2021 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries


Adult division
first place - Sharon Drummond
second place - Terri Carnell
third place - Laura Jan Lodlee
honorable mentions

Pre-college division
first place - Livia Huang
second place - Sydney Stemper
third place tie - Allison Gardner
third place tie - Nora Murphy
honorable mentions


Adult division (age 30 and younger)

Topic:"The Wings" by Yi Sang

Please note that the adult division age limit has been increased to age 30.

Prompts: Yi Sang’s “Wings” (1936) is often classified in the same category as the Russian classics, Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” (1835) and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground (1864) as well as Lu Xun’s “A Madman’s Diary” (1918), which is considered by many critics to be China’s first “modern” short story. So it is no surprise that “Wings” was selected as the best Korean short story of the 20th Century by literary critics on several occasions. The story is often read as an extended suicide note, or an allegory of Korea under Japanese occupation depicting the predicament of a frustrated intellectual deprived of autonomy, or the first-person account of a mentally challenged individual who is out of step with his reality. All of the readings involve an interpretation of the psychology of the narrator in a parcitular historical context, and it is only by addressing these combined issues that the other aspects of the story can make sense—especially the ending, which explicitly introduces the wings of the title. Provide your interpretation of the story, explaining how we should read the events and the symbolism of ending, given what you have learned above.

first place - Sarah Watanaskul
second place - none
third place tie - Lauren Albin
third place tie - Isabelle Hoida


Senior division (grade 12 and younger)

Topic:Topic: "The Poplar Tree" by Choi Inho and "The Old Hatter" by Yi Munyol

Prompts: “The Poplar Tree” and “The Old Hatter,” though they are in different genres, are both stories about perseverance, endurance, and stubbornness told through a narrator who is witness to the life of an old man. Both stories are also allegorical. “The Poplar Tree” reads as a fantastical tale related to folklore (and the creation of legends), but it is no accident that the old man “was a blacksmith, a maker of sickles, axes, and such.” That association with the poplar tree of the title points at the infamous “axe murder incident” at Panmunjom in 1976 when two American soldiers were killed by North Korean who were trimming a poplar tree. In “The Old Hatter,” the conflict between the young boys and old Top’yeog (whose horsehair hats are an important part of traditional men’s clothing) is clearly a depiction of the conflict between modernization/westernization and the decline of traditional Confucianism in Korea.

Read the two stories carefully and compare the authors’ approaches to their themes. Where do they overlap and where do they differ? Why do the authors choose those forms of allegory to engage their themes? What do the stories say about Korea’s culture and national character? (You may want to do some biographical research on the authors to help your understanding of the stories.)

first place - William Koo
second place - Jaehong Kim
third place - Jaimie Choi

Junior essay division (grade 8 and younger)

Folktales index

Korea has a rich tradition of storytelling, and its folktales reflect important aspects of its history and culture. Many of the old historical texts are full of local legends and myths. Folk tales can be entertaining and educational, but they can also strike a deep chord in our personal lives, and many Korean folktales demonstrate the universal tragedies and triumphs of daily life in the family.

Topics (choose one): Each topic refers to the list of Korean folktales found on our 2021 folktales index page. Please make sure to select a folktale under the "2021 Essay Competition" list. When writing your essay, please be sure to include specific references to the tale you chose to write about. In your analysis or interpretation of the stories, you may also want to make references to your own life experiences.

  1. Select one folktale from the list and explain your interpretation of the story. What is its importance? Why do you think it was created? Which Korean folktale character do you relate to best and why? Would you make the same decisions as that character?
  2. If you could change one of these folktales, what would you change and why? Do you disagree with something the tale is trying to convey?

first place - April Zhang
second place - none
third place - Angela Yan


The Sejong Writing Competition is supported in part by grants from the LTI Korea, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.