Min, Katherine 1959–

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Min, Katherine 1959–

PERSONAL:

Born March 16, 1959, in Champaign, IL; daughter of Kongki (a professor) and Yungwha (a banker) Min; married Roy Andrews (a writer), September 4, 1982; children.: Kayla, Clay. Ethnicity: "Korean." Education: Amherst College, B.A., 1980; Columbia University, M.S., 1981.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of Literature and Languages, CPO 2130, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Asheville, NC 28804-8509. E-mail—katherinemin.com.

CAREER:

Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH, former adjunct faculty, writer in residence, and diversity scholar; University of North Carolina at Asheville, Asheville, assistant professor of literature and languages, 2007—. Also taught at Iowa Writing Festival.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Pushcart Prize for the short story "Courting a Monk"; grant from National Endowment for the Arts, 1992; MacDowell Colony fellowships, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001; fellow of New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, 1995, and Wallace-Reader's Digest; Tennessee Williams scholar.

WRITINGS:

Secondhand World: A Novel, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.

Short stories represented in anthologies, including The Pushcart Book of Stories: The Best Short Stories from a Quarter-Century of the Pushcart Prize, and featured on National Public Radio. Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, and Prairie Schooner.

SIDELIGHTS:

In Secondhand World: A Novel, Katherine Min draws on her own family's background as immigrants from Korea to tell the story of Isadora Myung Hee Sohn, or Isa, a young Korean American caught between the traditional world of her Korean parents and an American world that seems little interested in traditions of any kind. Living in New York near Schenectady, Isa is thrown into turmoil when her brother is killed in an accident, leading her parents to honor the dead in a traditional Korean way that makes Isa suspect that they care more for him in death than her in life. When she becomes enamored of an albino boy named Hero and travels with him to California, she leaves behind family and Korean ways. Nevertheless, when Isa suspects that her mother is having an affair, she is drawn back into the world of Korean tradition.

"Min poignantly captures the dilemma of second-generation Americans … but she also tells of a quest for self-discovery, which is universal," wrote Pat Bangs of Secondhand World in a review in the School Library Journal. Referring to Min's debut novel as "lovely," a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the author "evokes period and place as well as characters with stringent attention and honesty." Shirley N. Quan, writing in the Library Journal, commented: "Touching and bittersweet, this novel is filled with universal themes."

Min told CA: "I was an incorrigible liar from an early age. If I hadn't discovered a talent for writing stories, I would almost certainly have ended up in jail or in trouble. I write because real life doesn't seem enough, somehow; I crave transcendence, an everyday deliverance from the mundane and the drab. I love words and how you can play around with them, burnishing them until they glow. Also, people mystify and fascinate me, and writing is a way of trying to figure them out.

"Almost everything influences my writing. Henry James was right when he advised the young writer to be ‘someone upon whom nothing is wasted.’ Writing requires strict attention to the world around you, to conversations overheard on the bus, to young children cavorting in the park, to newspaper accounts of tragic deaths, to the particular way your mother purses her mouth when she's keeping something to herself. And, of course, every book I've ever read has influenced me, either positively or negatively. I'm always learning from other writers.

"My writing process varies from project to project. I am a binge writer, so most of my concentrated work is done when I have a block of time. Artist colonies are indispensable for this purpose. I write quickly when I set down to it, and I usually have an outline in my head of where I want the story to go. But it's the unexpected that you pray for, and it is always the parts you didn't plan—that seem to spring directly from the unconscious—that are the most interesting and unusual. So, although I want to have a sense of direction, I don't recognize all the signposts as I'm going. And then, after I have a first draft, I revise obsessively, chopping and adding (mostly chopping) until I feel that I've distilled to essence the story I am trying to tell. I want to feel a sense of mystery even as I read my own familiar sentences, and to revel in language that is fresh and alive and illuminating.

"I am Korean American, and I tend to write from the perspective of an Asian woman growing up in the United States who struggles with the expectations of Korean immigrant parents, the desire to assimilate completely within American society, and the assumptions of a predominantly white culture. It's the outsider's stance, face pushed up against the window, looking in on all the warmth and comfort of the mainstream world. I am also interested in the attraction to the Other, and how we are both drawn and repulsed by all that is notus. I am inspired to write about these subjects by my own obsessive need to try to understand some of the experiences I've had, and I am driven by my imagination to reach beyond this understanding to some wider comprehension of other experiences, other lives. I am always trying to expand my vision, to radiate from my own small circumference to encompass a larger radius of sight. What inspires me, then, is the tantalizing prospect of seeing clearly and far."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

America's Intelligence Wire, November 15, 2006, Shirley Chen, review of Secondhand World: A Novel.

Entertainment Weekly, October 6, 2006, Allyssa Lee, review of Secondhand World, p. 74.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2006, review of Secondhand World, p. 596.

Library Journal, June 1, 2006, Shirley N. Quan, review of Secondhand World, p. 109.

Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2006, Deborah Vankin, review of Secondhand World.

School Library Journal, October, 2006, Pat Bangs, review of Secondhand World, p. 188.

ONLINE

Katherine Min Home Page,http://www.katherinemin.com (July 1, 2008).