The Martyred, 1964
The Innocent, 1968
Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood, 1970
In Search of Lost Years, 1985 (essays)
In Search of “Lost” Koreans in China and Russia, 1989 (photo essays)
Richard E. Kim was born Eun-Kook Kim in Hamhung, Korea, the son of Chan-Doh and Ok-Hyun (Rhee) Kim. His grandfather was a minister in the Christian community, and the family was well-to-do and well respected. During World War II, Kim’s village was occupied by Japanese soldiers. The war’s disruption caused the Kim family to move to Manchuria, North Korea, and then back to South Korea. He continued his education in Korea and served in the Republic of Korea marines and army during the Korean War, becoming a first lieutenant in the infantry by the time of his discharge in 1954. Soon after, he emigrated to the United States, where he attended Middlebury College on a scholarship from 1955 to 1959, majoring in history and political science, and changed his name to Richard. Kim transferred to The Johns Hopkins University, where in 1960 he earned a master of arts degree in writing seminars and married Penelope Ann Groll, with whom he had two children, David and Melissa. In 1962, Kim earned a master of fine arts in the writers’ workshop at the University of Iowa, and in 1963 at Harvard University he earned yet another master of arts, this one in Far Eastern literature. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1964.
In 1963, Kim taught a year at California State University, Long Beach; the next year, he began teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, first as an assistant professor of English (1964-1967), then as an associate professor of English (1968-1969), and then as an adjunct professor of English (1969-1970). Fellowships from the Ford Foundation and other organizations, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1966, provided financial support through these years and acknowledged his literary talent. From 1970 to 1977, he served as visiting professor of English at Syracuse University and California State University, San Diego, and from 1981 to 1983, he was Fulbright Professor of English at the Seoul National University, Korea.
Although Kim has lived much of his adult life in the United States, his early years in Korea furnished the material for his fiction. The Martyred was very well received and immediately became a popular success. Critics compared the novel to the works of Albert Camus, the French existentialist writer, to whom the novel is dedicated. Other French writers, such as André Malraux, helped shape Kim’s outlook and restrained prose style. The Innocent, published in 1968, disappointed many readers, who found his language flat, his characters wooden, and their moral dilemmas tiresome. Two years later, Lost Names restored Kim’s popularity. Written as a novel, it is the story of real people during the Japanese occupation of Korea, as told by a young Korean boy. Because the work speaks to all ages, it became popular among students in Asian studies in schools throughout the United States and is taught in social studies as well as history courses.
After the publication of Lost Names, Kim often met with groups of teachers to discuss the work and frequently shared his wartime experiences at summer institutes. He also maintained his involvement in Korean enterprises. He has translated English texts into Korean and has been awarded one of the Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards. Kim also wrote a newspaper column for Korean newspapers from 1982 to 1983 and has done extensive work as a reporter, commentator, and narrator for Korean television, dealing principally with the Korean War years (1950-1953).