Pulitzer Prize novelist, North Korea tech blogger offer global perspective in Newsroom by the Bay keynote address

In this age of information, anything you could possibly want to know is at your fingertips at the press of a button. Here in the United States, it’s easy to take for granted the range of access that we have to information.

On Monday night, Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson, and North Korea Tech blogger Martyn Williams put our lives into perspective in a two-hour talk to approximately 90 students, parents and guests at Jordan Hall on the Stanford University campus.

Novelist Adam Johnson and tech blogger Martyn Williams shared observations during the NBTB keynote on June 24 about the work they are doing to shed light on the  little-known nation of North Korea.

Novelist Adam Johnson and tech blogger Martyn Williams shared observations during the NBTB keynote on June 24 about the work they are doing to shed light on the little-known nation of North Korea.

Johnson and Williams share a passion for researching the enigma of North Korea, a puzzle that cannot be solved.

North Korea is a “mystery-generating machine,” said Johnson. “It’s what they export.”

But these mysteries often lead to caricatures of a bleak and steadily declining society. Instead of taking into account the 20 million people that live under the totalitarian regime, the media portrays “a place of evil or madness or buffoonery,” said Johnson.

Through their work — in literary fiction and in journalism — Johnson and Williams break this stereotype by humanizing the people of North Korea. In just four pages from his award-winning novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” Johnson created characters so immediate and so human that we were able to feel their fear, anger, and vulnerabilities. His lilting cadence was the perfect voice for storytelling, and the audience was drawn in by the raw emotion of his literary fiction.

Perhaps the most interesting fact about the presentation was that Johnson and Williams, despite their expertise, ultimately are as challenged by the mystery of North Korea as Newsroom by the Bay students.

However, this lack of knowledge fueled the curiosity that drove a profound discussion about North Korean citizens. For example, student Sanika Puranik asked how refugees become accustomed to daily life in South Korea. Earlier on Monday, students watched “The Defector,” a film by Canadian documentary maker Ann Shin, which traces the arduous trek of a group of North Koreans who escape their country by traveling through China to South Korea, where they receive government help and housing, but find the transition to the West difficult.

The contrast between such refugees’ sheltered lives in North Korea and the modern lifestyle of the rest of the world would be “more than culture shock,” said Williams.

Johnson and NBTB Counselor-in-Training Patricia Jin share a light moment after Johnson's talk.

Johnson and NBTB Counselor-in-Training Patricia Jia share a light moment after Johnson’s talk. Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford.

Having Johnson and Williams as our guest speakers was not only an honor, but also an opportunity to gain the global perspective that Newsroom by the Bay promotes. As young journalists, it is always exciting to understand different cultures and learn from one another.

—Patricia Jia and Emma Steiner

1 Comment

  1. nkhrporters says:

    Reblogged this on North Korean Human Rights and commented:
    North Koreans are often defined by their totalitarian government, Communism, and terror — when they are really, just ordinary people. This article is right to note that we should work to “humanize people of North Korea” instead of classifying them as mere citizens of a corrupt regime.
    The writer mentions some noteworthy works as well, including a book named “The Orphan Master’s Son” and a movie called “The Defector.” This reminds me of the non-profit organization, LINK’s motto — defining North Korea by its people, not its government.

    Like

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