Life in translation: bilingual student author

Keys click, frantic fingers fly. One word. One sentence. One paragraph. One story. Done.

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Ji Won Hwang, sophomore, is a bilingual published author. (Photo courtesy of Three Spoonful of Words)

Sophomore Ji Won Hwang is just one of the many authors at our school. She’s already published her first novel in print, as well as several other pieces online. She writes because that’s how she expresses herself. Her books are bits and pieces of her real life mixed with her fantasy life.

Amidst the chaos and underclassmen on the bottom floor of the Khoo Teck Puat Library, Ji Won sits in a silent world of her own. Bits of conversation drift from table to table in this  relaxed environment. Nearby students hear our conversation and begin to ask questions.

“How long did it take you?” sophomore Minori Haddad asks Ji Won incredulously.

“About a year,” Ji Won responds. “Less than a year.”

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Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Her first book, “The Collector of the Rose” (봄날의 로즈), published two years ago, was released in Korean but is now being translated into English. Having lived overseas, Ji Won has been surrounded by writing, in both English and Korean, since a young age. Despite the book being in her native language, living in a foreign country has transformed her writing.

When the idea of writing a book came about, she said, “It wasn’t really a pure intention,” admitting that, “I only started writing when my friend published a book in 2009. She wrote two novels in English. She’s a Korean like me…and I got kind of jealous, maybe, so I started writing.”

In addition to lengthy novels, Ji Won writes short stories as well.  These pieces take her around three to five hours to compose, and they go up on her blog almost immediately.  

An apple, it’s gleaming red so tempting, but what hides underneath is weak, yellow fruit,” reads one excerpt from her short story, “Apple, Sixteen.”

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Screenshot of Ji Won’s creative writing blog.

The growth of online writing communities like blogs, literary magazines, and anthologies have changed the way many write. Ji Won uses the Internet not only as a platform for writing, but also as a way to publicize her work and her name. Her blog Three Spoonful of Words exhibits just that. Along with whimsical poems and drafts, she’s also building a community with her readers. In Korea there are no big online bookstores like Amazon, so connecting to readers online is vital to her work.

As a writer just starting out, getting published is difficult. On top of that, Ji Won published her book overseas in Korea. In total, there are about 42,000 registered publishing companies in Korea, but only about 10% are active.

“I got rejected more than 20 times, and it was really hard,” she explained, though she eventually found a company willing to publish her manuscript in Korea. “I was lucky, because it was a new publisher, and I was one of their first authors.”

Despite the obstacles she faces as an author, Ji Won continues to write. What keeps her going?  “I don’t know,” Ji Won admitted. “But I just want to write something that inspires people.”

Author: Kristi Yang

Kristi Yang is a senior in her seventh year at SAS and is a third-year reporter for The Eye. She was born in New York but raised in New Jersey, Beijing, and Singapore—where she currently resides. Despite having lived in Asia for the past nine years, and in Singapore for the past seven, she still considers New Jersey to be home. You can find her running late to class (from Starbucks), leading painless workouts at House of Pain, or loitering around the media lab in the wee hours of the night (just ask campus security). She can be contacted at yang43603@sas.edu.sg.

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