Choi Young-mi

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Choi Young-mi
Choi Young-mi.jpg
Choi Young-mi
BornSeptember 1961
NationalityRepublic Of Korea
OccupationPoet and novelist
Korean name
Revised RomanizationChoe Yeongmi
McCune–ReischauerCh'oi Yŏngmi

Choi Young-mi is a poet and novelist from the Republic of Korea, widely known for her poetry collection called At Thirty, the Party is Over (서른, 잔치는 끝났다)” and is one of the defining figures who ignited the #MeToo movement in Korea.[1]


Born in Seoul Korea in 1961,[1] Choi studied Western history (BA) at Seoul National University and art history (MA) at Hongik University. Faced with the military dictatorship, she participated in anti-government protests during college days. In 1981 she participated in a student protest demanding for democracy. As a result, she was detained at police station for 10 days and was suspended from university for a year. After graduation, she joined an underground organisation called the “Constituent Assembly Group (제헌의회그룹)” established to fight against the autocracy.[1]

She was one of a secretive group who dared to translate Karl Marx's Capital for the first time after Korean War; this translation was published under a single pseudonym in 1987 and led to the arrest of the president of the Yiron Kwa Silcheon Books.

Following the decline of communism in the late 1980s and subsequent political changes at home and abroad, however, she came to be skeptical of grand narratives and to embrace a more inclusive worldview. She has tried to express that significant change both within and out of herself.

She began her career as a poet in 1992 when she published eight poems in the Winter Issue of the “Creation and Criticism (창작과 비평)”, followed by her controversial poetry collection “At Thirty, the Party is Over (1994)” which created a sensation to the circle of literary and public. Now she is known as a poet, a novelist and an art critic.


Her first poetry collection “At Thirty, the Party is Over” (in 1994) came across as a shock to the literary world and to the Korean society thanks to her delicate but bold expressions, precise metaphor that maximised the potential of everyday language and the piercing satire on capital and authority. As soon as the book was published, it gained support by a wide range of readers regardless of generation and made record sales of over half a million copies just in 1994.[2]Cite error: The <ref> tag has too many names (see the help page). [2]

"Choi Young-mi's poems are un-compromising and threatening to conventional values of korean society." "Her style is her independence. Her poetry is very much a lived poetry." (comments by James Kimbrell)

“At Thirty, the Party is Over” narrates the light and the shadow of the generation in the 1980-90s, has been printed its 52nd copy to this date, a rare case for a poetry collection. Recently in November 2015, a revised edition was published in 21 years. While portraying the self-reflections of the 1980s generations who participated in the democratisation activists, her poems were characterised as lyrical and logical. The poem “At Sun-un Temple (선운사에서)” received love from nationwide and was sung by many different singers.[3][1]

In 2005 Choi wrote her first novel “Scars and Patterns (흉터와 무늬)” to transform as a novelist. She continued to write novels such as “Bronze Garden (청동정원)” and essays “Melancholy of the Era (시대의 우울 : 최영미의 유럽일기)” “A Travel is Truly a Travel when You are Lost (길을 잃어야 진짜 여행이다)” etc. She also wrote essays about art and football.

Sexual harassment[edit]

In 2017, a magazine called Hwanghae Culture (황해문화, literally Yellow Sea Culture) dedicated its winter issue on feminism. The editor of the Magazine requested Choi to write a poem on feminism and gender struggle. By accepting this request, Choi wrote the poem "Monster" (괴물) that exposed the sexual harassment and abuse by the old poet En. When her poem "Monster" released, the public immediately noticed that 'En' is Ko Un (the most revered Korean poet), which ignited the #Me Too movement. Later on JTBC requested for an interview with Choi which was broadcast live on television followed by the introduction of the poem “Monster".

The majority of people gave their wholehearted praise and support to Choi's courage in witnessing against Ko Un who is recognised as one of the great poets in the Korean literary world. Choi's revelation of Ko's molestation has played a major role in exposing the sexual harassments and assaults infested deep inside the Korean society, not only in the cultural and arts community, and her contributions will help eradicate any further offenders. For this contribution, the Metropolitan City of Seoul has decided to present Choi with the grand prize of Sex Equality Award 2018.

Poet Ko sued her for defamation in summer 2018. Poet Ko Un has lost a defamation suit against poet Choi Young-mi, who accused him of habitual sexual harassment. The Seoul Central District Court (Feb. 15, 2019) sided with Choi saying her allegations of sexual harassment were credible.

Choi testified she personally witnessed the incidents. The court said her testimony was "consistent and specific," while there was "little reason to doubt the veracity of her claims." The court also found an account of the abuses written in Choi's diary, which she started keeping in middle school. In a diary entry from June 2, 1994, Choi found a passage she wrote detailing her feelings about Ko's behavior, and the court found no evidence that it had been tampered with. But Ko has since taken the case to the appeals court.


In 1992, she began her career as a poet when she published “In Sokcho (속초에서)” and seven other poems in the Winter Issue of the Creation and Criticism (창작과 비평), followed by her 1994 record-selling first poem collection “At Thirty, the Party is Over”, which sold over half a million copies on the same year. She wrote five more poetry collections: “Treading on the Pedals of Dreams (꿈의 페달을 밟고) (1998)” “To the Pigs (돼지들에게)(2005)" “Life that has yet to Arrive (도착하지 않은 삶)(2009)” “Things Already Hot (이미 뜨거운 것들)(2013)”and "What will not come again (다시 오지 않는 것들) (2019) which includes the poem 'Monster' and other #Metoo poems.

Her first novel “Scars and Patterns (흉터와 무늬)” about a family living in the outskirts of Seoul in the 1970s was published in 2005. In 2014 she wrote the “Bronze Garden (청동정원)”, an autobiographical novel that talks about the wandering youth in the 1980s.

In 2006, she was awarded the Isu Literary Award for her book of poetry “To the Pigs (돼지들에게)” which exposed the human conditions with satirical language. For the award, she was commented as below:

  • “Choi’s poetry sharply stabs the Korean society’s hypocrisy, fallacy and complacency and once again as the conscience of the generation she provides the raison d'être for poets.” – Jongho Yu
  • “Her sincerity in writing poems and elaborative language stand out.” – Kyungrim Shin
  • Her poetry book “Things Already Hot (이미 뜨거운 것들)” was selected as Book Culture Foundation's Literary Book of Excellence in 2013.
  • James Kimbrell, a Professor at Florida State University, and artist Jung-yul Yu co-translated the collection “Three Poets of Modern Korea: Yi Sang, Hahm Dong-Seon and Choi Young-Mi (2002, Sarabande Books)”, which was shortlisted as the final candidates for the American Literary Translators Association Award (ALTA) in 2004.

"Choi Young-mi's poems are un-compromising and threatening to conventional values of korean society." "Her style is her independence. Her poetry is very much a lived poetry." - James Kimbrell

  • “Choi Young-mi's steely, restless, passionate investigation of love and politics bursts from the page with a wonderful fresh recklessness.” – Chase Twichell
  • Robert Hass, a renowned American poet and professor at University of Berkeley, praised Choi's poem as “abstract expressionism” at a poetry reading session called Lunch Poems in Berkeley in 2009.

In 2005, Choi's poetry collection “At Thirty, the Party is Over” was published by Shoshiaokisha (靑樹社) in Japan and made the headline of the Asahi Shimbun's culture page with a praise: “a clear language full of polysemy”.

Choi has experience in teaching creative writing in poetry at Inha University and Kangwon National University. Her work is included in high school textbooks while some of her poems have been rewritten as songs. “At Seon-un Temple (선운사에서)” was included in the high school textbook “Literature (Jihak Publishing, 2014)” “At the Subway 2 (지하철에서 2)” in the high school textbook manual “Literature (Changbi Publishers, 2012)” and the “Melancholy of the Era (Cologne Episode) (시대의 우울 – 쾰른 편)” was included in the high school textbook manual “Essay Writing (Hakyeon Publishing, 2012)”.

Three Korean songwriters, Gunyong Lee, Daesung Lee and Chihwan An, have made songs with poems by Choi Young-mi.

The 2-Disc Album “Love Alone (혼자사랑) – Artpop & Classic (1998)” written by Gunyong Lee, the Director of the Seoul Metropolitan Opera, and sung by Kyungok Jeon, features four songs which took the lyrics from Choi Young-mi's poems, “At Seon-un Temple (선운사에서)” “A Ballad for Adonis (아도니스를 위한 연가)”, “The Ballad of the Sad Café (슬픈 카페의 노래)” and “On the First Day of Snow in Mount. Bukhansan (북한산에 첫눈 오는 날)”. Furthermore, Choi's poem “At Seon-un Temple (선운사에서)” was re-arranged by Daesung Kim to be included in the musical composition “First Feeling (첫마음) (2007)” of Kwonsoon Kang, a Korean Traditional Musician, while the same poem was sung by Chihwan An in his 10th Album “Today is Good (오늘이 좋다) (2010)”.

In addition, she has written essays about life, travels and art: “Melancholy of the Era: Journal from Europe (시대의 우울 : 최영미의 유럽일기)” “To whom will peek into My Diary by Chance (우연히 내 일기를 엿보게 될 사람에게)” and “A Travel is Truly a Travel when You are Lost (길을 잃어야 진짜 여행이다)”. Choi has also translated “Francis Bacon in Conversation with Michel Archimbaud” into Korean publication titled “The Cruel Hand of a Painter: Conversation with Francis Bacon (화가의 잔인한 손 : 프란시스 베이컨과의 대화) (1998)”.

Choi is a somewhat fanatic about football. She has written an article about Korean football in Die Tageszeitung's special issue “Taz Journal Mai 2006” for the 2006 FIFA World Cup and published an essay about football called “Ball does not wait for Man (공은 사람을 기다리지 않는다)” in 2011.

In 2011, Choi was appointed as an honorary ambassador for the Korean National Assembly Library and was active as a member of board in Korea Football Association's Football Love Sharing Foundation from 2012 to 2013. Choi released “What will not come again ” (Imibooks,2019) - her newest poetry collection and first publication since the Me Too revelation. The book contains around 50 poems, with most discussing mundane topics like her dating life and caring for her senile mother. Several though, including “Monster,” relate to her encounters with Ko and their current legal dispute. The publishing house for “What will not come again ” is Imi Books, a company that Choi established herself in 2019.


  1. ^ a b c d Sang Yi; Tong-sŏn Ham; Yŏng-mi Choe; Jung-yul Yu, James Kimbrell (2002). Three Poets of Modern Korea: Yi Sang, Hahm Dong-seon, and Choi Young-mi. Sarabande Books. ISBN 978-1-889330-71-6.
  2. ^ a b Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS). "'Moon neighborhood' library grabs world's attention :: : The official website of the Republic of Korea". Retrieved 2016-04-26.
  3. ^ "Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature & Culture, vol. 6 (2013) – UH Press Journals Log". Retrieved 2016-04-26.

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