A Conversation With Sun Yung Shin: WSR Contributing Poetry Editor
For twenty one years, Water~Stone Review has been a collaborative passion project of students, faculty, and staff. For our next issue, we are bringing a new team member to the process with hope of expanding our chorus of voices in our pages as well as our reach and readership.
In this post we meet Vol. 22 Contributing Poetry Editor, Sun Yung Shin.
1. Your work as a writer and editor creates conversations and connections between voices, concepts, world views, and a whole galaxy of other elements. With so much to work with and work from, what excites you as an editor and as a writer?
What excites me as an editor is being surprised. I am looking to read something that’s unlike—in some compelling way—anything I’ve read before, although it doesn’t have to be formal, it can be any number of types of surprises. I’m always looking to be awakened or resurrected as a reader, and to explore new ways of being and feeling human (or animal, mineral, vegetable, vapor, liquid…sublimation…), a part of this universe.
As a writer I get excited by the possibility of expressing complexity, of the effort to use the medium of language—which includes silence, and music. I am compelled to write in order to make a “dam against erasure,” as Solmaz Sharif has put it. Not just personal, individual erasure, but cultural erasure, and the continual mutilation of the subjectivities of being a woman, a person of color, an immigrant, etc.
2. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
There are so many, even though I came later to writing, because there was such a void in terms of role models, culturally, but I know that my early experiences in the Roman Catholic church and in the arts continue to feed my love of languages, rhythm, music, and mystery.
3. What compels you to keep writing and working with words during challenging times?
I’ve never not existed in challenging times, although I myself am very privileged at this moment, in terms of my education and relative safety in global terms, and in American terms. I was born into a time when South Korea was ruled by a military dictator who had declared himself president for life. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen because of U.S. proxy wars in Asia and ethnic cleansing in Korea. As a woman, I am subject to violence all over the globe, past, present, and future. As an immigrant of color in the U.S., I am considered a parasite and a burden. As an Asian American woman, no one is interested in my history or my condition except others who share my subjectivity, and even then. This is just reality. I write from a place of displacement, dispossession, silence, and disrepair. From neglect and abandonment. My personal journey is as an orphan. Language is something that is, while not free, an aspect of my freedom. Reading across time and space gives me solace, gives me premises upon which to exercise and exorcise my grief and my connection to the human experience. I write as a way to live, as a way to feel my existence as potentially legible to myself and others. I also deeply believe in some kind of democracy or anarchy, and in freedom of speech and press, and in the power of collective movement and in the sanctity of individual life. Language and expression are a birthright and a human right. When we can push back against the forces that would silence us and dictate how we think and what we say, I feel strongly that we must. Poets and writers are dangerous, and authoritarian regimes know that.
4. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work?
Of course, so many! But one of the most important to me has been the Korean immigrant woman poet Myung Mi Kim, whose work gave me a way in to poetry and poetics.
5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
I’m working on another poetry manuscript that is loosely focused on evolution and mass extinction, and it’s a kind of elegy, I suppose, and I have several other non-fiction book and anthology projects cooking. I am very grateful to have wonderful collaborators and it’s a great time to be a poet. I am in love with all the new, thrilling work coming out from writers of color and native writers.
Sun Yung Shin
Contributing Poetry Editor
신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin was born in Seoul, Korea, during 박 정 희 Park Chung-hee’s military dictatorship, and grew up in the Chicago area. She is the editor of the best-selling anthology A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, author of poetry collections Unbearable Splendor (finalist for the 2017 PEN USA Literary Award for Poetry, winner of the 2016 Minnesota Book Award for poetry); Rough, and Savage; and Skirt Full of Black(winner of the 2007 Asian American Literary Award for poetry), co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, and author of bilingual illustrated book for children Cooper’s Lesson. She lives in Minneapolis where she co-directs the community organization Poetry Asylum with poet Su Hwang.