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.