The sunset from the mountain near the Toji Cultural Foundation in Wonju
Author Events,  Wander, Wonder, Write

Artist Residency: Toji Cultural Center

In August 2023, I was a writer in residence at the Toji Cultural Center in Wonju, South-Korea, an hour southeast by train from Seoul. 

I enjoyed a private room with a view of the mountains and received two warm, nutritious, and delicious Korean meals a day. They always contained a smorgasbord of homegrown vegetables and often fish. If I spied the gardener in the morning chopping the corn below my balcony, I knew I’d see it show up on my plate that night. 

Each time I attempted to write a short post for this blog during my residency, a braided essay came out instead. I think this means I felt inspired.

With the windows open, I listened to the pouring rain and the chorus of insects. No sound coming for the other rooms housing artists. But every now and then, there was the roar of low-flying jets from the nearby military base or the rumbling of the city bus racing up the road. I suspect bus drivers in Korea get extra points for arriving at their stops ahead of time, because no one in this country seems more in a hurry than they are. 

Overall, it was very quiet, though, and it was a true gift to spend time at the Toji Cultural Center, being able to solely focus on my work. 

Pak Kyongni

The center’s founder is the prolific and well-loved author Pak Kyongni (1926-2008) whose 20-volume epic saga Toji (The Land) gave the organization its name. I haven’t read Toji, only its first three books were translated into English, but her grandson let me borrow a volume of The Age of Doubt. It’s a recently released collection of her early stories, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve written a full book review hopefully published soon), but let me say this: Pak strikingly reveals the inner lives of women struggling as much with the scarcities and cruelties of the postwar era as with society’s restraints on whom they are allowed to love. 

For more on my experiences in Korea, especially about being in a country where you don’t speak the language and the majority of people don’t speak English, read my Substack newsletter