“We Don’t often Talk about Sensitive Issues!”
Originally from Chung-Ju, South Korea, Ann immigrated to Canada in 1975. She attended the University of Toronto where she studied English, Sociology, and Education. Ann is also a graduate of both the Humber School for Writers and the Creative Writing Certificate Program at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.
Ann is the 2012 winner of the Marina Nemat Award which recognizes the top manuscript completed by a Creative Writing Certificate graduate at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing at National University in San Diego, California. Her debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was released on May 3, 2016, by Simon & Schuster Canada. Ann is featured on “13 Canadian Authors Everyone Should Read,” by Bustle magazine.
An Interview with Ann Y. K. Choi
Fabricio Correa (FC): When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?
Ann Y. K. Choi (AYKC): As a teenager and young adult, I struggled with depression. Every mental health professional I worked with encouraged me to write, which I started doing in my early twenties. For a long time, I wrote poems because it was the best way to express myself and to make sense of the world around me. Still, I lacked the confidence to consider becoming a “real” writer – which in my heart I truly wanted. Instead, for many years I worked as an editor and then as an English teacher. It wasn’t until one of my students called me a hypocrite for telling him to follow his dream when I wasn’t doing the same, that I finally committed to writing and publishing a novel.
FC: What writers have influenced you the most?
AYKC: Growing up in the 80s, I devoured anything written by Margaret Atwood, a great Canadian author. I loved that her novel Edible Woman was set in Toronto, Canada where I lived. It left me thinking that I could also write stories here, which was quite empowering. I also liked that Atwood’s female protagonists were complex and that her novels could spark rich discussions around social, political and cultural issues. I’m also a huge fan of short stories. Raymond Carver’s “less is more” writing style really appeals to me. Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club is still one of my favorite novels because it was the first book I read with an Asian protagonist. After reading it, I wanted to tell my own stories.
FC: Tell us about your process when writing a book.
AYKC: I work full-time and have a family so writing used to fall on the bottom of my to-do list. It took five years to write a draft of my first novel. Still, what motivated me to write regularly were the stories I wanted to tell. Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety captures the Korean immigrant struggles that my family and the families I knew growing up faced. I wanted my daughter to know about that. My attitude towards writing changed after signing with a publisher and an agent; it’s now a job with real deadlines and consequences. As a result, my writing has moved near the top of my to-do list. I wish I’d made it more of a priority earlier on.
FC: What connection do you seek to establish with your readers?
AYKC: The only reader I had in mind as I wrote Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety was my daughter, so it has been incredible to meet and talk with people who have read that novel. They often share their personal stories which I find inspiring and immensely gratifying.
I worried that readers might not be able to connect with the novel I’m currently writing as it is set in Korea during the 1920s. Still, after many conversations with writers and readers, I’ve committed to writing the book. I’m hoping my protagonist’s story and the themes the novel explores – family, sacrifice, honor and betrayal – will resonate with readers.
FC: Was it difficult writing about such an emotional theme?
AYKC: Like many first novels, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety is largely based on what I know best – my own life and those around me. I was concerned about how my family would respond and how the Korean community, in general, might react. We don’t often talk about “sensitive” issues like domestic violence, negative mental health, racial tension, and especially our struggles with personal demons. I’m hoping to use the novel to generate discussions with readers and even the students I currently work with. Unfortunately, many of them continue to face the same challenges I did growing up.
The finished novel brought me great feelings of relief as the idea to write the story existed for decades, first as a collection of poems, then a short story, and finally, a book.
FC: Did you attend an MFA Program?
AYKC: Yes, after completing two Creative Writing certificate programs in Toronto, I found myself wanting to delve even deeper into the subject. I chose National University in California to complete my MFA. Receiving constructive feedback and learning how to give meaningful feedback have been critical in my development as a writer. Each of my classes, from a pedagogy course to examining the 18th-century works of Anne Radcliffe, allowed me to look at writing and reading using both a creative and analytical eye. The MFA program also encouraged me to reflect upon my writing which I don’t think everyone does. This led me to experiment and engage more deeply with it.
FC: What projects are you working on at the moment?
AYKC: My second novel is set in 1924 Korea before it became a divided nation. When I found out that my great-great grandfather took a second wife (which was legal back then), my heart sank hearing about how upset my great-great grandmother was by this. I thought it would be interesting to write a revenge story loosely based on her experiences. Because I’m taking many creative liberties, I’m having a lot of fun with it. I’m also fascinated by this time in history as Korea was under Japanese occupation.
FC: Where can other readers find you and get to know more about your work?
AYKC: They can visit my website at annykchoi.com or follow me on Twitter @annykchoi.
Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety is available on Amazon.
A bittersweet coming-of-age debut novel set in the Korean community in Toronto in the 1980s.
This haunting coming-of-age story, told through the eyes of a rebellious young girl, vividly captures the struggles of families caught between two cultures in the 1980s. Family secrets, a lost sister, forbidden loves, domestic assaults—Mary discovers as she grows up that life is much more complicated than she had ever imagined. Her secret passion for her English teacher is filled with problems and with the arrival of a promising Korean suitor, Joon-Ho, events escalate in ways that she could never have imagined, catching the entire family in a web of deceit and violence.
A unique and imaginative debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety evocatively portrays the life of a young Korean-Canadian girl who will not give up on her dreams or her family.
Interview conducted by: Fabricio Correa
Fabricio Correa is a Brazilian-born writer and blogger based in Los Angeles. He holds a BA in Law from Universidade Salgado de Oliveira and is currently attending National University’s MFA Creative Writing program.