Sun Yung Shin 신 선 영 is the editor of A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, the author of poetry collections Unbearable Splendor, Rough, and Savage, and Skirt Full of Black (all from Coffee House Press). She is a co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption and the author of bilingual illustrated book for children Cooper’s Lesson.
Literary Juice: When did you first realize you wanted to be a poet? Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?
Sun Yung Shin: I wrote a poem in graduate school; I was getting my teaching license. It was a response to an assignment in an education course. The poem was kind of an imagistic lyric that included a goldfish! My professor and his wife were very encouraging and then from there I started reading poetry and writing poetry and fell in love with it.
LJ: You were originally born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised by a Polish-Irish-German Catholic American family in Chicago, according to your biography. How has your background influenced your identity as a poet?
SYS: A major strand that influences my identity as a poet is being an immigrant. I have always been more or less on the outside of the nationalistic discourse of who and what America has been. For example, going to the bookstore or the public library and going to the “Asian History” or “Asia” shelf, “Korea” might have half a shelf and most of the books, up until recently would have been Korean War books written from a white U.S. military perspective. There are more books now, but very few that are translated from Korean, if any, in any mainstream book space.
LJ: Do you tend to incorporate a constant theme in your poetry? Why is that theme important to you?
SYS: Metal is an important motif in my poetry, that is something that came out unconsciously early on and I haven’t been able to suppress it; it is a major medium, a language, of human innovation and evolution--which includes wealth and war and mechanization.
LJ: What do you hope to inspire in others through your poetry?
SYS: I suppose if anything I would hope to inspire, or at least share my love of language as well as share my own perspective, my “subjectivity,” which doesn’t exist anywhere else in American culture. The values that are important to me are freedom of speech and ideas, freedom of the press, democracy, feminism, peace-building through justice building, and liberation, in particular of girls and women; but really anyone who is a victim of systematized, historical oppression and marginalization. But I also don’t want art to be propaganda. Just exploring the complexities of the human condition honestly is an act of freedom and an affirmation of the individual. I guess I would also like to honor the collective aspect of life and human solidarity... and explore how we are interdependent, and not just human beings, but all life forms and matter, if at all possible. That all sounds lofty, but I think when it comes down to it all artists need to follow their curiosity and try to do their best work and also understand that all work is political in nature...
LJ: Recently, you have published a collection of essays called, A Good Time for Truth, which includes contributions from sixteen writers from Minnesota. Alexs Pate, author and president, Innocent Technologies, LLC, states, “You will not be able to read this book without changing. Minnesota will never be the same.” Can you tell us a little bit about this book? Also, what did you look for in a contributor before publication?
SYS: I was very frustrated with, and anguished by, all of the discourse around race in Minnesota being mostly by white media and white speakers with other white speakers. Those impacted the most brutally were not at the table of these conversations, and not at the leadership tables of so many major institutions in Minnesota. I was certainly inspired to increased urgency by the ongoing, and now highly and instantaneously recorded and visible, epidemic of violence against black and brown bodies--people. I knew that many amazing writers of color had things to say that all Minnesotans could benefit from; I am a believer in anthologies because I believe my first (co-)edited anthology, Outsiders Within, has had a positive impact internationally on the racial and transnational politics of transracial adoption. I myself have benefited from reading many anthologies that have helped me grow politically--especially in understanding the concepts of intersectionality and global feminism.
What I looked for in a contributor was mostly someone who has been writing smartly and boldly about race for years, someone who has been dedicated to telling the truth about racism even though there’s a cost. They also had to be terrific artists (writers) and be able to bring all kinds of readers in through the power and nuance of their language--imagery, metaphor, etc. (a lot of the writers are poets first). They had to be authentic, they had to be fearless, and they had to be committed to making the world a better place. And I found them. I am so happy, and grateful, and lucky to work with these amazing people.
LJ: Are you currently working on any new books? What can we look forward to in the future?
SYS: I am. My next book comes out in October 2016 from Coffee House Press. It’s a book of essays, fiction, and poems titled Unbearable Splendor. One of the major themes I explore in it is the politics of hospitality. In the book are all kinds of things: The Odyssey, cyborgs, Blade Runner, the Minotaur of Crete, Pinocchio, clones, and all manner of fun things!
I may also be working on a book about clones as well as new poems loosely based on the figure of Blake’s Tyger. I also want to write a book set in the future--maybe with zombies or cyborgs or both.
Collection by Sun Yung Shin
Publisher: Coffee House Press
About this Book: "Sun Yung Shin moves ideas—of identity (Korean, American, adoptee, mother, Catholic, Buddhist) and interest (mythology, science fiction, Sophocles)— around like building blocks, forming and
reforming new constructions of what it means to be at home."