Writing Across Boundaries

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Writing Across Boundaries

"Books and all forms of writing have always been objects of terror to those who seek to supress the truth," said Nigerian author Wole Soyinka in "The Man Died: The Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka." The first African winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, a human rights activist, a voice for freedom and a political prisoner who eventually left Nigeria to go into 5 years of voluntary exile in Europe, Soyinka's history is as rich as his body of work.

Soyinka, who has authored plays, novels, poems and essays, is just one of the literary giants speaking at the Seoul International Forum for Literature. The three-day forum, the bulk of which will be held at Sejong Cultural Center, starts on Sept. 26.

Under the theme "Writing Across Boundaries: Literature in the Multicultural World" 19 foreign and 56 Korean writers will celebrate the power of literature. Foreign notables include Albanian writer Ismail Kadare, who is frequently mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, and American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, who has been associated with the San Francisco Beat movement. Beatnik author Jack Kerouac used Snyder as the model for Japhy Ryder, the mountain-climbing poet of Kerouac's book "Dharma Bums."

The specific agenda of the forum is to encourage cultural and intellectual exchanges between writers of the eastern and western cultures, according to spokespeople from organizers Daesan Foundation. Most of the seminars pair an Asian lecturer with a foreign one.

The lectures will kick off with a presentation by Soyinka and literary critic Yu Jong-ho, whose publications include "Declaration of Impurity," "Literature and Reality" and "Contemporary Poems and Truth." Soyinka and Yu will speak on "Literature in a Globalizing World."

"He bears a relation to the poetics of Africa akin to that which Shakespeare bore to England," Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. once said about the 66-year-old Soyinka. The 1986 Nobel laureate understands the nuances of languages, and also its power to raise awareness on social issues.

Soyinka's disclosures, satirical reviews, novels and poetry from the beginning of the Nigerian civil war, 1967, challenged Nigerian authorities with a vision of a "New Africa" that would escape its colonial past. Soyinka's views landed him in prison. On his 2d imprisonment, Soyinka was detained for more than two years. Most of those 27 months were in solitary confinement, in a 4-by-8-feet cell.

His scribblings on discarded cigarette packages, toilet paper, whatever he could find, were compiled in "The Man Died: The Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka."

An excerpt from "The Man Died," published in 1972, reads: It had to do with liberty but not with the gaining of it. It was a passionate affirmation of the free spirit, a knowledge that because of this love, my adversaries had lost the conflict. That it did not matter in the end for how long they manoeuvred to keep my body behind walls, they would not, ultimately escape the fate of the defeated. At the hands of all who are allied and committed to the unfettered principles of life.

A later book, "The Open Sore of a Continent," published in 1996, traces what Soyinka views as Nigeria's decline into an inhumane military government. A year later, a death sentence was pronounced on Soyinka.

All the lectures and readings are open to the public, free of charge. Since the deadline for reservations has passed, organizers from the Daesan Foundation encourage participants to show up early, or to watch the live coverage of the forum on the Hitel's homepage (www.hitel.net) or Daesan Foundation's (www.daesan.org).

by Joe Yonghee

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