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Yi Yŏn-ju made her literary debut in a journal called World of Writers in 1991. The same year, Yi published her first book of poetry, A Night Market Where There Are Prostitutes (Maeŭmnyŏka ittnŭn pamŭi sijang). Her second and the last collection of poems, Juda, a Lamb of Redemption (Sokjweyang, yuda), was published in 1993 after her death. Yi committed suicide in 1992. Yi's work has been critically acknowledged by the renowned feminist critic and poet Kim Chong-nan. According to Kim, Yi's poetry has a critical place in the Korean feminist poetry of the 80s like the more widely known works of Cho'e Sŭng-ja and Kim Hye-sun. Yi depicts in her poetry women who live on the fringes of South Korean society, marginalized by the rapid industrialization of the 70s and 80s, which, in part, was made possible by exploitation of young women from poor rural areas.
Not much is known about Yi's life. According to her brother, Yi Yong-ju, the night Yi committed suicide she had asked him not to reveal anything about her life except for her date and place of birth. Yi was born in 1953, in Kunsan in the Northern Chŏlla province of South Korea. She sought out work in various socially marginalized and impoverished parts of South Korea. She excelled in various arts and was well known outside of literary circles by painters, filmmakers, singers, and dancers. Yi painted a great deal and was working on a collaborative video art project before she ended her life.