found on our website.

• Write an interpretation of a folk tale of your choice. Why do you think it was created? Which character do you relate to best?

• If you could change one of these folk tales, what would you change and why?

PRIZES: Winning entries may be published in the Korea Times Chicago, the Korean Quarterly, or Azalea: A Journal of Korean Literature and Culture, published by the Korea Institute at Harvard University.

• Adult sijo division: First ($1,000) Second ($750) Third ($500)

• Pre-college sijo division: First ($500) Second ($400) Third ($300)

• Adult essay division First ($1,000) Second ($750) Third ($500)

• Senior essay division: First ($500) Second ($400) Third ($300)

• Junior essay division: First ($300) Second ($200) Third ($100)

• Friends of Pacific Rim Award for selected essays and sijo ($50 each)

GUIDELINES: all entries must be written in English and only one essay and one sijo per applicant are permitted. A full list of guidelines and rules can be found on our website.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: March 31, 2023. 11:59pm CDT.

Applications and entries must be submitted through our online submission system. Please visit our website at www.sejongculturalsociety.org/writing or email us at writing@sejongculturalsociety.org.

The Sejong Cultural Society acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency and DB Kim Jun Ki Foundation.

Writing Competition Planning Committee:

Heinz Insu Fenkl

(State University of New York at New Paltz, NY), chair

Bruce Fulton (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

Seong-Kon Kim

(Seoul National University, Korea)

Young-Min Kwon (Seoul National University, Korea)

David McCann (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA)

Mark Peterson (Brigham Young University, Provo, UT)

Martha Vickery (Korean Quarterly, St. Paul, MN)

18th Sejong Writing Competition (April 2023)
Winners ■ Competition Rules and Essay Topic ■ Winners Entries & Bio
Adult Division
Senior Division
Junior Division


2023 Sejong Writing Competition

Essay Winners

Adult Division Senior Division Junior Division

Susan Habegger Fort Wayne, IN essay

Dylan Chang

Los Angeles, CA

10th grade, (Katheryne Gullo)

North Hollywood Senior High essay

Ian Kim (tie)

Princeton, NJ

7th grade, (David Myers)

Princeton Charter School essay

Kit Pan (tie)

Glenview, IL

8th grade, (Genee Major)

Springman Middle School essay


Linda Hout River Falls, WI essay

Rina Olsen

Tamuning, Guam

10th grade, (P.K. Harmon) St. John's School essay



Maegan Connor Dallas, TX essay

Sungbin Choen

Duluth, GA

11th grade, (Christy Villegas)

Fulton Science Academy Private School essay

Amanda Pepple

Chicago, IL grade, (Maria Asvos)

William Howard Taft High School

Eliana Perez

Chicago, IL


12th grade, (Maria Asvos)

William Howard Taft High School

Kristen Song

Duluth, GA

(Michelle Norton)

Lambert High School

Tucker Bowhall

Glenview, IL

8th grade, (Genee Major)

Springman Middle School essay

Hailey Lee

Norwood, NJ

5th grade (Jaejun Kwon)

Norwood Public School

Jake Milner

Glenview, IL grade, (Genee Major)

Springman Middle School

Sehyun Park

Basking Ridge, NJ

6th grade, (Connie Jun)

William Annin Middle School

( )
*Honorable Mention - Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Teacher's

Adult Essay Division (age 19 - 30)

It may help to know that among Korean critics, Kim Jung-hyuk is often called an “everythingist” for his wide-ranging interests and abilities (he even draws his own cartoons). “The Glass Shield” is one of Kim’s signature stories for its unusual tone and attitude but also for its confrontation of a major theme: What is art? It would be easy to classify “The Glass Shield” as a postmodern story and not apply standard rules to it, but the story is also very traditional. Describe how Kim uses both traditional and unexpected approaches to addressing the central theme of the story. Be sure to discuss the relationship between the unnamed narrator and his friend M along with the interrelated images in the story (lines and circles, for example) and the role they play in the central drama.

Adult Essay Division Winners:

first place - Susan Habegger

second place - Linda Hout

third place - Maegan Connor

Topic:"The Glass Shield" by Kim Jung-hyuk PROMPT for “The Glass Shield”
Division - TOPIC
Adult Essay


Tradition and modernism exist in tension with one another. Tradition constantly and inevitably influences modernity, while modernity pushes tradition aside, seeking progress and novelty. Kim Jung-hyuk analyzes this tension in “The Glass Shield,” focusing on tradition and modernism in art, and characterizing this ideological tension as a human friendship. The narrator’s relationship with M in “The Glass Shield” juxtaposes postmodern and traditional ideologies, providing a vehicle for Kim Jung-hyuk’s commentary on the nature of art.

Neither the narrator of “The Glass Shield” nor his best friend, M, entirely represents traditionalism or modernism. Rather, the two main characters demonstrate different combinations of postmodernism and traditionalism. The narrator acts primarily within the bounds of traditionalism. He offers reliable, linear narration reminiscent of traditional literary conventions. He is predictable, steady, and straightforward. M, in contrast, embodies postmodernism. He is unpredictable and spontaneous. However, neither character is at peace within his natural ideology. The narrator longs for and loves the subjectivity of postmodern art. After M stretches out the yarn on the subway and the narrator terms it “art,” the narrator “did have a sense of missed opportunity” (216). He finds the varied interpretations of their stunt beautiful and enticing when M thinks them ridiculous (220). In contrast, M embraces spontaneity, but longs for the structure and predictability of traditionalism. M pulls the yarn into a line while the narrator stands next to its circular tangles (214). With the narrator’s help, M “put the price of it [the beer] on the left hand side of the table” (217). M relies on the narrator to create the structure for which he longs, and the narrator relies on M to provide the spontaneity and excitement that he craves. Their relationship works because each has–and creates–what the other wants.

The tangled mess of yarn that the friends bring onto the oxymoronic "circle line" symbolizes and undermines their interconnectedness and interdependence (208). The narrator’s coincidental exclusion from creating the artistic experience foreshadows his voluntary exclusion from M’s pursuit of a more traditional, linear lifestyle at the end of the story. M wishes to continue working as an interviewer, a constant job with an element of the performative fun that comes naturally to him. He no longer needs the narrator to help him create the structure he craves, because the narrator inadvertently created a permanent structure for him by “saying the art word for the first time in [his] life” (215). The “art word” creates a world in which M and the narrator are experiential artists. Together, they create “special” experiences for others to enjoy, similarly to their earlier job interviews (226). As their notoriety increases, the narrator sees M’s tendency towards structure, tradition, and linear living, and pulls away from him. In doing so, the narrator falls fully into a postmodern mindset, finding his true self and his true beliefs by rejecting his natural linearity and embracing postmodernism.

The narrator’s interest in and final fall into postmodernism is signified by circles–the opposite of the lines along which M chooses to live. He sees the tangles of yarn on the subway seat as “an artist’s painting, like the landscape of [his] heart” (212). They represent the endless possibilities and interpretations of the human experience. Without M pulling him towards the linear, the narrator follows this convolution of opinion quickly and joyfully. He admires the Internet’s

Adult Essay Division - Winning Entries

many interpretations of the yarn, and considers glass shield simultaneously pointless and extraordinarily useful (224). This duality of truth, opinion, and reality directly contrasts with his clear narrative style. This forces the reader to accept a traditional narrator with postmodern ideas and to create a postmodern definition of art in the process–that art is a subjective, “special experience” (215). By this definition, art constantly changes, circles back on itself, and alters to fit any reality that an individual brings to it. Traditional art is powerful because it cycles the past back into the present, and consumers of traditional art recreate it by experiencing it in a new way. Modern art is powerful because it uses tradition to recreate the past for a modern viewer with modern experience. When generations of art coexist, all art is modern in the individual experience, and the moment of consumption is itself an artistic recreation of art.

When understanding experience as art, life itself becomes art so long as it is experienced. This is why the narrator wonders if M is “just waiting for [him] to loosen the ties first” (222). He realizes that he must experience life and art on his own terms and in his own way. In a final attempt to revitalize his friendship, the narrator asks M to “‘go back to the beginning again’” (231). The narrator circles back to his childhood dreams, and M chooses to continue following the straight path in front of him. M is not interested in circling back, in re-experiencing, or in rediscovering. He seeks practicality, sustainability, and the traditional lifestyle to which he is drawn. The narrator recognizes that his artistic awakening, triggered by “the art word” on the subway, is incompatible with M’s new lifestyle and with his own traditional tendencies, and their relationship fades.

“The Glass Shield” is a story of personal and artistic redefinition that engages with literary tradition through its narration and use of writing as a vehicle for societal commentary. By allowing tradition and postmodernism to coexist in his narrative, Jung-hyuk makes a powerful case for their coexistence in the external world of art, as well. The two are not mutually exclusive, as evidenced by the narrator’s long-lasting friendship with M. However, there does come a point at which the two must separate. Tradition must follow its beaten path, and modernism must circle back to the beginning and learn how to recreate itself in a never-ending cycle.

Susan Habegger, Fort Wayne, IN

adult essay division, first place

I heard about this competition entirely by accident. A professor received a mailed invitation to enter, and decided against it. Instead of throwing away the invitation, he gave it to me. I entered on a whim, but loved the process of reading, researching, and analyzing a work of literature from another culture.

My education has primarily centered around British and American literature, so I did quite a bit of research on Korean culture and literary tradition to ensure that I read “The Glass Shield” in its intended context. The most striking thing I learned was that literature develops in very similar ways, regardless of culture or geographic location. The differences between various literary traditions are beautiful, but I found the consistency of literary development across cultures fascinating.

Some of my hobbies include reading, writing, hiking, embroidering, playing guitar, and spending time at local coffee shops.

I have too many personal heroes to count, and all of them are people who have been role models to me in faith, friendship, and academics. In the future, I hope to continue to rely on the support of those I love as I teach and further my own education.

Title: Unraveling the Meanings and Symbolism in Art

What is art? In what ways does art influence and shape our perception of reality? Kim Jung-Hyuk’s “The Glass Shield” explores how our imaginative capacity for unconventional fun dwindles as we age. The creativity that motivates M and the Narrator to extend their yarn across subway cars stems from childlike curiosity and excitement that society suppresses due to its novelty. Despite the seemingly harmless nature of their yarn unraveling, a train employee confiscates it due to a bomb scare caused by other passengers' fear. The society offers no place for those who deviate from the norm unless art comes into play. Art provides a refuge for creativity, an asylum for imagination, and the salvation of M and the Narrator's livelihoods. However, it also serves as a double-edged sword and transparent shield that cannot entirely block reality from view.

Art is a manifestation of an artist's emotions and perspective. Although we might not fully grasp the significance of red and blue yarn on a green background, “It was like an artist's painting, like the landscape of heart” (189), it does not mean we cannot find our meaning in it. The story implies that the value of art lies in its capacity to be shared. By connecting with individuals who interpret the same piece in varying ways based on their personal experiences, art can bring together a diverse group of people and create a community through a single object's relatability. However, the issue arises with society's demand for comprehension. This is exemplified by the existence of the Professional Art Reporter, whose role is to decode art and present it in an easily digestible format. Paradoxically, even professionals do not truly comprehend art. Although the photo shoot is intended to represent freedom, the professional and photographer seek to recreate the subway scene with the yarn, revealing their lack of imagination to see the potential freedom in a childlike sword fight. They can only appreciate it in hindsight.

“The Glass Shield” is a short story about two characters, M and the Narrator. The storyline follows these two as they navigate through mutual life experiences. M and the Narrator have a familial relationship despite not being related by blood. These two are inseparable. They live together, attend interviews together, and support each other despite their failures and society's misunderstanding. Companies hiring only for one position will either try and convince them otherwise or decline the offer. Their friendship goes beyond a “typical” friendship such as a platonic relationship. This sentiment is indicated when the Narrator says, “We were once asked if we were homosexual” (187). This statement only further shows their friendship is seen as loving and endearing to the public eye. It is unclear how long they have known each other. In the story, they are 27 years old. Their friendship embodies the strength and resilience of interpersonal relationships while representing two different ways of living that struggle to reconcile. M and the Narrator almost seem like two sides of the same coin, with the former living impulsively while the latter is pragmatic and worried about societal judgment. Although they have collaborated on interviews and encouraged “fail-aholics,” their relationship is not meant to last, as they are both falling behind in society. Riding the subway circle line is a metaphor for their circular approach to interviews that is not making progress.

Second place
Adult Essay Division - Winning Entries

Art acts as a catalyst for transformation, leading to a significant turning point. Similarly to the process of unraveling yarn, the more time the Narrator and M spend on artistic pursuits and perfecting their interview techniques, the further apart they drift. Nevertheless, the string still connects them, and the tension keeps them united. However, unlike the subway's circular path, the bus journey takes a toll and turns fun art into tedious work, causing the Narrator to recognize that their paths diverge. The loss of fun creates a decisive turning point, forcing them to take different paths as the adult and child grow apart without even realizing it. “The Glass Shield” portrays the journey from childhood to adulthood, and despite the shield being made of plastic, it is as delicate as glass. Art serves only as a temporary haven against harsh reality until it inevitably breaks down.

Finally, in “The Glass Shield,” Kim Jung-Hyuk explores the significance of art as a refuge for creativity and imagination. As we age, our imaginative capacity for unconventional fun diminishes, but art provides a temporary escape from societal norms and expectations. However, the value of art lies not only in its ability to offer condolence but also in its capacity to connect people with varying interpretations. The story follows M's and the narrator's inseparable friendship, representing two different ways of living while struggling to reconcile. Art becomes a catalyst for transformation and leads to a decisive turning point. Moreover, as the two characters age, they unconsciously select separate paths due to a decrease in enjoyment. “The Glass Shield'' highlights the fragility of childhood innocence and the role of art in providing a refuge for creativity against the harsh realities of adulthood.


A sense of post modernity plays throughout Kim Jung-hyuk’s short story “The Glass Shield,” which questions the true meaning of art and life. Culturally speaking, to have a true, sustaining life is to provide yourself with your needs, while also providing yourself an equal amount of happiness. Kim’s “The Glass Shield” grapples with the notion of art and how art can express many different things. Throughout the story, the unnamed narrator and his friend, M, grapple with the idea of art. Although they do not realize it when they first begin expressing themselves, they show how the overall culture of Korea can be expressed through the simple, yet liberating nature of art, which is found through the nostalgia that art brings when grappling with adolescence, wonder, and discovery. The relationship between the narrator and M is artistic in itself and calls to attention the ideologies of Korean society in order to critique how Korean society does not fully welcome non-materialistic art.

The Korean culture is bifurcated into two different categories. One can see these two categories as the haves and the have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressor, or even the more radical tendencies versus the more traditional tendencies. Looking at the relationship between the narrator and M, there is some sense of resemblance of this divide in Korean culture. M is symbolic for radicalism, while the narrator is symbolic for nationalism. The original “division within the nationalist movement was over the tactics and the long-range vision of what the nation would become after independence” from Japan (Robinson 246). This division brought about the “cultural nationalists” and the “radical nationalists” (Robinson 246). Although these are ideas of the 1930s during Japan’s annexation and occupation of Korea, these terms and ideologies are still current in today’s Korean society. In rejecting the cultural nationalism of traditional capital, Kim’s story is advocating for a return to the virtues of earlier ideas of radical nationalism including those of non-materialistic art.

After the narrator hears another friend on the phone say that he “can’t understand why [he] stick[s] to [M] like glue,” the narrator becomes confused about his relationship with M (Kim 220). The narrator has an internal monologue of how one “can never understand human relations,” and although the narrator “wanted to say something back” to his friend on the phone, he had some sense of urge not to (Kim 220). This instance reveals to the reader that the narrator is extremely torn between his friendship with M and living the more material Korean lifestyle. This lifestyle puts corporate work before everything else, arguing that careerism and material success are the most important things. M is a radical that wants nothing but to be relentlessly playful, but the narrator has an internal feeling that something must change, or the cycle will remain. Thematically, Kim’s story explores a fractured friendship that is divided by the bifurcated Korean society. This split friendship can also be represented through the two colors of yarn that the men have in their demonstration. M has “the blue yarn in his hand,” while the narrator has “the red yarn in [his] hand” (Kim 214). The blue yarn is in a “tangled state,” which can represent how M is a very disorderly person and thinks very irrationally. The red yarn is “coiled on the seat,” which shows how the narrator is a collected person with goals that are seemingly traditional (Kim 214). These two colors of the yarn also represent the two primary colors of the Korean national flag

Third place
Maegan Connor Dallas, TX
Adult Essay Division - Winning Entries

and the two political positions that one could have; indeed, the translation of Kim’s metaphor as differently “tangled” nation “state[s]” testifies to this split ideology.

The cycle of this friendship is shown through the movement of the train on which the two friends perform their art. The train is stuck in a loop that is outside of the city; it is positioned outside of everything that Korea has been founded on, outside of business, economics, capitalism, and national economic growth. The fact that the train is outside of the city shows the non-material artistic potential of Korean society. However, since the train is surrounding the city, it shows that there is a boundary that the traditional standards of Korean society operate on. Playfulness is not welcome in Korea. However, it is notable that while the narrator and M are in the middle of a sword fight, “two small kids… approached… two women who appeared to be the kids’ mothers moved close… [and] two grandfathers [were] intrigued by the clanging of the swords” (Kim 226). Although the art seems childish, the people of Korea gathered around the two men still enjoy the child-like actions that the men brought through the art that they produced. These acts are child-like, but also retain the subversive streak between the haves and have-nots. This art that the narrator and M made brought questions to the forefront: that “if acting the fool can be construed as art,” then they are “number one” (Kim 225).

At the end of the story, they found themselves having “passed a fork in the road,” and this fork ended with M choosing “the left and” the narrator choosing “the right” (Kim 231). The relationship splitting and the narrator choosing the more traditional roles of Korean society shows that, for some, art is not the purpose of life. This choice that the narrator makes at the end is viewed by Kim’s story as a surrender – as a loss of the nostalgia and the radicalism that once guided his spirit. He knew that he would not be able to continue his life the way that M would. The notion that the text ends with this epiphany by the narrator shows that even if one tries, it is hard to escape the corporate traditionalism of Korean society.

Works Cited

Kim, Jung-hyuk. “The Glass Shield.” Translated by Kevin O'Rourke, The Library of Musical Instruments, 2008, pp. 207-31.

Robinson, Michael. “Ideological Schism in the Korean Nationalist Movement, 1920-1930: Cultural Nationalism and the Radical Critique.” The Journal of Korean Studies, vol. 4, 1982, pp. 241–68. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41490178. Accessed 10 Feb. 2023.

My name is Maegan Connor. I’m from Dallas, TX, and I am a senior at Emmanuel College (GA), graduating in May 2023. After graduation, I will be moving back to my hometown of Dallas, TX, to teach High School English.

I heard about the Sejong Culture Society Writing Competition from my senior project advisor, Dr. Paul Petrovic. My senior thesis grappled with Korean Literature, so Dr. Petrovic made room in the syllabus for me to write this essay and submit. Through writing this essay, I have gained knowledge and understanding of the social complexities that Korea has to offer. I grappled with the notion of haves and have-nots in Korean culture and the effects of modernity throughout.

Some of my hobbies include reading and writing, bowling, dirt track racing, spending time outdoors, trying new restaurants, and hanging out with family and friends.

My two personal heroes would have to be my mother and my sister. My mother has always been a courageous woman and has endured some of life’s hardest challenges. Though she has been through challenges in life, she has always been kind hearted and good spirited. My mother always the perfect advice, even when I do not particularly want it. My sister, Katie, is also one of my heroes. Katie has Cerebral Palsy and lives at home with my parents. There is never a time you can catch Katie without a smile on her face. She is witty and extremely intelligent, she is my best friend.

Senior Essay Division (grade 9th – 12th)

Topic:Topic: "Waxen Wings" by Ha Seong-nan, (translated by Janet Hong)

Prompts: The story might be classified as dystopian, but it is also a story of an unlikely friendship. As the plot unfolds, it concretely illustrates many abstract ideas, as Kim says. What are some of these abstract ideas that get dramatized? How does Kim deliver a thematic message through the drama of this story? Is there a particular message to be found in the story, or is it more a matter of emotion and tone?

PROMPT for “Waxen Wings”

Ha Seong-nan is famous for what Korean critics call her “microscopic” (and often dispassionate) descriptions that transform everyday reality into a heightened awareness. Her story “Waxen Wings” seems to be a story about the repeated failures in the life of the character named “Birdie.” By American standards the story is probably a tragedy, but it does not follow the typical structure for that form. Is the story a tragedy? What is the underlying structure of “Waxen Wings,” and how does the use of the second person as the point of view change your reading of the story? Discuss some of the literary devices Ha uses to weave the story together and the effect they produce in the story as a whole

Senior Division Winners:

first place - Dylan Chang

second place - Rina Olsen

third place - Sungbin Choen

honorable mentions (Friend of Pacific Rim Award) – Amanda Pepple, Eliana Perez, Kristen Song

Senior Essay Division - Topic

Title: "Waxen Wings" and the Pain of Gravity

10th grade, (Katheryne Gullo)

North Hollywood Senior High

There is nothing more human than wanting. One of the most fundamental aspects of humanity is ambition, the deep seated desire within you that always asks for more. In modern society, in which the world is both the most open it has ever been and the most suffocating it has ever felt, a common want is the desire to feel free. To escape normal life, to quit your job, to abandon the modern world and the complex society to go off into the woods, spending days resting idly in bright green meadows and rich forests. Yet in the end, no matter how many of these thoughts pervade us, we wind up static, stuck in the same ordinary life. In “Waxen Wings”, Ha Seong-nan conveys that desire to escape society through the metaphor of flight to be fully free from the laws of gravity. The protagonist, Birdie, recounts twenty seven years of life in the span of a minute, through every tragedy that occurred in her search for flight. Ha uses a unique structure and second-person writing style to convey the tragedies of ordinary life, but even so, the story of “Waxen Wings” itself is not a tragedy. Although it has many of the characteristics of one, “Waxen Wings” is ultimately a tale of the human experience, one which any reader can find themselves in, and even a little bit of a story of human triumph against the world.

The most prominent motif used throughout “Waxen Wings” is that of flight. Flight represents freedom from gravity and laws of the universe, from logic and normality. To Birdie, her desire of flight becomes near obsessive, but more than that it becomes a talent for her. Birdie’s small build helps her experience that flight a little bit more than others. At first, with the swings, and then, with gymnastics. That is, however, until she is constrained by being “pulled to earth” by gravity. “Waxen Wings” sees gravity described as a constraint rather than an occurrence, and Birdie references it as such. Gravity, to her, is an obstacle from not just her dream to fly, but her ability to fly, which is why it is personified almost as an antagonistic force which works against her. With that in mind, “Waxen Wings” becomes the tale of Birdie against gravity, but also against the people who tell her that her actions are futile. Her teacher and her coaches all encourage her to stop, but regardless, she keeps trying. In the end, her actions indeed fail her, as she experiences a hang gliding accident that leaves her permanently disabled. During this accident, the most prominent literary device used is that of allusion to the tale of “Icarus”, the boy who was able to fly, yet didn’t listen to the words of his elders and flew so close to the sun, the wax on his wings melted. The story is even referenced in the title of the club Birdie joins “Icarus Wings”. Like Icarus, Birdie’s flaw is her ambition. She is overconfident from her past as a gymnast and in the moment, becomes overcome with her desire to fly that she forgets, momentarily, about the laws of the world and the words of her instructors. She crashes, and her ambition becomes her literal downfall.

Birdie’s overconfidence largely stems from her childhood and her youth. Her advantage against gravity happened to be her build, small enough that she was able to stay airborne longer than others. This aided her in gymnastics, until she

first place
Senior Essay Division - Winning Entries

hit her growth spurt and found that she was unable to control her new body. This leads to one of the most prominent literary devices used within “Waxen Wings” as it develops the tone of the story irony. The world is cruel, it seems, but worse, it has a terrible sense of humor. When Birdie gets taller, seemingly closer to the skies and the flight she desires, she is pulled back to Earth by the force of gravity literally being stronger on her. In an even more prominent example, when she loses her leg. Birdie herself comments on it “in that shadow, half of you could now forever hang in midair.” (21). In a cruel act of fate, Birdie resists gravity with her leg yet is forever chained to the ground due to her disability. Though this does not assert “Waxen Wings” position as a tragedy or not, it does add just the tiniest dash of hope. Even through unsavory means, there is always a way to circumvent the constraints of reality. Society may beat you down to the point where it seems there’s no way out, but there always is one because no law is concrete, not even the laws of gravity.

“Waxen Wings” is not entirely a tragedy. Rather, “Waxen Wings” is a story of a life it can be one of triumph or tragedy, but whatever it is, it is unmistakably human. It is told entirely in second person to develop this even though the character is very much telling her own story, it is easy to relate to her thoughts and experiences because there is no person who has never felt similarly chained to the world. Ha Seong-nan does not pretend that there is always an escape from such chains. Instead, she depicts the experience of being constantly pulled back, facing repeated failures. But at the same time, she paints a picture of hope and resilience, of a will to keep chasing your dreams until you are satisfied. You don’t need to lose a leg to find the little victories in life, though, and you don’t need to stop wanting things. Instead, take in the world around you, and appreciate it. You’ve made it this far, so take pride there are millions of miniature triumphs in that achievement alone.

Dylan Chang senior division, first place

My name is Dylan Chang, and I’m currently a sophomore at North Hollywood High School.

I first heard about this contest from my English teacher, Ms. Gullo, and I didn’t really expect to enter it at first. However, after reading “Waxen Wings” I found I really resonated with the story and I felt compelled to write about it. As I wrote my entry, I found myself liking the story even more, especially Ha Seong-nam’s unique and beautiful method of storytelling. Going through the story and unpacking just why it made me feel this way was a unique and enjoyable experience, and I’m grateful to this contest for allowing me to go through it.

I’m interested in reading, drawing, and anything where I’m learning something new. I’m not quite sure what I want to do in the future, but I’m hopeful that reading and literature will always stay with me, whether or not it’s linked to a career.

10thh grade, (P.K.


: A Contemporary Icarus: The Balance of Success and Tragedy in "Waxen Wings"

“Your watch stopped at 3:14”: so begins “Waxen Wings”, Ha Seong-nan’s mesmerizing tale of a girl who dreams of flight despite the odds. With this opening that is really a loophole in time, the reader is immediately drawn into the world of the nameless protagonist known only as “Birdie”. This anonymity, coupled with the skillful use of the secondperson point-of-view, implies that Birdie could be anyone including the reader. Masquerading as a biographical account, “Waxen Wings” is an exploration of pyrrhic success which is tragic, but not a tragedy. With her signature Kafkaesque writing style, Ha uses seemingly insignificant details to construct an objective chronicle of an everyman’s dream, leaving the reader to question whether Birdie truly attains success, however short-lived that success might be.

To explore whether a short success constitutes a tragedy, Ha emphasizes the brevity of everything in Birdie’s journey to success. In addition, she suggests that success cannot be planned in advance by including unprecedented natural factors. The nickname “Birdie” is derived from the protagonist’s obsession with flight, which began when she jumped off a swing at ten years old and was “freed from the swing, [her] body [soaring] only for the briefest moment…” (Ha, 164). This “briefest moment” foreshadows the moment of flight Birdie experiences as an adult on a hang gliding trip right before crashing, having been blown off course. In high school, Birdie trains in a gymnastics class that offers a chance at “flight” before she grows too tall, having been “blown off course” from her dream by uncontrollable factors, and her coach concedes that “maybe it’s better this way, since a gymnast’s career is so short” (Ha, 172). Brevity is a recurring topic in “Waxen Wings”, where both readers and characters learn how sweet success is, but also how shortlived it can be. Ha juxtaposes brevity with eternity in her ending, when Birdie sees her shadow that’s missing the leg she lost in the hang gliding crash: “In that shadow, half of you could now forever hang in midair” (Ha, 181). In a twist, Birdie has achieved her goal, just not in the way she expected to. Like Icarus, she flies; unlike Icarus, her crash results in half of her becoming suspended in midair instead of death. Thus, this doesn’t fit the traditional definition of a tragedy because her flaws do not lead to her demise; instead, they drive her “off course” to a when viewed with a silver lining comparable place. In a bittersweet ending lies the message that life has unexpected turns, yet can result in something similar to the goal.

Ha employs symbolism and irony to underscore the intractable nature of life. One symbol is Birdie’s watch. At first, it works smoothly; later, it winds down before finally shattering at the ending right at 3:14. This embodies the conclusion of Birdie’s journey and that the time for dreaming is over. Another symbol is a dead pigeon: unable to continue gymnastics, and equally lost in school, Birdie heads alone to Changgyeong Palace and contemplates a pigeon that falls dead. Ha writes that “for the first time in [her] life, [Birdie witnesses] the moment life escapes from a living thing” (Ha, 173). By being “blown off course” by death, the bird is grounded the same way Birdie can no longer “fly”, or do gymnastics, because of her growth spurt. The death of the bird can be likened to the death of Birdie’s goal;

second place
Senior Essay Division - Winning Entries

however, unlike the bird’s death, no one notices Birdie’s “death” and her absence from class because “it’s more common for [her] to be at the gym” (Ha, 174). Irony defines how little of an impact Birdie and her dream have on her surroundings: what everyone takes to be Birdie’s usual routine is actually her reluctant departure from it. This can be summed up in a line from Roman Holiday, recited by Kang Hyokchun, a man Birdie later meets and falls in love with:

“Life isn’t always what one likes, is it?” (Ha, 176-177). When Birdie discovers that he’s disappeared and Kang Hyokchun may not even have been his name making him, too, anonymous the watch repairman comments, “What do you expect with guys who work at a place like this? They migrate like birds, flying around from place to place” (Ha, 177). Ironically, Kang Hyokchun has become a bird who flies in search of work and dreams, while Birdie remains flightless.

Ha’s use of the second-person point-of-view transforms the reader into Birdie. Though the protagonist remains nameless, the consistent second-person narration offers a visceral experience of straining for a near-unachievable dream. The minute details of the story form a realistic biography rife with symbolism and irony. Ha never tells “you” what to feel she merely gives facts and details that “you” experience. This almost paradoxically evokes emotions as Birdie’s experiences become those of the reader, raising the question of whether it was all for nothing. By building up how much Birdie invests in her dream from the beginning, Ha establishes how much Birdie has to lose, despite exerting almost inhuman effort. This cost only grows as Ha asserts that success cannot come without pain: during Birdie’s arduous training, her coach incessantly jabs her; her colleague Yunhui’s promising career is terminated after an injury, the same way Birdie’s is after the hang gliding crash. Even Birdie’s attempt to forget her dream is unsuccessful, as Kang Hyokchun and his abrupt disappearance mar her attempts at a “normal” life. Each setback for Birdie becomes one for the reader, reiterating that success has a price.

“Waxen Wings” is a gritty portrayal of one’s odyssey to their dream, reminiscent of many readers’ individual struggles as the world grows increasingly competitive. Through the second-person point of view, Ha Seong-nan lands readers directly into this yet-to-be-achieved goal and has them question the fantasy of a hard-working individual. Through Birdie, Ha implants in readers a sense of sonder for we are all striving to achieve our own dreams, flying alone in the exact human condition that Ha casts us in.

My name is Rina Olsen and I am a current sophomore at St. John’s School. I first heard about this competition when, while researching Korean culture and literary forms to better connect with my Korean heritage, I stumbled across the Sejong Cultural Society. Writing this essay with an analytical eye furthered my understanding of contemporary Korean literature, and as an aspiring writer, this proved a transformative learning experience.

My hobbies include reading, writing, playing the piano, and looking up facts about history. My personal heroes are my mother and father, who continue to inspire me every day. My future goals are driven by my interest in exploring my heritage as well as my passion for storytelling, as I continue to write historical fiction novels about Korea.


Birdie is not the first one to have fallen from the false promises of a pair of waxen wings. Written in about 8 CE, the Greek tragedy of Icarus describes how a literal pair of waxen wings led to one’s tragic end. In the tragedy, Icarus attempts to fly in the air with waxen wings. Despite his father’s warning, Icarus flies too high. Getting too close to the sun’s heat, the wax holding together the feathers of his wings melts and he ends up falling into the sea, where he drowns. This old tragedy is a tale of a caution against hubris. 2000 years later, readers are introduced to a similar story, Waxen Wings, by the South Korean author Ha Seong-nan. The protagonist, Birdie, dreams of flying like a bird –a nearly impossible task for humans. To describe the downfall of an individual due to hubris in the modern world, Ha not only utilizes, but goes further to maximize the effects of, Greek tragedy elements. The author constructs the narrative by interweaving the elements of hamartia and anagnorisis in a repetitive structure. Ha induces a moment of catharsis in the end, with its emotional effect magnified through the second person perspective.

According to Aristotle’s Poetics, there are two classical elements of a tragedy: hamartia and anagnorisis. Hamartia refers to a character’s error of judgment, commonly classified as the hero’s fatal flaw, while anagnorisis refers to a critical discovery about some truth or limitation. In Ha’s Waxen Wings, the repeating cycle of hamartia and anagnorisis propels Birdie into arriving at a tragic ending. Within this structure, various symbols are used to represent Birdie’s fatal flaw and critical discovery along her journey.

Birdie’s unwearied attempts for her dream represent hamartia. When Birdie is in elementary school, “[her] teacher makes [Birdie] write ‘People cannot fly’ over and over again on the chalkboard” to discourage her dream after another student falls from the swings trying to briefly ‘fly’ (Ha 165). But as Birdie is “so small, [her] writing reaches only halfway up the board” (Ha 165). Here, it almost seems as if Birdie’s height limits her ability to fully accept the teacher’s warning, and she continues her attempts to fly by moving on to gymnastic bars. After a failed career in gymnastics, Birdie meets Hyeokjun, with whom she falls in love with. In this chapter of her life, Hyeokjun symbolizes the idea of flying through the fleeting nature of their encounter. And her pursuit of Hyeokjun symbolizes yet another attempt to chase after a dream without recognizing its false promises. Hyeokjun is someone described as “probably [having] over ten names he goes by” (Ha 177). Analogous to the other forms of flying that entered and abruptly left Birdie’s life, Hyeokjun leaves suddenly without warning. Despite the instability of their relationship, Birdie soliloquizes, “Oh, I love you, Hyeokjun, Kyeongshik, Eunho, Changmin, Minsu… whatever your name is” (Ha 178). As Birdie did in her childhood riding the swings or in her teenage years pursuing her love of gymnastics, Birdie will continue to blindly love flying, a fatal flaw that leads to a tragedy.

While Birdie seems to relentlessly chase her dreams in the face of consecutive failures, she does not seem to be completely unaware of the limitations of her conditions. There are moments of anagnorisis in which she briefly reckons

third place
Sungbin Choen Duluth, GA 11th Grade (Christy Villegas) Fulton Science Academy Private School
Senior Essay Division - Winning Entries

with reality. In middle school, Birdie thinks that “if people could escape the confines of gravity, they could fly like birds'' (Ha 166). She also notes, however, that “[she finds] even the task of simplifying the law of gravity difficult” (Ha 166). With this realization, she seems to understand the difficulty of leaving one’s reality, symbolized through the notion of gravity. Regardless, she still attempts to ‘fly’ through the sport of gymnastics, but is faced with the reality of her sudden height growth and cannot pursue this career. At the Changgyong Palace, she sees a pigeon “[standing] motionless in the same spot, blinking slowly” (Ha 173). As if she sees the end of her pursuit to fly through the death of the pigeon, which once used to fly, she “[shrouds] the pigeon in [her] leotard”. She comes to terms with the limitations of her physical ability. But her pursuit to fly only takes a different form later on through hang gliding.

Throughout Waxen Wings, Birdie cycles through different forms of effort to fly and the varying limits of reality. The loop of alternation between hamartia and anagnorisis implies that even after the discovery of her limitations, she will always return to an error of judgment: she believes she can fly. The scale of the failures becomes larger after each attempt, and she is eventually met with an ending in which she loses her leg.

Following a build up of hope and disappointment, which becomes dramatized through an ever-growing cycle, Ha induces a catharsis through the final scene. While this underlying structure sets up a foundation, the use of the second person perspective also plays a crucial role for the reader’s cathartic release of emotions. From the start, the reader is absorbed into the world of Birdie through detailed depictions of the day to day life: “You, ten years old, are cutting across the school field… The kids in your class call you Birdie” (Ha 163). After following along Birdie’s journey of attempting and failing to fly over two decades, the reader, seeing themselves as Birdie, is led to a heightened emotional experience at the end, when they can finally come to terms with the limitations of reality for good.

Waxen Wings is a tale of the modern world, composed of the elements of classical Greek tragedies. Ha creates a tragedy that is perhaps even more cruel due to her dramatized manipulation of these classical elements within a cyclical structure. And it is a tragedy in which the reader is dragged into this loop of false hope fueled by the waxen wings that Birdie continues to recreate after each fall.

My name is Sungbin Choen, and I am a junior at Fulton Science Academy.

I heard about this competition from my friend. While writing my essay, I could find the beauty of Korean literature. Analyzing various rhetorical devices, I enjoyed figuring out what the author intended to write about.

My hobbies are reading, listening to music, and working out.

My personal hero is my grandmother who taught me a lot about Korean culture.

In the future, I would like to be a successful businessman who contributes to the spread of Korean culture.

TITLE: Hangtime

Ha Seong-nan, author of “Waxen Wings,” writes a story about a girl who experiences many failures and hardships in life. While from an outside perspective it may seem like a tragedy, the main character “Birdie” doesn’t seem to view her life that way. She accepts what happens to her gracefully, and keeps moving though life, taking what it gives her. Birdie is very stoic. This reflects Ha’s style of writing, which has been described as “microscopic” and “dispassionate.” “Waxen Wings” is not sentimental, which keeps in line with Ha’s writing as well.

Ha’s use of second person perspective in ‘Waxen Wings' helps the reader connect to the story and the main character. Like Janet Hong, the translator, states in the prologue, “A tragic story risks becoming sentimental if told in the first person, but may become too detached if told in the third person. In ‘Waxen Wings,’ the second-person narrative affords the reader the best of both worlds: enough distance from sentimentality and enough intimacy for empathy.” It puts the reader directly into the story, allowing the reader to decide how to feel about the events of the story, with some direction on how Birdie is feeling, like in the line, “As you walk down the street you mumble to yourself: Oh, I love you, Hyŏkchun, Kyǒngshik, Ŭnho, Ch’angmin, Minsu… whatever your name is,” which happens right after Hyŏkchun leaves her. Birdie had feelings for Hyŏkchun, and is sad that he has left her. It’s up to the reader to decide exactly how sad Birdie is, based on the context surrounding the event. What happens between each event in the story is left up to the reader’s interpretation as well.

Throughout the story, Ha uses Birdie’s watch to symbolize her growth and dedication towards her goal. Birdie first receives her watch from her mother because she would stay at gymnastics practice for so long that she began to arrive home late. Her wrist is so skinny that she has to poke an extra hole in order for the watch to stay on her wrist. She keeps her watch on during practice as well. When Birdie is older and a trade school graduate, her watch begins to stop more often, showing that Birdie has slowed down too. “Your old watch stops more often now. ‘Excuse me, Miss, do you have the time?’” The thought of flying isn’t mentioned during this part of the story. Birdie gets her watch fixed, allowing time to keep moving, and letting things reset. Instead of wanting to fly, she now wants to live life as a young adult.

The story also has some focus around the Greek story of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun. The title, ‘Waxen Wings’ refers to the wings of wax and feathers that Daedalus created for him and his son, Icarus, to escape Crete. The wings were fragile, as the sun would melt the wax and the sea would get the feathers wet, making his wings too heavy. Birdie didn’t even have wax wings, but still yearned and failed multiple times to fly. Towards the end of the

Honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Amanda Pepple Chicago, IL (Maria Asvos) William Howard Taft High School
Senior Essay Division - Winning Entries

story, when Birdie is 26 years old, she joins a hang gliding club called “Icarus Wings.” She is now finally able to fly, just like she’s always wanted. Eventually she ends up getting the opportunity to fly a more advanced path than she’s used to, due to her good flying and landing skills as a beginner. When she takes her turn, though, an accident happens, causing Birdie to become very injured. Unlike Icarus this accident wasn’t her fault, however like Icarus she was very ambitious. Her ambition wasn’t to blame for her tragedies though, which, depending on the reader’s interpretation, could be considered more sad and upsetting than if the unfortunate events were due to her ambition.

The theme of “Waxen Wings” is make the most of your life, even when things happen that are out of your control. Birdie doesn’t ask to join gymnastics; the coach convinces her to join. Birdie doesn’t leave gymnastics because she doesn’t want to do it anymore; the coach no longer wants her to be there due to Birdie’s height. Birdie is upset by this, but she knows that there is nothing she can do to change that. Birdie doesn’t go after Hyŏkchun; Hyŏkchun starts talking to her. When he leaves, she still doesn’t chase after him. He made his choice, and she accepted it. Birdie does make the decision to join the hang gliding club, but she didn’t ask to go fly with the expert pilots, they gave her the opportunity to do so. She tried to save herself but things didn’t go the way she wanted them to. Birdie constantly learns to adapt, because there is so much she has no control over.

“Waxen Wings” is an interesting story that blurs the idea of tragedy. Ha Seong-nan does this by writing the story in second person perspective, having a stoic main character, using symbolism, connecting to the story of Icarus, and the theme of “Waxen Wings.” Ha leaves it up to the reader to determine if the story is really a tragedy, however when you consider how the main character Birdie acts you can see that, to her at least, it isn’t a tragedy. “Waxen Wings” gives readers a new perspective on tragedy and that sometimes things happen that are out of your control. It is up to you to decide what actions you will take going forward

mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award

Eliana Perez Chicago, IL

12th grade, (Maria Asvos) William Howard Taft High School

TITLE: The Journey of Birdie

“Waxen Wings”, a short story written by Ha Seong-nan about a girl, called “Birdie” and the cycle of her life as she navigates through her younger years to her young adult experiences culminating to the age of twenty six. The story starts off in the scene of a hospital where Birdie, who is a patient receiving care, sits by the window looking out to the hospital garden at the people passing by. During this time, Ha guides the readers on a trip down Birdie’s memories throughout her life, which we eventually find out were the experiences that made her into the woman she is now. The first memory that was introduced in the story, “ Waxen Wings”, was when she was swinging on her school’s playground swings at the age of 10.

She was physically much smaller than the rest of the students and many times was picked on because of her size. But despite her small physical stature, she wasn't afraid of certain things that some children would be at that age. One day, when she was in the school playground on the swings, she decided that it would be cool to jump off. After a few swings to gain momentum, she released into the air and landed into the sandbox just as she planned. The other kids who were there saw that Birdie completed this seemingly big acrobatic task and wanted to try it out for themselves. Somehow, despite all of them being bigger in size, they all failed the jump and ended up hurting themselves while Birdie was the only one who came out unscathed. This experience testifies to Birdie's character and mindset as she grows older. Although she is smaller and seemingly less physically gifted, she continues to prove her strengths to others in spite of her size. This theme was also shown later on in her life when she was asked by the coach to be a part of the gymnastics team. In that team, she literally and figuratively soars and quickly finds the place where she fits in and is talented. But sadly, as time passed, the older she got, she grew out of gymnastics, making her talents for that field leave her. Because of this, she worked on pursuing other passions, such as love and hang gliding, later on in her young adult life. Although love between her and her admirer did not work out, that experience along with the many other memories from her past, has helped shape her to be the person she is today. Although she was unable to do gymnastics and dating didn’t really work out, she was still optimistic and adventurous. She especially wanted to find new interests and hobbies later on in her life as we saw when she tried hang gliding.

In the closing words of the story, the author, Ha, takes the readers once again on a walk down memory lane where Birdie tries to jump off a swing again but now, much older than at the beginning of the book. This time, instead of landing the jump, the story reveals that not only has her mentality changed and matured but also her physicality. In this scene, we learn that she has a prosthetic leg due to her hang gliding accident that happened a little earlier in the story. As the story goes back in time and space Birdie was reliving past memories and wanted to try to be like her young self again by jumping off of a swing, but when she tried to land, her prosthetic leg buckled in on itself and came off, leaving her on the ground, showing that even though she will always chase adventure and loves the thrill, there are many forces stopping her from doing them.

Senior Essay Division - Winning Entries

“Waxen Wings,” as a story, should not be considered a tragedy since it envelopes the reader in the growth and experiences of someone as they grow from an adolescent child to a young adult from a second person narrative. The traditional version of a tragedy is a story where the main character is either dead at the end or would be better off dead and this short story does not prove that this is the case with Ha’s character. In this narrative, Birdie overcame each challenge and became the better version of herself at the end and proved that with setbacks you can still chase your passions and dreams, which does not follow the traditional structure of a tragedy.

senior division, honorable mention

My English teacher, Mrs. Maria Asvos, introduced my Dual Credit class and I to this competition in hopes to gain experience in writing with different prompts and formats, participate in a contest to gain exposer, and also to learn from the short story as well as each other.

While writing this essay, I learned that it is much easier to write something when you relate to the topic given on a personal level. I also learned that under more limitations, many times, you can be more creative in what you do.

When I am not attending school, I like to spend my free time painting, listening to music as well as playing my musical instruments such as flute, piano, and voice, reading, journaling, doing photography, and spending time with friends and family.

My family and I are very close to it is no surprise that my personal hero that I have looked up to throughout my life is my dad.

Overall, I have many life goals, many of which I think are attainable, but one that I have been recently working towards accomplishing is becoming a Physical Therapist for my career.

Eliana Perez

TITLE: Waxen Wings: Exploring the Cyclical Nature of Life's Disappointments

"Flowers of Mold", by Ha Seong-nan, is a collection of short stories set in contemporary Korean society that reveals the darker aspects of human nature and society through the lens of everyday life. One of these stories, “Waxen Wings,” portrays the ups and downs in the life of Birdie through a unique narrative structure. The story is not structured as a typical tragedy, but rather as a series of vignettes that paints a picture of Birdie's life and invites the reader to closely observe. Through a well-crafted use of a fragmented structure, repeated symbolism, and a second-person perspective, Ha Seong-nan creates a cohesive and thought-provoking exploration of the cyclical nature of life’s disappointments. In doing so, Ha asks the reader themselves to be the judge of whether or not Birdie’s story is a tragedy.

Through a fragmentary structure composed of non-linear narration and disjointed scenes, Ha provides a space for the reader to find meaning within the way that the story is connected. The story of Birdie unfolds through distinct segments of time in her life, rather than following a smooth chronological storyline. Her story opens with an older Birdie in a hospital room where she observes a girl – her younger self – outside the hospital window. In the very next paragraph, the reader is led to that young version of Birdie at ten years old. After Birdie has to give up on an attempted gymnastics career, there is a sudden transition to an unknown number of years later, when she is a working adult. After a failed attempt at romance, the story jumps again to another attempt at flying through a hang gliding club. Through these disconnected scenes in her life, the reader is made to question the link between her various efforts. The reader is not told whether Birdie despaired at each attempt and decided to try again after a period of shame or disappointment. The reader is not told whether she easily brushed off these failures knowing deep down that she was destined to fly. When Birdie sees the young version of herself from the hospital, it is not clear if this vision indicates a sad longing for when she was able to fly and dream big, or a hopeful recollection of her dream that she will continue to pursue. Through the blank space created with a disjointed structure, the readers are also left to “[hang] in midair”, from which they can interpret the meaning of the various failures in Birdie’s life (Ha 181).

The fragmented structure is tied together through the use of repeated symbolism. Several symbols appear multiple times throughout the story such as the idea of a bird: the nickname Birdie and the pigeons at Changgeyong Palace. Among such symbols, the most aligned with the theme of repetition is the wristwatch that eventually stops at 3:14. The watch that is stopped at 3:14 is mentioned in the very first sentence. Like the hands of the watch pointing to the wrong time of day, Birdie’s life appears to be out of sync with what is deemed normal or anticipated. In the last scene, Birdie is noticing her watch which has been frozen at 3:14, a number one that can easily relate to the number pi, the geometric circle’s constant. Birdie has cycled through and arrived at the same point that the story started at. While the

Honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Senior Essay Division - Winning Entries

fragmented structure leads to an open interpretation of Birdie’s story and the question of tragedy, the repeated usage of the stopped watch creates a sense of unity. The author does not tell the reader whether Birdie’s life is tragic, but they do imply the cyclical nature of life’s journey of hopes and failures.

Ha utilizes a second-person point of view throughout the writing. Typically, a fictional story is narrated in the first or third-person perspective. As the reader absorbs this text in the second person perspective, however, it is as if they are observing someone and speaking to that person directly: “Like a gunnysack, you flopped onto the sand” (Ha 181).

Instead of becoming the main character by associating Birdie with “I”, the reader maintains a distance between Birdie and themselves. On the other hand, instead of being a bystander addressing Birdie as “she”, the reader becomes a friend calling Birdie “you”. This partial distancing invites the reader into the life of Birdie, allowing them to interpret Birdie’s experiences and emotions through their perspective. Ha allows readers the freedom to interpret the overarching message of her work based on their individual perspectives and personal values. Just as one friend may be disappointed for Birdie during her times of failure, another may cheer her on for continuing her pursuit to fly. And it is ultimately up to the reader to judge the life of Birdie as a tragedy.

Ha Seong-nan’s “Waxen Wings” is a powerful and poignant story that depicts a young woman’s life in contemporary Korean society. Ha Seong- an employs various literary techniques to elicit an insightful examination from the reader, inviting them to explore the recurring theme of disappointment and failure from a place of empathy towards Birdie. In doing so, Ha does not allow the reader to simply read the events of Birdie’s life as a tragedy. The author’s invitation into a distanced, yet nuanced observation of the life of Birdie can perhaps be applied to the reader’s life as well – an invitation to carefully reflect upon their failures in the absence of harsh judgment.

Junior Essay Division – Topic

Junior Essay Division (grade 8 and younger)

2023 Junior Essay Division Competition folktale index (folktales are available to read at our website)

• Congjui & Potjui: Korean Cinderella

• The Golden Ax and Silver Ax

• Shimchong: the Blind Man's Daughter

Korea has a rich tradition of storytelling, and its folktales reflect important aspects of its history and culture. Many of the old historical texts are full of local legends and myths. Folk tales can be entertaining and educational, but they can also strike a deep chord in our personal lives, and many Korean folktales demonstrate the universal tragedies and triumphs of daily life in the family.

Topics (choose one): Each topic refers to the list of Korean folktales found on our 2023 folktales index page Please make sure to select a folktale under the "2023 Essay Competition" list. When writing your essay, please be sure to include specific references to the tale you chose to write about.

a. Write an interpretation of a folk tale of your choice. Why do you think it was created? Which character do you relate to best?

b. If you could change one of these folk tales, what would you change and why?

Junior Division Winners:

first place (tie) – Ian Kim,

first place (tie) – Kit Pan

second place – none

third place– Tucker Bowhall

honorable mentions (Friend of Pacific Rim Award) – Hailey Lee, Jake Milner, Sehyun Park


My book of fairytales still holds a place of honor on my bedside bookshelf – the binding is well-worn, the pages crinkly, but these are the marks of love from when I spent hours of my childhood growing poring over the small letters, holding the book in my tiny fists. These fairy tales were not only an escape into another world but also places where I could learn lessons like treating others the way I want to be treated. A classic example of one of these fairy tales is the story of Kongjui and Potjui, the Korean rendition of the popular Western Cinderella story. The story is about Kongjui, a young girl whose mother died when she was born. Her father remarries and her new stepmother treats Kongjui horribly while she lets her daughter do whatever she wants. Luckily, Kongjui was a kind person and was rewarded by animals who helped her out with the difficult chores her stepmother assigns her. Finally, the heavenly maiden helps her to get married to the magistrate and she lives happily ever after. Readers can learn from the main characters in this story, including the protagonist, Kongjui, and how they approach situations. The story of Cinderella is long-lasting because its lesson can help readers become kinder as they see how Kongjui’s good karma eventually pays off and allows her to find happiness. However, while this lesson can be helpful, it needs to be changed because it is unfitting for the modern world, where people cannot rely on luck or fantastical creatures like magistrates passing by, Heavenly Maids, and talking toads that are the saviors in this story.

Currently, in the original story, Kongjui lacks autonomy and is dependent on the actions of others in the story. She is a passive character, and many external forces that she cannot control must rescue her because she is unable to care for her rights. If I could change the story, I would have Kongjui show initiative in standing up against the abuse she is experiencing from her step-family by having her raise her voice and take advantage of the resources available to her. A changed and braver Kongjui would be an inspiring role model for readers. Many around the world are oppressed by others who are much more powerful than them, and those prosecuted people usually have their freedom of speech taken away. Kongjui’s story could plant the first seeds of bravery in people so that they can stand up for themselves, which would be essential.

In Kongjui’s case, changing her fate would involve communicating with her father so that he would stand up for Kongjui against the stepmother and give her advice on the situation. Personally, my parents have always been key figures in helping me through hardships whenever I needed them. Parents are obligated to look after and care for their children, which is what the father should have been doing for her. Furthermore, it would have been difficult for Kongjui herself to directly confront her stepmother, given that the setting is several hundred years ago. Back then, it was much harder for children to go against their parents because it was considered very rude to talk back or to argue. It would have been difficult for Kongjui to directly confront her stepmother. Thus, Kongjui reaching out to her father would be most realistic, show her resourcefulness, and effectively curb issues since he is the head of the household. Her father would become aware of how Kongui is being abused by her stepmom, and he would be able to support her in taking the

first place (tie)
Junior Essay Division - Winning Entries

necessary actions to stop the stepmother’s behavior. The plotline of the story would consist of Kongjui repairing her relationship with her father and the entire family. This would be achieved by the father confronting the stepmom about the amount of work that Kongjui is struggling with and after a heated argument, the stepmom would realize how her jealousy has turned her into a horrible mother. After a sincere apology to Kongjui, all daughters would be treated equally with both daughters helping out with chores. The stepmother would have a great chance at redemption. Although the parents could become divorced, the more appropriate solution would be for the stepmother to become fairer and remain in the family, as that will be the happiest ending for both Kongjui and the reader. Ultimately, there would be a positive ending with Kongjui following in her father’s footsteps and would become an active woman who was dominating her field by being a successful merchant.

With this new and improved happy ending, readers can understand that happiness can be found through their actions of bravery, communication, and tact. Through her relationship with her father, Kongjui can stand up for herself by finding a more supportive way to confront her stepmother and thus be the inspiration to help readers to talk to someone about their problems instead of keeping silent. Although the original lesson of Kongjui and Potjui is important, being kind will not be enough to survive in the real world, even if it is one of her strengths. She needs to take it further and speak out against the injustices towards her. With this modified story, readers can feel empathy for Kongjui and apply her actions to their own lives in the real world. They can become empowered to be a voice in the world and to speak up for themselves against oppressors, thinking of Kongjui’s bravery against her stepmother.

Hi, I'm Ian Kim, a seventh grader from Princeton, NJ. While I have lived in NJ my whole life, I visit Korea once every few years and have always been interested in Korean culture. When my writing mentor told me about the Sejong writing competition, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to learn more about my Korean heritage. Writing the essay encouraged me to think more deeply about the implications of childhood folktales like Congjui Potjui, the Golden Ax and Silver Ax, and Shimchong. I hope this competition will encourage more people to learn about traditional Korean stories and their lessons that can be applied to anyone in any generation.

I have always enjoyed writing and sharing it with my peers. I like swimming, playing musical instruments, listening to music, and playing online games with my friends. I also love reading books, researching topics, and discussing them with friends. A few of my favorite books are Life of Pi, the Tintin book series, and The Giver. There are so many things I want to do, and there aren't enough hours in a day!

While I'm unsure what the future has in store for me, I know I'll follow my passions and dreams. Beginning from my childhood dream of becoming a paleontologist, I am still searching for what I genuinely want to achieve. Currently, my interest lies in climate change and some misrepresentations of history. I hope to study more about these issues and raise public awareness.

I owe all my success and inspiration to my parents, who are my real heroes. They support me in every aspect of my life and encourage me to enjoy each day. As I mentioned in my essay, having supportive parents who could easily communicate with me without barriers became the foundation for me to thrive. I am also grateful for my grandparents and other family members in Korea, who always cheer me on. I appreciate their support and trust in me, and I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude.

8th grade, (Genee Major) Springman Middle School

Title: Risk and Reward

If the act is righteous, so too will be the reward. Particularly in times of strife, in a world of others so egregious that greed is normalized, keeping oneself from pursuing self-interest is easier said than done, but doing so can ensure that life is full of serendipity. Such serendipity can mean losing a tool vital to one’s only source of income, but in exchange for a tool of far more quality, as was in the short story “The Golden Ax and the Silver Ax.” The protagonist, an impoverished woodcutter with an aging mother, gets more than what he bargained for because he made sure to keep his values in check. Modesty served him well.

Modesty is a gamble. There must be trust that the world will not take advantage of this lowly position that respect for authority and compassion can often put one in. When the rich are kind, it fortifies their power, but when the poor are kind, they give away power. In the story, the woodcutter is shown to be modest when he “dropped into a deep bow.” He was fully aware that Shilyongnim was a heavenly being “who could, if he wished, make everything right.” Yet, upon seeing the being who could very well give it to him, he doesn’t demand gold or silver. At this point, the woodcutter’s life is already at a loss, his prospects looking bleak. His mother is aging, his hands are clammy with toil, and he has to keep up the difficult physical labor of chopping trees down or he won’t have any money. Every. Single. Day. And now, he’s been deprived of his only ax! Clearly upset, he could have chosen to displace his anger, to take it all out on Shilyongnim. But he doesn’t. He’s able to keep level-headed, and it proves valuable, this risk of maintaining modesty.

If modesty is a gamble, the side gambling against you is probably also wanting something. So, what does Shilyongnim get? He’s a divine being and could act like a total snob head if he wants; he’s the one with power here. However, he is nothing more than sympathetic towards him. He is so caring, indeed, that he dives into murky waters to retrieve the lost ax. When he comes up the first time, he brings a golden ax, which the woodcutter denies to be his. A second time, he comes bearing a silver ax, and the woodcutter does the same. Only the last time, when he brings up the rusty old ax, does the woodcutter accept the gift and thank him profusely. Why, though? He could have taken the more valuable axes. They were beautiful. But they weren’t his. He covets not, taking only what he thinks himself deserving of. He doesn’t pretend to be something he isn’t, because that would be pretending that he’s better than someone, and that is a rather unkind thing to do. Because of this, Shilyongnim chooses to present to him a simple act of kindness, presenting to him all three of the axes, and that must make him just as happy as it did the woodcutter.

If Shilyongnim can choose to do this for everyone, why doesn’t he? It’s worth noting that someone else might have dropped those axes into the water, but Shilyongnim didn’t rise up to give them their axes, or else they would have left with them earlier. This too can be read as a result of modesty; perhaps, those previous woodcutters were greedy and

place (tie)
Kit Pan Glenview, IL
Junior Essay Division - Winning Entries

thus undeserving of getting their axes back, so Shilyongnim did not come to return them. Maybe they bought the axes with stolen money. The woodcutter would be more rich if he were a thief, but he is too modest for such a deed. It is the good in the woodcutter that inspires Shilyongnim to service him, starting a cycle of good. It empowers him; Shilyongnim would help everyone if they all deserved it, but that isn’t the case.

In the world, it’s easy to slip into greed, but the story “The Golden Ax and the Silver Ax” was created to inspire the deed of staying humble and acting in kindness. A little modesty can give a person more than they bargained for. Is it worth it?

Kit Pan junior division, first place (tie)

I heard about this competition through my teacher.

While writing my essay, I learned that stories are deeply universal, while having differences depending on where in the world they are told. They’re all linked together by the ideas they share, the questions they ask, and what made this particular folktale its own was the concept of modesty.

How can you let yourself fall lower when you’ve already lost? Isn’t it better to win something and compensate, even if through a lie? Such questions are often asked in any work of writing, regardless of language, and that’s why writing is my favorite hobby.

My other greatest interest is music, and I love playing my violin and piano.

In the future I hope that I can leave something worth creating behind and continue to pursue my passions

second place None Junior Essay Division - Winning Entries

Title: Honesty Prevails Over Temptation

The short folktale “The Golden Ax and Silver Axe” by Dr. Dongwol Kim Robertson, is a Korean folktale that reflects aspects of Korea’s history and culture. The story is about a hardworking, Korean man that chops down trees and sells the wood for money. He does this in order to make a meager living to support his elderly mother. One day when the man is chopping down his last tree of the day, he loses his grip on the ax and it flys into the lake, seemingly to never be seen again. A heavenly being known as Shilyongnim, appears in front of the distressed man and offers to help retrieve his ax from the lake. A few moments later, Shilyongnim appears from the pond with a golden ax and a silver ax, but the honest man explains that his ax is just a rusty old ax. Shilyongnim finally finds the man’s rusty ax and brings it to him. Shilyongnim then rewards the man for his honesty with both the golden and silver axs as a gift. Shilyongnim was testing the man to see if he would lie for his personal benefit or stay honest even though the valuable axs could have helped him out a lot.

There is a very obvious, but strong, theme in the folktale and that is; honesty will persevere and honesty is rewarded eventually. The overall message of the story is very true and I would not alter anything ginormous, like the theme, but there are some modifications I would make to enhance and evolve the story. In “The Golden Ax and the Silver Ax”, there is one man and that man is a perfect example of honesty. To make more of a contrast I would add in a character or two that fail to pass the test of the golden and silver axs. This way, when the woodcutter from the story declines the golden and silver axs there would be more contrast, elevating him above the other characters and displaying his honesty even more. Adding one or two characters into the story that end up failing Shilyongnim’s test of honesty would add more layers to the story and give it a little bit of a stronger plot.

The dilemma of the story is that the man’s ax flies into the lake after he loses grip of the handle. It is a unique problem that occurs, but if the problem that occurs were more common or believable, it would have been more relatable and understandable for the reader. Although this story is located in Korea, where being a woodcutter might be more common, the idea of accidentally throwing your ax into a lake seems a bit random. My reasoning for suggesting this change is because if the additional characters were implemented as I suggested previously, having three different characters accidentally throw their axs into a lake seems like quite an exaggeration. Altering the dilemma in the story would have to be done mildly and would need to still be relatable for Korean culture. Changing the problem of the story, even if only a little bit, would still allow Shilyongnim to test the honesty of the characters but just keep it a little less random and a little more plausible.

These changes that I suggested would really add to the story. Adding an extra two characters into the story would help to contrast the woodcutter’s honesty in the face of temptation. If two different characters failed because of greed and dishonesty, the woodcutter from the story would seem to be on another level compared to the other characters. If characters were added into the story, things would have to be altered including the ax flying into the river, because

third place
Tucker Bowhall Glenview, IL
8th grade, (Genee Major) Springman Middle School
Junior Essay Division - Winning Entries

three people accidentally throwing their axs into a lake is pretty improbable. The story would benefit from these changes in my opinion because as long as they are put to good use and don’t end up taking away from the plot, they would really enhance the storyline.

I heard about the essay contest from my ELA teacher, Dr. Major. In ELA we were writing interpretive essays on the Korean folktales used in the contest. After, she told us that we could submit our essays to the official competition if we wanted to. I did because, why not! I guess it worked out pretty well!

While writing this essay, which was initially for a class assignment, I learned that these Korean folktales really develop quite similarly to the classic American folktales that I’ve grown up hearing. They are typically unrealistic at points, which I touched on in my essay, but always end up showing a valuable lesson that the story builds up to the whole time. I learned something about myself too. I submitted this essay with pretty low expectations because I knew that there would be lots of strong competition because it is a big competition. When I saw that I had actually gotten third place it sort of shocked me because I realized that I must be a better writer than I had thought and that my writing might be able to take me somewhere in highschool and beyond.

Some hobbies of mine are playing soccer, volleyball, tennis, basketball and any other sport that I can get a hold of. I love hanging out with my friends or playing games online with them. I also like to read at night because there is nothing better than falling asleep to a great book.

My real hero’s in my life have been my parents who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much so that my siblings and I could have all the opportunities that we wanted in our lives. I really do not know what I would do without them.

My main goal for life is to raise a strong family that grows up to help change the world. That seems like the most effective way I can help and male the world a better place for everyone. I of course want to find ways that I can make the world a better place as well. I want to be able to start my own business that really contributes to the world and helps people with something. What that something will be, I have absolutely no idea, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

TITLE: Diving Deeper into "The Blind Man's Daughter"

The bleakness and cruelty of life has seemingly become a norm in today’s society. For every good news in social media, there are dozens of tragic news that fill our screens. It’s also demoralizing to see even the good news are used for profits by influencers. Small actions in daily life mold our spirits, and an act of negativity can lead to many people growing more jaded. After all, why be kind for no profit in this doomed world? In times like this, it’s important to look back upon a fable to remember our values and reestablish our humanity. “The Blind Man’s Daughter” is a needed reminder to the human population about perseverance and kindness.

One can look back at “The Blind Man’s Daughter” and remember to persevere in times of hardship. In the Korean folktale, the Blind Man is a beggar with a daughter to care for. A Monk comes along one day and offers to restore his vision for three-hundred sacks of rice to Buddha. Swept away by the moment, the Blind Man consented without considering his dire circumstances. His daughter, Simchong, sells herself to a merchant so her father could pay off his debts. She goes through a perilous journey and is met with great fortune at the end. If she refused to help her father or if she gave up during the journey, then she would not have met her happy ending. This lesson can apply to people today as they question the purpose of hard work in such desolate times. It’s only though action, not laziness, that results are made. Overall, the story teaches that no matter what era, only hard work is guaranteed to bring results.

Another significant moral obtained from “The Blind Man's Daughter” is that kindness is best when done with no prior objective. According to the text, “Simchong was an obedient and filial daughter who accompanied her father as soon as she could walk and begged alms with him the moment she could speak.” Simchong-ah was a faithful and loyal daughter even before she sold herself. With her habits being of virtue, she had no trouble in continuing to be good throughout her journey. Only when kindness is true and deep is it real kindness. People remember acts of kindness during their dark times of need. Feeling hopeless in hardships is normal, but the burden is lighter when you have kind people supporting you. Delivering that feeling to others is a great feeling and will incentivize others to also be kind.

There were many memorable characters throughout this traditional Korean folktale. However, Simchong had numerous character traits that I related to and many events during her life that I could refer to. Her determination is similar to when I have a goal and a set mentality of not giving up. I do have to remind myself to warm up and spread some kindness, but after reading “The Blind Man’s Daughter”, I feel confident of why we should be nice and spread joy. I do have those periods of hopelessness, where it feels like there is no solution. Still I try to plow on and have hopes of the future, like how Simchong did.

Reading through the folktale, many hopeful themes appealed to me, which made me question - why did the author write this folktale? There might’ve been many things on the author’s mind as she was writing this, but one thing is

Honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Hailey Lee Norwood, NJ 5th Grade, (Jaejun Kwon) Norwood Public School
Junior Essay Division - Winning Entries

clear. This traditional Korean folktale was written to inspire us to never give up and to be kind and loyal. Korean history is filled with hardships and constant invasions from foreign countries. Even in modern days, South Korea has split in half and is at war. These obstacles make it even more important for hope to be weaved in through the stories, so that it can be weaved through the values of the Korean people.

I was introduced to this thrilling competition by my amazing writing teacher, Mr. Kwon, and am sincerely grateful for this exulting opportunity he opened to me. With KoreanAmerican backgrounds, I was delighted to have this chance to learn more about some folktales and my culture. I enjoyed myself reading through the different folktales that my parents listened to as kids.

I have several hobbies; writing, reading, art, playing the piano and debates being just a few among them. Free-writing has always been a passion of mine, so I decided to join this competition because it would be a new challenging and riveting experience. My personal hero is my mom, who displays the honorable grit of a matriarch, a loyal wife and a mother to two. Patience, respect and unconditional love are just a few of her few attributes.

I have many plans for my future, performing well in my Carnegie Hall performance, entering other competitions and more, too long to write in this short passage about me.

Thank you for organizing this opportunity for me and other earnest writers!

Hailey Lee junior division, honorable mention My name is Hailey Lee, and I am currently a fifth grader at Norwood Public School, New Jersey.

8th Grade (Genee Major) Springman Middle School

TITLE: The Ax of Greed

“The Golden Ax and the Silver Ax” by Dr. Dongwal Kim Robinson is a story of honesty and truth. It shows that in life, you get what you give. The story focuses on the woodcutter as he goes into the forest with his rusty ax. He lives a simple life, making just enough to provide for him in his mother. But one day, his hand slips and the ax falls in the lake. The woodcutter is in despair but then Shilyongnim, a heavenly being, appears. He offers to help the woodcutter find his ax. He goes into the lake and comes back with a golden ax, but the woodcutter does not take it telling him his ax is just a rusty old ax. After going back into the lake, he returns with a silver ax but the woodcutter still does not take it. Finally, Shylongnim comes back with the woodcutter's rusty old ax and the woodcutter takes it graciously. By not taking either the gold or silver ax, the woodcutter shows kindness and honesty, so in return Shylongnim grants the woodcutter the golden ax and the silver ax, rewarding the woodcutter for his honesty.

This story gives a nice happy ending, but if the woodcutter had taken the Golden ax this story would be even better. It would not be a story of success, but tragedy, a tale of warning. This change would allow for a more drawn out story and many opportunities to show the consequences of his decision. Shylongnim would not grant him any ax because the man showed him greed. This choice would spiral into a web of sadness for the woodcutter.

Without his ax, the man would not be able to make enough at the evening market. The woodcutter lived a simple life, his ax was his lifeline allowing him to survive. It wasn’t much but it was enough, but by being untruthful and lying to try and better his life he lost that lifeline. Woodcutting was the only life he knew and having to adapt to new work would be incredibly difficult. This portrays the cost of greed and dishonesty by showing how it destroys the man's livelihood.

The woodcutter doesn’t only have to worry about himself. His mother is the most important thing in his life and without his ax he won’t be able to provide for her. The mother, who doesn't have the strength to work, would not be able to survive without her son's help. The loss of the mother is something that will resonate with anyone who reads the story. The connection of a loved one is felt by virtually everyone in the world, and will bring the message to the reader's heart on an emotional level, leaving the consequences of dishonesty and greed lingering in the reader's mind.

By showing a story of tragedy rather than success the message can resonate with the reader in a different way. A story of happiness and glee may leave a short term message. But a story of sorrow and tragedy will stick with someone for a very long time. Allowing us to see the consequences of the woodcutters greed would resonate with the reader giving for an all around darker, grittier story that the reader is unlikely to forget.

Honorable mention
Friend of the Pacific Rim Award
Junior Essay Division - Winning Entries

My name is Jake Milner and I am an 8th grade student at Springman Middle School in Glenview, Illinois.

I learned about this competition from my English teacher Dr. Major. I was excited to learn and see how writing and culture is different in other parts of the world. As I wrote my essay, I learned about the style and characteristics of Korean folktale and how writing differs across the globe. By participating in this competition I found a better understanding and greater appreciation for Korean culture and writing.

One of my hobbies is basketball and through playing I learned how to stay determined and always push myself to be better. Another hobby I have is improv comedy that I learned through a school called the Laughing Academy. I learned improv since I was young and it has taught me how to think creatively and stay calm under pressure. I have also been interested in engineering for a long time. I like the idea of working in a field that gives me the opportunity to channel my creativity into my work and bring my own ideas to life.

My personal heroes are my parents, throughout my whole life they have supported and helped me reach whatever goals I have.

In the future I want to pursue a career in engineering and continue to push myself to be my best self. I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in this competition and be able to learn about Korean culture and writing. In the future I hope to improve my writing skills and continue to utilize what I've learned for the rest of my life.

Honorable mention

Friend of the Pacific Rim Award

Sehyun Park

Basking Ridge, NJ

6th grade (Connie Jun)

William Annin Middle School


The story, "The Tale of Shim Chung," made during the Shilla dynasty and brought back by Minjae Song in the early 20th century, was created to teach children the importance of filial piety. However, because the story was written about 2000 years ago, it shows different beliefs about human rights and might give negative stereotypes to children. For children to read, the thought of Shim Chung having to kill herself for her father is too extreme, and Shim Chung's self-sacrifice for her father, the fishermen, and the Dragon King, who were all men, is not empowering to young girls. Even in her success story, her "success" was becoming the King's wife. Because of the age, the story shows unhealthy social expectations of women and biased thoughts about women's abilities. The limitations placed on women shown through Shim Chung's cultural and social expectations make it "unhealthy" for children to read about. If I could change the story, I would make Shim Chung a more independent and empowered woman who saves her father and herself through her intelligence and capabilities.

Firstly, I will take out the details about Shim Chung's physical appearance. This emphasis on Shim Chung’s physical beauty sends the mistaken message that physical appearance is critical to success. Therefore, I would not list anything about Shim Chung's appearance. Instead, I will write about how intelligent and kind she was from a young age to emphasize how good character and smarts bring true success. This new plot will show readers that Shim Chung could get the 300 sacks of rice through her intelligence and that appearance did not matter, motivating children to become smarter like Shim Chung instead of placing emphasis on physical appearances.

Secondly, I would like to change Shim Chung's success story. Her "success" mentioned in the story is her becoming the wife of the King. While the happy ending of the folktale suggests that Shim Chung was ultimately successful, she was again only dependent on a man to provide for her. While such limitations on women may have been accurate to the time Shim Chung was written, I don't believe it sends an empowering message for young people today who should expect gender equality and equal opportunity. The thought that women can only be successful if they marry good husbands is dangerous. Affected by this thought, there was a girl in my father's school that presented her future dream of becoming the First Lady of Korea. If everyone starts thinking like the girl, people will have low expectations for women and their ability to be successful independently. Changing the ending might be necessary to prevent the children from thinking like this girl. I would change Shim Chung's success story to her starting a fundraiser for blind

Junior Essay Division - Winning Entries
Junior Essay Division - Winning Entries

people and giving parts of the profit to her father. This “true” success will make Shim Chung happier than the last one, where her success was becoming the King's wife, since it was what she had gotten through her own achievement. To readers, the story will tell the happiness of achievement, and how independent success brings true happiness and success.

Lastly, I would erase the part where Shim Chung almost drowns herself for her father. The story only highlights her filial piety and ignores her right to be safe. While respect for one's parents is important, it should never be practiced to an extreme, sacrificing one's well-being or right for filial piety. Children need to know that their safety is just as important, if not more so and should be prioritized.

Like many folktales, the story of Shim Chung gives both young children and adults life lessons. However, considering it was made centuries ago, the plot could be more appropriate for modern times. While keeping the lesson of filial piety, the story can be changed to teach children the importance of personal well-being, the empowerment of women, and the value of good character over good appearances.

Essay Category Judges

Essay Judges: Lyla Lee | Stephan Lee | Robert Yune

Lyla Lee essay

Lyla Lee is the bestselling author of YA books about K-pop and K-dramas as well as the Mindy Kim series and the upcoming Gigi Shin books for younger readers. Her books have sold more than 40,000 copies and have been translated into multiple languages around the world.

Originally from South Korea, she’s lived in various cities throughout the United States, worked various jobs in Hollywood, and studied Psychology and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

She now lives in Dallas, Texas.

Visit Lyla at lylaleebooks.com or on social media (IG, Twitter, and TikTok @literarylyla).

Stephan Lee essay

Stephan Lee is a journalist, author, and multi-fandom K-pop stan.

He currently works as Senior Editor at Bustle after a five-year stretch covering books and movies at Entertainment Weekly. At EW, he traveled to Seoul for three weeks to write a feature about Korean entertainment’s world domination, interviewing K-pop idols, filmmakers, and drama writers.

He earned an MFA in Creative Writing at The New School.

2023 Sejong Writing Competition

Robert Yune essay

Robert Yune earned his BA and MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. His fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Pleiades, and The Los Angeles Review, among others.

In 2008, he received a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

His debut novel Eighty Days of Sunlight was nominated for the 2017 International DUBLIN Literary Award. Yune’s debut collection Impossible Children won the 2017 Mary McCarthy Prize and was published in 2019 by Sarabande Books.

18th Sejong Writing Competition (April 2023) Sijo Category ■ Winners ■ A Basic Guide to Writing SIJO ■ Winners Entries & Bio ■ Adult Division ■ Pre-college Division

First Place

2023 Sejong Writing Competition

Sijo Winners

Second Place

Adult Division

Josh Poole

Lexington, VA


Jade McMullen

Albany, NY

Pre-college Division

10th grade, (Robin Henderson Tocci)

Academy of The Holy Names


Third Place

Sasha A. Palmer

Baltimore, MD


Siya Sinha

Hartland, WI

12th grade, (Elizabeth Jorgensen)

Arrowhead Union High School


Chong McDermott

Springfield, VA


Daeun Sung

New York, NY


Haeja K Chung

East Lansing, MI


Eden Park

Las Vegas, NV

11th grade, (Nicole Kim)

Ed W. Clark High School


Tanner Harju

Hartland, WI

12th grade, (Terri Carnell)

Arrowhead Union High School


Honorable Mention*

Ana Reisens

Sister Bay, WI


Sydney Kesselheim

Boston, MA

5th grade, (Julie Burke)

Chestnut Hill School


Josephine Suh

Saratoga, CA


Aidan Mickol

Hartland, WI

12th grade, (Elizabeth Jorgensen)

Arrowhead Union High School


*Honorable Mention - Friend of the Pacific Rim Award
( ) Teacher's name


A Basic Guide to Writing Sijo

The sijo (Korean 시조, pronounced SHEE-jo) is a traditional three-line Korean poetic form typically exploring cosmological, metaphysical, or pastoral themes. Organized both technically and thematically by line and syllable count, sijo are expected to be phrasal and lyrical, as they are first and foremost meant to be songs.

Sijo are written in three lines, each averaging 14-16 syllables for a total of 44-46 syllables. Each line is written in four groups of syllables that should be clearly differentiated from the other groups, yet still flow together as a single line. When written in English, sijo may be written in six lines, with each line containing two syllable groupings instead of four. Additionally, as shown in the example below, liberties may be taken (within reason) with the number of syllables per group as long as the total syllable count for the line remains the same. However, it is strongly recommended that the third line consistently begin with a grouping of three syllables.

The first line is usually written in a 3-4-4-4 grouping pattern and states the theme of the poem, where a situation is generally introduced.

The second line is usually written in a 3-4-4-4 pattern (similar to the first) and is an elaboration of the first line's theme or situation (development).

The third line is divided into two sections. The first section, the counter-theme, is grouped as 3-5, while the second part, considered the conclusion of the poem, is written as 4-3. The counter-theme is called the 'twist,' which is usually a surprise in meaning, sound, or other device.

Example: excerpt from "Song of my five friends"

Yun Seondo (1587-1671)

(Original Sijo in Korean)

내벗이 몇이나 하니 수석과 송죽이라 3-5-3-4 (=15)

동산에 달 오르니 긔 더욱 반갑고야 3-4-3-4 (=14)

두어라 이 다섯밖에 또 더하여 무엇하리 3-5-4-4 (=16)

(Translated in English)

You ask how many friends I have? Water and stone, bamboo and pine. (2-6-4-4) The moon rising over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade. (2-4-4-6) Besides these five companions, what other pleasure should I ask? (2-5, 5-3)


Advice from Prof. Mark Peterson

“The structure is important, but I always allow for poetic license, meaning that sometimes the message is more important than the structure. But a poem can be eliminated if the structure is too far off base ... I really like the three-beat start to the third line.

Word choice is important. Some poems used a word that seemed beyond the argot of the writer and was not quite the right word in nuance, if not in actual definition. Sometimes the right word in the right place is a zinger, really powerful.

Imagery. Some poems capture an image so effectively – you can see the image. Some poems miss in that the image or message is lost in vague and ambiguous wording and imagery. They seem to try too hard to be flowery or emotional and the message is unclear. Clarity is essential.

Emotion. Poetry, in sijo or any form, has to capture an emotion and transfer that feeling to the reader. Some poetic emotion is in the category of sadness – loss, loneliness, abandonment, insult, being ostracized. Happiness – love, acceptance, success, accomplishment. The thing about sijo, more so than haiku, is that the form can capture a wide range of emotions.”

Mark Peterson is Professor Emeritus of Korean history, literature and language from Brigham Young University. He is a frequent judge of the Sejong Writing Competition sijo category and board member of the Sejong Cultural Society.

Further reading:

Sijo Primer (an introduction for those new to sijo) by Larry Gross (.pdf)

Structure of the Korean Sijo by David McCann (.pdf)

Video lectures on Sejong Cultural Society YouTube Channel:

Sijo lectures by David McCann

Part 1: form and structure

Part 2: history

Part 3: sample analysis of sijo

Sijo lecture series by Mark Peterson

Lecture 1: Rhythm of sijo and classic masterpieces

Lecture 2: Correcting sijo

Lecture 3: Teaching sijo through mimicry

Lecture 4: Creating sijo from other texts

Lecture 5: Sijo and haiku

Sijo Class for Elementary School Students by Elizabeth Jorgensen

Part 1: What is Sijo? (12:18)

Part 2: Let's Read Sijo (9:42)

Part 3: Write Your Sijo (15:14)

Part 4: Share Your Sijo (22:22)

Sijo Category Adult Division

first place

Lexington, VA

My Father's Change

Father, how much you like to talk

About how strong you used to be

How once, as a young man

You arm wrestled men in bars for quarters

Take my hand, the bathtub is slick Pretend it's still all for quarters

I was born in the Virginia mountains, and there I’ve stayed, accompanied by a notepad and pen while working for years as a line cook. The themes, musicality, and structure of my writing were all born in the kitchen, some during the height of a rush, and others in somber, exhausted interludes sitting on a milk crate. Someday, I hope to be a full-time novelist, as I’ve always had to sandwich my pursuits between multiple jobs, and often wonder what things I might’ve created with a bit more breathing room. Perhaps we’ll see!

Creativity has always been an escape for me, and I often write poetry in conjunction with sculpting, drawing, or painting to see what amalgamations might result. I stumbled across the sijo form on social media, of all places, and decided to try my hand at it when I saw that the Sejong Cultural Society hosted a sijo competition. I wrote MY FATHER’S CHANGE while recalling the time I spent with my mom as she took care of her parents.

In his last few years, my grandfather had to let go of many of the things which once defined him, and through countless hours of fitting those complex feelings and myriad stories into just a few lines of words, writing this sijo helped me to reconnect with him.

You can find my artwork, along with regular updates on my writing on Instagram: @Shlunka

Adult Sijo Division - Winning Entries

At the start a tiny spark, it grows and grows, and becomes fire. It burns clear, bold and untamed, its want for life insatiable. Where are you, bright days of my youth? My hair is gray, like ashes.

I read about the competition on the website of the Sejong Cultural Society. When I started my sijo, I did not know where it would take me. The very brevity of the form gave me direction. Youth is transient, but “to every thing there is a season,” and there is beauty in growing old.

My very special friend reminds me of this daily. She is Italian, her name is Joana, but she goes by Jennie. She is a hundred and eight years old, and she is beautiful. People often ask her, “What is your secret?” She usually shrugs her shoulders and smiles, but once she said, “Just live good.”

Born and raised in Moscow, Russia, I currently live in Maryland. Visit me online at: www.sashaapalmer.com

Adult Sijo Division - Winning Entries

third place (tie)


Under the eaves of the heart, icicles cling like crystal swords. Freezing with fear, sharp with sorrow, glaring with an icy stare. But, with the steady gaze of the sunshine, the icicles drip tears.

I learned about the Sijo competition through the Korean Literary Society of Washington, where we meet monthly to share our work in Korean and English. The condensed format of Sijo poetry has helped me cultivate a minimalist mindset, which aligns with the lifestyle I aspire to lead.

Writing lyrics, poems, and essays about my family brings me great pleasure. I also really enjoy hiking, reading and singing. My sister is also an inspiration, having devoted forty years to teaching piano to children with diverse behavioral challenges and their parents while also accommodating financial hardships by charging less than average for lessons. Hearing about the lessons she learns through teaching is truly remarkable, revealing two sides of the same coin.

Now, my primary goal is to co-author a children's story with my granddaughter and share the Sijo poems she writes.

Adult Sijo Division - Winning Entries

third place (tie)

Daeun Sung New York, NY


Black waves bob against gold sky, bluntly trimming pale horizon

My dark hair, my Asian self, swept far away from motherland People here cannot say my name. Washed out to sea, will I drown?

Daeun Sung third place (tie)

I graduated from Columbia University, where I worked in the Graduate School of Journalism. I teach writing, English, and Korean, and enjoy singing and reading in my free time. I was aware of the Sejong Music Competition and came across the Writing Competition, where the thought-provoking, Korean poetic form that is sijo caught my interest.

My sijo conveys the sense of displacement, alienation, and cultural conflict that I felt when I immigrated to a predominantly white town in America. Ethnic features like hair and skin color are the first differences we notice and are used here as imagery to symbolize the dichotomy of my Asian heritage. It is a commentary on how white culture can sometimes dominate and erase the cultures of people of color, with the ocean as a representation of my experiences, evocative of not only physical, geographic migration but also cultural phenomena like whitewashing. Fitting this into the syllabic structure of sijo was a fun challenge since every word had to be intentioned. I'm always looking for ways to stay connected to my roots and share my culture - I appreciate that my parents instilled these values in me growing up. I'm honored that Sejong Cultural Society has given me the opportunity to do both through sijo, which I am eager to continue exploring.

Adult Sijo Division
Winning Entries


Six-year-old Oliver asks: “How did Grandpa die? How long ago? Grandpa didn't know me. I wish he could visit as a ghost.”

Facing me, he says quietly: “Grandma! Hug your Teddy Bear.”

Honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award
Adult Sijo Division - Winning Entries


They tell me everything changes: valleys and grass, mountains and bark. The fingerprints of the river carve paintings into the cliffs. Still the same sun rises and a quiet part of us remains.

I heard about the competition through a blog I follow that provides a list of unique writing contests and opportunities. I had never written a sijo, so more than anything, I thought it would be an enjoyable chance to explore an unfamiliar form. It was. I had such a great time scouring the web, reading as many translated and English-language sijos as I could, holding on to some to revisit. It's such a beautiful form that contains so much, and there's a musicality to it that I found very beautiful, as if the poems were begging to be sung.

I'm a university professor and translator. I teach English and translation to nonnative speakers. I love to travel and spend time in nature, and you can often find me hiking in parks or with my nose buried in a book. My sijo was inspired by the feeling I often get when out in nature - how the world seems to be constantly shifting, but there's always a part of us, deep within, that remains still.

My heroes tend to be women who lived quietly powerful lives, moving the world with their words, like Mary Oliver and Maya Angelou. In the future, I hope to keep teaching, enjoying the beauty of nature, reading, writing, and seeing as much of the world as I can.

Adult Sijo Division - Winning Entries

Missing Ingredient

Jjigae boils, softly, blandly. My spoon clatters into the sink

Just outside the foggy window, magpies cackle, fly to heaven

Magpies wait! And take this message: ask my eomma* how to fix this.

I learned about the Sijo Competition through a targeted social media ad. It was the first time I had heard of sijo at all, and I was delighted to learn about it. I appreciate how the form imposes a structure without shying away from deep emotionality.

My heroes are my grandfathers, who each in their own boldly pursued their dreams. One grandfather served in the Korean foreign service and the other grandfather studied abroad at Berkeley. Their examples inspire me to move forward confidently into unknown futures and uncomfortable spaces.

I work as a psychotherapist specializing in Asian American issues, but in my free time, I enjoy writing speculative fiction inspired by Korean culture and concepts in psychology. Most recently, I completed a short story set in an alternative universe where tal masks are imbued with magical fighting powers. My goal is simply to keep writing, keep improving, and keep creating. I cherish the art of writing fiction because it helps me transform all the thoughts and emotions sloshing around inside of me into something more organized, whimsical, and joyous!

Honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award
Adult Sijo Division - Winning Entries

Sijo Category Pre-College Division

Pre-College Sijo Division - Winning Entries

first place

Jade McMullen

Albany, NY

10th grade, (Robin Henderson Tocci) Academy of The Holy Names

Jade the stone is vivid green, smooth and sleek, translucent.

This jewel symbolizes wealth, highly valued by nobility.

I am Jade; it is my given name I’m just trying to survive.

My name is Jade McMullen, and I am currently a sophomore at the Academy of The Holy Names in Albany, New York.

This competition was a writing project assigned by my teacher Mrs.Tocci, my first introduction to this genre of poetry. In appearance, the poem seemed so simple, but its structure proved more complex and challenging.

Rather than writing, one normally finds me on the lacrosse field. I love being outdoors and playing.

Writing this piece was special to me because Jade the stone is important in Korean culture, and it represents me since it is my given name and part ethnicity. I enjoyed writing this sijo and would like to hopefully write more poetry in the future. I am so honored to have received this award; it was a very pleasant surprise.

Jade McMullen first place

12th grade, (Elizabeth Jorgensen) Arrowhead Union High School

Man of the House

My brother complains that he is the only boy in the house–

Claiming that it would be nice to have a male presence for once. He looks full of regret now, Mom brought her new boyfriend to dinner.

My name is Siya Sinha and I am a senior at Arrowhead High School located in Hartland, Wisconsin. I plan to attend UW-Lacrosse in the fall to major in marketing, with a minor in media studies. In my free time I enjoy doing videography, as well as being on the dance team.

My creative writing teacher Ms. Jorgensen introduced me to this style of poetry in class. I found myself reading a great deal of sijo and was incredibly fascinated by all of the twists. Soon enough, I greatly enjoyed writing different sijo poems as well.

I would like to thank Ms. Jorgensen and the Sejong Cultural Society for this incredible opportunity.

second place
Siya Sinha Hartland, WI Siya Sinha second place
Pre-College Sijo Division - Winning Entries

third place

Eden Park

Las Vegas, NV

12th grade, (Nicole Kim) Ed W. Clark High School


Stumbling, crumbling, crashing of bones in a human wave, Voices suffocated, engulfed so no one can be saved, Here I am, weeping and hugging his lost shoe from that tragic day...

Eden Park third place

I'm Eden Park, a junior at Clark High School.

I heard about this competition when I was researching about sijos. Even as a Korean myself, I didn't know what a sijo was until this year!

When writing my sijo, I learned the importance of conveying every honest and genuine emotion through each and every word. With the limited number of syllables in a sijo, it was challenging for me to express this.

In my free time, I enjoy singing, dancing, and writing. Check out my journalism website here: voiceof.vegas .

In the future, I want to study psychology more extensively and pursue a career in the medical field.

Sijo Division - Winning Entries

Honorable mention

Friend of the Pacific Rim Award

Tanner Harju Hartlnad, WI

12th grade, (Terri Carnell) Arrowhead Union High School

Fixing Mistakes

Creative, my mind wanders, finds the answer, and shuts down. Knowledgeable, problems arise that I can solve, I feel smart. Book problems have correct answers; personal problems don’t seem to.

I was introduced to this competition through my English teacher, Mrs. Carnell, who also laid the groundwork for how I am meant to do my work and how to get my point across within my writing. This experience was very helpful and allowed me to look at life through a different lens and to create a meaningful piece of writing out of it.

In the future, I am attending and hope to progress through my ability to make writing pieces such as this one.

Tanner Harjul honorable mention My name is Tanner Harju, a senior at Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland, Wisconsin. My hobbies include but are not limited to, hockey, basketball, golf, and listening to music.
Pre-College Sijo Division - Winning Entries

Honorable mention

Friend of the Pacific Rim Award

Sydney Kesselheim

Boston, MA

5th grade, (Julie Burke) Chestnut Hill School

An Icy Relationship

Family! I love them all, and yet sometimes they annoy me. My sister was made the queen, but she’s so cold. Literally. Disney films; so predictable. They all do fine in the end.

I have been writing and publishing my own newspaper for my class since I was in second grade. This year in school, we had a poetry section led by Ms. Burke that I loved, particularly the haikus and odes. I was excited to take part in this competition because I had never heard of sijo before as a style of poetry. So it was fun to learn about it and try it out.

I'm so glad that you liked my poem.

Sydney Kesselheim honorable mention My name is Sydney Kesselheim, and I live in Boston. I enjoy writing, reading, playing the flute, and playing ice hockey and softball.
Pre-College Sijo Division - Winning Entries

Honorable mention

Friend of the Pacific Rim Award

Aidan Mickol Hartland, WI

12th Grade, (Elizabeth Jorgensen) Arrowhead Union High School


create a bond between friends that transcends all other bonds. have power and can test the true character of a person. can destroy relationships before you can even blink an eye.

My name is Aidan Mickol and I am a senior at Arrowhead Union High School. I play volleyball for my school and I enjoy golfing. I love watching movies and being active. I will be attending UW-Madison in the fall and I plan on pursuing a Master of Business Administration in the future.

I heard about this competition through my creative writing teacher, Ms. Jorgensen. I learned the importance of word and syllable count in sijo and I enjoyed the challenge that ensued. I also learned that despite the limited word counts, I could still be very creative in my writing.

Aidan Mickol honorable mention
Pre-College Sijo Division - Winning Entries

2023 Sejong Writing Competition Sijo Category Judges

David McCann


David McCann served in the first Peace Corps group to go to Korea, 1966-68, then received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University. He taught Classical Japanese language and literature at Cornell University, and then Korean literature at Cornell and at Harvard. He retired in 2014 as the first Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Literature at Harvard.

David has published 32 books. Eleven collections of his poems have been published, including a dual-language edition of his sijo poems, Urban Temple, originally published by Bo Leaf Books in 2010, from Changbi Publishers, Seoul, in 2012. Three of his collections Out of Words, Lost and Found, and Same Bird have been published by Moon Pie Press. Most recently, a chapbook collection of his poems, The Under Story, was published by the poets group Every Other Thursday, in 2021.

David McCann’s poems have received a Pushcart Prize, Touchstone Award, and publication in Haiku 2015, 100 notable Haiku from 2014. He received the Korean Manhae Prize in 2004 and the Korean Culture Order of Merit in 2006. His sijo poem “Landscape,” published in the Arlington Red Letter Poem Project, was translated and carved into one of the stones in the Sijo Stones Garden in Boryeong, Korea.

Mark Peterson


Mark Peterson (Professor Emeritus of Korean history, literature and language, Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages. Brigham Young University, Provo, UT) received B.A.'s in Asian Studies and Anthropology from Brigham Young University in 1971. He received his M.A. in 1973 and his Ph.D. in 1987, both from Harvard University in the field of East Asian Languages and Civilization.

Prior to coming to BYU in 1984 he was the director of the Fulbright program in Korea from 1978 to 1983. He has been the coordinator of the Asian Studies

Sijo Judges: David McCann | Mark Peterson | Seong-Kon Kim | Gyung-ryul Jang

Program and was the director of the undergraduate programs in the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies.

Dr. Peterson is a member of the Association for Asian Studies, where he was formerly the chair of the Korean Studies Committee; was also the book review editor for the Journal of Asian Studies for Korean Studies books. He is also a member of the Royal Asiatic Society, the International Association for Korean Language Education, the International Korean Literature Association, and the American Association of Korean Teachers. He served as past editor-in-chief for the Korea Journal, published by UNESCO in Korea, from 2015 to 2017.

Currently he is working with a research center he founded called The Frog Outside the Well Research Center, which publishes an active YouTube channel by that name. He also writes a monthly column for the Korea Times. He is also working on a documentary film the "Miracle Battalion" about a National Guard artillery battalion from southern Utah that fought in the Korean War, saw heavy combat, and lost not a man.

Seong-Kon Kim sijo

Seong-Kon Kim is a Professor Emeritus of Seoul National University and a Visiting Scholar at Dartmouth College. From 2012 to 2017, Kim was President of the Literary Translation Institute of Korea, which was a Vice Minister level post.

On May 19, 2017, Kim received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the State University of New York. In 2018, Kim taught at George Washington University as Dean's Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities and at the University of Málaga in Spain as a Visiting Professor. In the same year, Felipe VI, King of Spain, decorated Kim with La Orden del Merito Civil. In 2019, Kim taught at the University of California, Irvine as a Visiting Professor.

Professor Kim received his Ph.D. in English from SUNY/Buffalo under Professor Leslie A. Fiedler and studied comparative literature at Columbia University under Professor Edward W. Said. Professor Kim has received, among others, the SUNY/Buffalo International Distinguished Alumni Award, CU Distinguished Alumnus Award, and the Fulbright Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 2008, Kim received the Kim Hwantae Award for Literary Criticism and in 2014 the Woo Ho Humanities Award.

He was the founding President of the Korean Association of Literature and Film, President of the International Association of Comparative Korean Studies, President of the Korean Association of Modern Fiction in English, and President of the American Studies Association of Korea.

Kim was editor of literary journals such as Literature & Thought, 21st Century Literature, and Contemporary World Literature. In addition, Kim has been a regularly featured columnist for the Korea Herald since 2003. His Herald columns have frequently appeared in international media such as The Star, The Straits Times, and The Empire State News.

Previously, Professor Kim has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Pennsylvania State University, and Brigham Young University and conducted research at Harvard-Yenching Institute and Oxford University.

Gyung-ryul Jang sijo

Gyung-ryul Jang received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from Seoul National University, and his Ph.D. degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Jang is now Professor Emeritus of Seoul National University, and a member of the National Academy of Science, Republic of Korea.

He has contributed numerous articles on contemporary literary theory and Korean literature to various literary journals in Korea. He has published two books of critical essays in sijo poetry: Poetics of Temporality: Toward a New Understanding of Sijo Poetry (Seoul: Seoul National University Press, 2013); and What Does Change and What Should Not Change: Critical Essays in Sijo Poetry (Seoul: Literary Notebook, 2017). Some other recent publications are as follows: What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen: Essays in Korean Literature (Seoul: Moonji, 2016); Somewhere Between Insight and Blindness: Critical Essays in Contemporary Korean Literary Trend (Seoul: Munhakdongne, 2017); Is it a Petal or a Butterfly?: Essays in Korean Sijo and Japanese Haiku and Tanka (Seoul: Lyric Poetry & Poetics, 2017); In Search of Hidden Trails Between Literature and Philosophy: Critical Essays in World Literature (Seoul: Gumul, 2018); and From Life to Literature, Literature to Life: Critical Essays in Contemporary Korean Literature (Seoul: Gold Egg, 2020).