The DC/MD/VA Report: Part 2
So I’d set up this reading at a Border’s in northern VA a few months ago, thinking that it would be nice to do a bookstore reading while in the DC area (for the Asian American Literature Symposium). I grew up in Maryland, so I thought of it as a sort of “hometown event.” As the date (4/26) grew near, though, I started to worry a little. I haven’t actually lived in the DC area since 1986; many of my friends have left the area, and many others I’d lost track of (and vice versa).
Every book event is a little fraught, I’ve learned. Will anyone come? Often, the folks you were sure would come out don’t; and then people you’d never imagined would come show up. It’s pretty unnerving, and yet at the same time really fun; surprises are always like that, I guess.
The Border’s reading was no exception. When Long for This World first hit the stores, the question arose: who will be the readership? I had no idea. I especially wondered if there would much of either a Korean or Korean-American audience. I did not at all take that for granted; it’s much more unpredictable, and complex, than that. Friends who knew the Korean publishing world, for instance, intimated that Koreans only read “famous” writers, i.e. reading is more about celebrity than literary engagement in contemporary Korean culture. I don’t know how true that is, but more on that in a moment…
The Border’s reading turned out a mostly-Korean audience (but let me not forget to thank to Devra and Pete, our intrepid non-Koreans!), the first in my experience thus far. (Even my reading with Nami Mun, also Korean American, at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, did not seem particularly populated by Korean Americans.) And, interestingly, the audience was almost split down the middle, between first-generation Koreans and second-generation Korean Americans. Thanks to a friend from the Korean church I attended as a child/youth, who brought out a handful of her friends, and to my “little” (now married) cousin Susan; along with an old family friend of my parents, who spread the word with a local first-generation writers’ group; it turned out to be a really interesting event and Q&A.
It was such a treat, and humbling, to have an attentive and interested audience among the older generation, who asked a slew of good questions (in English, thankfully!). The younger folks, too, engaged in the Q&A, and bought books for me to sign. A number of the older attendees bought books for their children and grandchildren.
Finally, friends Val and Pete came with daughter Claire (9). It was Claire’s birthday, and I was especially honored by her offer to be my “assistant” as I signed books. Claire is apparently now working on her own book, publication date TBD.
In a million years I would never consider myself a “representative” of my race or ethnicity. But that night, at Border’s, it was as if I was making a lot of people proud, more than just the people in the room; it was a great privilege.
Will a Korean publisher decide to translate Long for This World for Korean readers? We sincerely hope so. Stealing from my friend Ed Lin, whose Facebook-status-series, “C’mon, Chinese People!” cracks me up: ”C’mon, Korean people!”