E.J. Koh on the Connection Between Her Memoir and Her Novel
In Conversation with Lindsay Hunter on I'm a Writer But
Welcome to I’m a Writer But, where writers discuss their work, their lives, their other work, the stuff that takes up any free time they have, all the stuff they’re not able to get to, and the ways in which any of us get anything done. Plus: book recommendations, bad jokes, okay jokes, despair, joy, and anything else going on that week. Hosted by Lindsay Hunter.
In this truly wonderful and enlightening episode, E.J. Koh discusses her debut novel The Liberators, the magic of dogs, familial relationships, how poetry helped her communicate, magnanimity, how imagination and creativity are essential aspects of apology, her hope for Korea, and more!
From the episode:
E.J. Koh: Susan [Davis] sat me down and said, “You know how to start a poem, and you really know how to fill out a poem, but you don’t know how to do the turn, which is the end of the poem. You’re missing magnanimity. A poem isn’t a poem unless it has magnanimity. At least by the end of the poem, you have to forgive your mother, or the poem has to forgive you for not; otherwise, it’s not a poem.” I rewrote my memoir several times to remind myself that I’m not writing this to say who was right and wrong, I’m writing this to find the magnanimity. To understand what was happening. I wanted to understand the characters in the same way with The Liberators. I think The Liberators is very much a part of [my memoir]. It’s almost an extension in that way.
E. J. Koh is the author of the memoir The Magical Language of Others (Tin House Books, 2020), which won a Washington State Book Award, Pacific Northwest Book Award, Association for Asian American Studies Book Award, and was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award. Koh is also the author of the poetry collection A Lesser Love (Louisiana State U. Press, 2017), a Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry Winner. She is a translator of Yi Won’s poetry collection The World’s Lightest Motorcycle (Zephyr Press, 2021), which won the Literature Translation Institute of Korea’s Translation Grand Prize. Her work has appeared in AGNI, the Atlantic, Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Poetry, Slate, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. Koh earned her MFA at Columbia University in New York for Creative Writing and Literary Translation and her PhD at the University of Washington in English Language and Literature studying Korean American literature, history, and film. Koh has received National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, American Literary Translators Association, and Kundiman fellowships. She lives in Seattle, Washington.