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Nicole Chung grapples with transracial adoption

April 28, 2022

On Tuesday, the English Department and the Asian Students Alliance (ASA) hosted author Nicole Chung in an installment of the Alpha Delta Phi Society Visiting Writers Series and in celebration of Asian and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month. She conducted a talk at both 7 p.m. and a discussion for writers of color at 4:30 p.m.

The talk at 7 p.m. was moderated by John F. and Dorothy H. Magee Associate Professor of Asian Studies and English Belinda Kong, Kyubin Kim ’22 and Jenny Koh ’22, president of ASA. Koh and Kim also moderated the writers of color discussion earlier that afternoon.

Nicole Chung is known for her memoir “All You Can Ever Know,” which outlines her story as a Korean-American adoptee and how it affected not only her childhood but also her adult and professional life. She has had a professional editing career and is currently an Editor at Large for Catapult Magazine, an acclaimed online literary magazine.

Kong hosted Chung in her class, “Asian America’s Margins,” last week after the class  read Chung’s book as part of a unit on transracial and adoptee narratives.

“During our class, she talked about how transracial adoptees have this double bind role in American media,” Kong said. “On the one hand, they are often times portrayed as these murders or deviants in murder mysteries and American literature. And then on the other hand, there’s an erasure of their own stories in terms of how they tell their own lives and histories.”

Throughout the talk, Chung spoke about adoptees and also focused on her own experience growing up in a predominantly white area, where Asian-Americans were often in the minority. She read excerpts from the opening of her book, which outlines a family trip to Seattle—one of the first times Chung felt surrounded by other people like her.

Much of Chung’s narrative was intended to resonate with adoptees of any ethnicity and race about feeling connected to their culture. At the end of her book, Chung writes about her  journey learning Korean as an adult.

“The foundational thing that I am curious to learn about and ask writers is why they write and who they write for and how that has changed as they’ve grown older,” Kim said. “Especially for the writers of color discussion, I know [Chung] wrote fiction and poetry, mostly in college, and I’m curious to see who she was writing for [back then]and how that changed as she got older. I feel like she writes a lot for families interested in transracial adoption.”

Chung also talked about her experience working as an editor in recent years. She started editing online content with “Hyphen,” an Asian American literary magazine before moving to “The Toast” as a managing editor. She now works with Catapult and writes a column for “The Atlantic.” She is also working on larger projects that will be published over the next few years.

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