Youngju Ryu, an associate professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, has been named the Nam Center’s new director, effective July 1, 2021. Ryu is a specialist of modern Korean literature who has written an award-winning book on dissident writers in authoritarian Korea. She received her BA in English Literature from Harvard University and PhD in Korean Literature from the University of California, Los Angeles. 

As Director, Ryu succeeds Nojin Kwak, who has been appointed Vice Provost of International Education at State University of New York, Buffalo. Nojin credits Youngju for her vibrant contributions to the center saying, “I am so excited that Youngju has agreed to lead the Center. She is a respected scholar-teacher and will definitely continue the exciting trajectory of the Korean Studies community at Michigan. During my directorship, Youngju came up with innovative ideas for a number of academic and public programs. I have always been a fan of Youngju and will cheer for her continued success.”

Ryu joined the University of Michigan’s faculty in 2007 just as the Korean Studies Program was being elevated to the status of a full-fledged center under the directorship of Meredith Woo, and then watched it become the first named Korean Studies center in the United States in 2010 in honor of the late Elder Sang-yong Nam. A member of the Center’s first executive committee, Ryu has been its core faculty ever since. 

Ryu’s appointment as the new director occasioned reflections on institutional history by former directors. "The Nam Center was designed as a consequential place of learning,” said Meredith Woo, now President of Sweet Briar College. “It brings together scholars who, through their research on Korea, shed important insights into social conditions and human predicaments in Korea and elsewhere. Professor Ryu's scholarship on Korean literature, remarkable in its elegance of exposition and prose, is an important contribution to the extant field of art under political repression. Hers is the best example of the scholarship that the Nam Center fosters, and the University of Michigan is so fortunate to have Professor Ryu lead the Center."

David Chung, Professor and Director of MFA Program at the Stamps School of Art & Design and also former Center director, welcomes Ryu to the role with fond memories. “Youngju came to Michigan when Elder Nam was alive and I can remember the three of us sharing meals together and discussing Elder Nam's vision for Korean Studies at the university. It’s wonderful to see his dreams come true during the leadership of Nojin Kwak and now in the capable hands of Youngju’s directorship.”

Ryu is thrilled to follow in the footsteps of her predecessors and lead the Nam Center at a time of tremendous excitement for Korean Studies. “As global interest in Korea soars in fields ranging from democracy studies to popular culture, the Nam Center is poised to play an even more important role as an interdisciplinary hub of historically informed, critically cutting-edge, and publicly impactful research on Korea,” Ryu said.

Ryu has served in a range of leadership roles both within and outside of the University, including as the president of Korean Literature Association. She is the series editor of Perspectives on Contemporary Korea and Three||Eight: Korean Literatures in Northeast Asia, both published by the University of Michigan Press. Ryu is also committed to DEI work and serves on the steering committee of Women of Color in the Academy Project.