Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Catherine Chung

Catherine Chung was born in Evanston, IL, and grew up in New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. Writing has been her life-long passion, but as an undergraduate she indulged in a brief, one-sided affair with mathematics at the University of Chicago followed by a few years in Santa Monica working at a think tank by the sea.

Eventually she attended Cornell University for her MFA, and since then she and her books have been given shelter and encouragement from The MacDowell Colony, Jentel, Hedgebrook, SFAI, Camargo, The University of Leipzig, VCCA, UCross, Yaddo, Civitella Ranieri, The Jerome Foundation, the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and the Constance Saltonstall Foundation. Her brother, Heesoo Chung, has also given her a bed and fed her lots of ice cream at criticaƂ times.

Chung is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a Director’s Visitorship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She was a Granta New Voice, and won an Honorable Mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award with her first novel, Forgotten Country, which was a Booklist, Bookpage, and San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2012. She has published work in The New York Times, The Rumpus, and Granta, and is a fiction editor at Guernica Magazine. She lives in New York City.

Chung's new novel is The Tenth Muse.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
This has been a phenomenal year in reading for me so far: I've been blown away by the amazing books have come my way which I found both timely and timeless. Two of my favorite poets published new collections this year: Honeyfish by Lauren Alleyne, is a shimmering, elegiac collection of poetry laced with wonder and grief that tackles immigration, police and state violence, and the longing for the home left behind and the home not yet found; in Deaf Republic Ilya Kaminsky imagines an occupied country that goes collectively deaf after the soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy. Terrifying, tender, and filled with beauty and pain, it is a work of tremendous imagination and heart. Another poet (and novelist and translator) Idra Novey wrote one of my favorite novels of the year, the extraordinary Those Who Knew about personal and political power, violence, and the cost of speaking up versus the cost of staying silent.

Every book I read by Helen Oyeyemi is an utter delight--I don't know if there's anyone writing today who charms me more. She's wildly inventive, wickedly smart and funny and full of heart. She doesn't write like she's breaking the rules, she writes like there are no rules, like nothing can touch her. Her latest novel, Gingerbread, is pure exhilaration.

Spring by Ali Smith was--as her entire quartet has been--a revelation. It brings together different lives and outlooks, different times, ideas, and modes of art into one dazzling, thought-provoking, endlessly compassionate conversation, at the center of which is a young immigrant girl of such heartbreaking courage and integrity, with such a beautiful capacity to trust the humanity in anyone, even those who would harm her--that I found myself resolving to be better somehow after reading it.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews and Trust Exercise by Susan Choi I read back to back and was blown away by the brilliance of both. They're each structurally daring in different ways, and each grapples with the implications of who gets to tell the story, and involves coming to a new comprehension of the past that requires a reckoning with one's place and agency in the present. I found them equal parts heartbreaking and empowering, and though they are very different, they are both unsettling books of immense depth that ask enormous, difficult questions about community, love, self-determination, and power.
Visit Catherine Chung's website.

--Marshal Zeringue