Nicole Chung

Poets and Writers - - The Genre Of Resistance -

All You Can Ever Know (Cat­a­pult, Oc­to­ber), a mem­oir about tran­sra­cial adop­tion, iden­tity, and fam­ily that fol­lows the au­thor’s ex­pe­ri­ences as a Korean Amer­i­can raised by a white fam­ily in Ore­gon and her even­tual search for her birth par­ents—a jour­ney that co­in­cided with the birth of her own daugh­ter. Agent: Maria Massie of Massie & McQuilkin. Ed­i­tor: Julie Buntin. First print­ing: 20,000.

There’s al­ways power to be found in own­ing your truth. As I grew up with­out mine, and had to go on a long, chal­leng­ing jour­ney to find it, I will never take it for granted. I knew I was go­ing to write this as the truth—as a mem­oir—or I wasn’t go­ing to write it at all. And I’d grown weary of try­ing to tell a long, com­pli­cated story piece­meal, es­say by es­say; I felt only a ful­l­length mem­oir would have room for all the peo­ple, the his­tory, the ques­tions I wanted to in­clude.

Adopted peo­ple, as a group, have of­ten been the sub­ject of sto­ries: We are the se­cret, or the sur­prise, or the tragedy, or some­one else’s wish ful­filled. Rarely have we been given the op­por­tu­nity to tell our own sto­ries. So I knew there could be power in mak­ing an un­der­rep­re­sented truth more vis­i­ble,

and I hoped that shar­ing my per­spec­tive as only one of mil­lions of adoptees, sup­ple­ment­ing those dom­i­nant adop­tion nar­ra­tives that don’t cen­ter us, might help cre­ate space for oth­ers.

For years I could see the en­tire book laid out in my head, but I wasn’t sure it would ever ex­ist. Even as I ac­quired by­lines, a grad­u­ate de­gree, ed­i­to­rial jobs, an agent, it seemed un­likely. I couldn’t see many oth­ers do­ing what I wanted to do. There are so few mem­oirs by Asian Amer­i­cans or adoptees or par­ents of color rais­ing mul­tira­cial kids; it wasn’t as if I could point to a whole list of ti­tles that had proved the mar­ket for this kind of story ex­isted. Pub­lish­ing can be such a risk-averse busi­ness, slow to change—it’s of­ten dif­fi­cult to try to do some­thing new, no mat­ter who you are. I prob­a­bly should have re­al­ized this mem­oir would need a gutsy in­die press that be­lieved in it whole­heart­edly to stand a chance. For­tu­nately that’s ex­actly what Cat­a­pult is.

My ed­i­tor, Julie Buntin, e-mailed me in late 2015 to ask, “Hey, are you work­ing on any­thing?” My agent and I were get­ting my pro­posal ready for sub­mis­sion, so I told Julie I would send it to her. Once the pro­posal went out, I got ques­tions like: Was the story not “sen­sa­tional” enough? Who was the au­di­ence, be­yond other adopted peo­ple and Asian Amer­i­cans? And then I had a call with Julie and an­other

ed­i­tor at Cat­a­pult, Yuka Igarashi, and in­side of five min­utes it was clear they both got it so per­fectly. They promised Cat­a­pult would throw its full sup­port be­hind it, make sure it found read­ers. They could see the book, just like I could, and I thought, “That’s what I need—that’s what ev­ery de­but au­thor de­serves.”

Back when I worked for the Toast, I had the op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­view my friend and lit­er­ary hero Alexan­der Chee, and he told me he be­lieved he had to write his novel Ed­in­burgh be­fore he could write any­thing else “in or­der to prove I could ex­ist…[to] make a space for my­self in this life.” I think I feel sim­i­larly: I had to try to make just a lit­tle more room for my­self and for peo­ple like me, and this was one way to do that. Not the only way, cer­tainly, but I felt this mem­oir would al­ways be there, lurk­ing, pe­ri­od­i­cally tap­ping me on the shoul­der; that it would never let me for­get or move for­ward un­til I at least tried to write it. As ter­ri­fy­ing as it is to know it’s out there now—or will be soon—in many re­spects I do feel freer, lighter, as if I might do any­thing next. I hope we give many more adopted peo­ple, many more writ­ers of color, many more im­mi­grants and chil­dren of im­mi­grants the chance to share their sto­ries in this im­por­tant, cen­turies-old form—there are so many read­ers out there who need them.

I prob­a­bly should have re­al­ized this mem­oir would need a gutsy in­die press that be­lieved in it whole­heart­edly to stand a chance.

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