Q How does the intersection of writing and teaching affect you?
A. I like to encourage my students to take risks and fail. The only way to know something isn’t working is to feel it, and now is the time to do it. But nothing is 100%; my job is also to show students how their work works, even if it’s just, say, a sentence or two, or just the idea. Being so immersed in my students’ work means that when I’m teaching, I’m not as invested in my own. I usually spend the summers writing and/or going to residency during spring break.
Q What is the importance of reading in the art of writing?
A. Essential! You cannot write well without reading. All the great writers I know started out as readers. Also, my autistic son, now 22, was thought to have little comprehension, but while they were reading good night moon for him at school, it was obvious that something was happening on some level. When he was a teenager, I started reading him age-appropriate books, like Helen Macdonald’s memoir, H is for Hawkand HeavyKiese Laymon’s memoir, and he would get a dreamy look on his face.
Q What have you read recently that you would recommend, and why?
A. Skinship by Yoon Choi, an amazing collection of short stories related to mostly middle-aged Koreans with their past catching up with them, trying to get by in America. Like the best of Raymond Carver, these stories work with intricate and intimate detail, like how Korean culture uses food as an expression of love.
Also, the novel Devil’s House by John Darnielle. He is a true crime novelist. I listen to the audiobook. Unsurprisingly, Darnielle – singer-songwriter of the Mountain Goats – has a perfect voice for the narrator.
Q What’s next on your reading list?
A. I’m reading a great upcoming novel, Water Skullby Heinz Insu Fenkl, set in South Korea in the 1950s and 1970s, and is an intergenerational tale, a coming-of-age story about identity and displacement.
Q What are you working on now?
A. Since The hero of the evening just came out at the end of May, I’m mostly busy with the tour. Also, my autistic son, who hasn’t been able to communicate for all these years, suddenly started expressing himself by pointing to letters and typing. He wants to write a book and, in fact, has started. It’s about 30 pages. It’s mostly my summer! To give you an idea, as recently as December 2021 when he and I appeared on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s show CNN show on marijuana and autismmost experts thought my son didn’t really have a language and couldn’t read.
Q You are having a dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, would you invite, and why?
A. George Eliot because Middle-walk contributed to The hero of the evening. George Sand because she was one of the few 19ewomen of the century in France who dared to wear men’s clothes without a permit, because it was stronger, more practical, more comfortable, cheaper than women’s clothes – especially for the nobility – and it probably had pockets . The third George would be my colleague, history teacher George Chauncey, just to keep all the Georges guessing.