‘Seattle City of Literature’ Sends Two Local Writers to Korea for Residency Programs

by Chamidae Ford

Last month, two Seattle writers were selected to participate in writer residency programs in Korea which will begin this fall. Jeanine Walker will be Wonju City of Literature’s inaugural writer in residence for six weeks while Takami Nieda will be in Bucheon for four weeks. 

The residencies are offered through the partnership among UNESCO Cities of Literature. Seattle was named a UNESCO City of Literature in 2017 and the local program is run by Seattle City of Literature, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting Seattle’s vibrant literary community and connecting that community with the rest of the world. 

Bucheon also received the title of a UNESCO City of Literature in 2017. Soyoung Jung, the coordinator for the Bucheon City of Literature, feels the history of the city makes it the perfect place to receive that title. Bucheon grew rapidly during the 1970s and ’80s during Korea’s industrialization and has developed a community very involved with improving lives through knowledge.

“People were gathered together and they were anxious and very eager to learn things,” Jung said. “Many movements, like social and labor movements, were very active in those areas. So we really have that kind of strong heritage about thinking radically and thinking socially about how to make an inclusive society.”

These programs, Jung says, create a unique opportunity to not only support writers but also provide them with opportunities that benefit their art.

“This is the best program, I think, as a City of Literature, to invite the artists or authors from different parts of the world to have an opportunity to visit Korea and experience new things and new culture and meet new people,” Jung said.

For Nieda, who is to be based in Bucheon, she will be working on a translation of a Korean novel titled Travelers of a Hundred Years by Lee Hoesung. 

“I had never been to Korea before, and I thought I could really use help with getting a lot of the factual and historical information that I need to be translating in this book correctly,” Nieda said. “There’s a lot of Korean in it and so I felt like this was a great opportunity to not only go to Korea, which I’ve never been to, but also connect with people who could help me with the research and some of the language elements of the novel.”

Translating is something Nieda loves to do and it also provides her with the space to make writing a part of her daily life. Some of her previous works include Kazuki Kaneshiro’s Go and The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart by Chesil which is to be released in April of 2022. 

“I always wanted to be a writer and it’s hard to be a creative writer and publish a short story, published a novel — that’s a huge rigorous and sort of strict gauntlet that you have to go through in order to get from fledgling writer to a published writer, and it takes ages and ages and ages,” Nieda said. “I tried doing that for a while, but I also tried to figure out ways where I can actually be doing the thing that I love, which is writing, but maybe in different ways. And so translation is something that interested me because I could be writing even though it may not be my own stuff. It still requires a lot of those similar skills.”

For Jung, supporting translators is essential to sharing cultures and knowledge across the world.

“I think it’s really important for writers to have this experience and also for translators as they do not [usually] get this much information,” Jung said. “We try to give more opportunities for translators because they do a lot of important things in terms of connecting people with other people through breaking down language barriers.”

Unlike Nieda, Walker will be returning to Korea to work on her forthcoming novel, which is inspired by the time she spent in Korea as an English teacher after receiving her master’s degree. This opportunity allows her to return to the places she visited and experiences she had as a young woman and gain greater insight into them. 

“I came to Korea when I was 23 and it was all brand new, so I think it made a really strong impression on my memory,” Walker said. “So I was writing a lot from memory and I felt like my memory is so strong and I know these details, and I think I remember what I remember, but it’s really amazing to be here. … I was just in Tunji, where the book is set, and there’s this river in the middle and it kind of like snakes around the city. And I hadn’t remembered that detail. Just being able to look at it and smell the smells and see the sights and just touch things I think is really helpful to the writing.”

As a poetry teacher by day, this program allows Walker to focus on her writing in a way that she rarely gets to do. 

“I always make time for my writing, but it’s just coming to something like this, [writing] is my job now for two months,” Walker said. “It’s an amazing gift. I’ve had a lot of space and I’ve definitely been writing many, many words since I got here.”

The program, Walker says, is creating a space for artists and writers to come together, inspire each other, and create. 

“I’m here with 14 other writers and there’s a painter and there’s a person who does scores for movies, but it’s just great because everyone has a similar sensibility and you even though we’re not always communicating, you can just feel it,” Walker said. “I think that’s really great. It feels really supportive to me as a writer that everyone’s doing their art so we can all just create in the same space.” 

You can stay up-to-date about other opportunities with UNESCO Cities of Literature by visiting their website.

Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

📸 Featured Image: Headshots of Jeanine Walker (left) and Takami Nieda (right). Photos courtesy of the authors.

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