The award was presented by the President of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea to Fr Liam O’Keeffe on 10 December 2020 to mark Fr Kevin O’Rourke’s contribution to Korean literature. The award is made up of a citation and an inscribed memorial plaque.
Fr Kevin O’Rourke sadly passed away in Seoul in October 2020.
Fr Kevin arrived in Korea in 1964 as a young missionary and spent all his life there. From 1977 to 2005, he was a professor at Kyunghee University and in 1982 received a PhD in Korean Literature from Yonsei University.
Kevin’s list of awards was extensive: he received the Tongsomunhak (World Literature) Prize in 1986; in 1989, he received the Taehanmingguksang (Korean National Literature Prize); in 1995 he received the East Asia Korea Literature Prize from Cornell University. In 2001, he was honoured by the National University of Ireland as a Doctor of Letters and, in 2005, became a professor emeritus of Kyunghee University. In 2005, he received a Presidential Citation for his teaching career and, in 2006, was made an Honorary Citizen of Seoul. In 2009, he received a Presidential Citation for services to Korean Language and Literature.
Kevin translated many books of Korean poetry into English. In 1986, he published his first translation of a full-length Korean novel entitled, ‘The Square’. He followed this up in 1987 with ‘The Sijo Tradition’.
He translated everything from 12th century Korean poems to Kim Sun-0k’s best known modern novel, ‘Travel’.
His main interest lay in translating Korean poetry and he succeeded in translating poems that were written in Chinese, Korean hyangga or folk songs from the Shilla era, kayo poems from the Koryo era and hanshi Korean poems written in Chinese from the Choson era.
He spent a lifetime translating thousands of Korean poems into English and having them published for the world to be able to read and appreciate. He translated the poems of Lee Kyubo, Yun Sundo, Kim Salkat, Jeong Chul and many others.
Having translated them, he spread knowledge of them around the world.
There were a number of points that Kevin always emphasised when talking about poetry: “We read poetry in order to get to know ourselves better.”
“Poems are the best tools for discovering the hidden beauty of this world.”
“Do not ever get exhausted by the effort needed but continue to read poetry.”