Suki Kim

How did you become a writer?

I don't think I became a writer. I feel that I was always one because I remember writing little stories even as a little girl. But I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 13 and did not speak a word of English. So that presented a problem for many years. But despite all that, I ended up writing. It was never a choice.


Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

It's difficult to name influences since they change all the time. For a long time I was influenced by films. I loved Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad and Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating because those films questioned time and space and challenged my thought process. I loved early Tarkovsky films for the same reasons. For a while, I loved reading Joan Didion because I was a 28 year old New Yorker when I first read her essay, "Goodbye to All That" which was about being 28 and in New York and crying all the time, and I felt like I was her. I loved some of the modern Japanese mystery novels because they made me think about the great puzzle of solving plots. I loved Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go because for me, his characters feel truly alive, and I admire that. But these influences all seem to pass, and I get over them. Currently, nothing moves me, and I am a bit worried about that. 


When and where do you write?

Generally, I write at home, but it really does not matter where. When I write well, I could write on a subway. When I do not write well, I could be given a quiet cabin in New Hampshire for a month and not produce a word. It's all in my mind.


What are you working on now?

I have spent the past few months answering emails… and repeating the same information about my newly released book for all the media network. But this is the glorious part of post publication where I have an excuse to not write. We are always procrastinating, and right now I have an excuse.


Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Of course; my second book took 11 years.


What’s your advice to new writers?

Giving advice makes me feel like an old person, so I refrain from that because in my heart, I am still the 13 year old girl who came to this country without a word of English and feel overwhelmed with everything. I could however relate an advice from a bigger writer, now deceased Doris Lessing who made a great impression on me when I, as a young writer, went to watch her speak at the 92nd Y. She said -- probably not her exact words -- Writing should be hard. If it is easy, be suspicious. It's the hardest thing in the world, and it should be if it's any good. Now that I am no longer a young writer, I see that she spoke the truth.

 

Suki Kim's first novel, The Interpreter, was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Prize. She is the recipient of Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Open Society fellowships. She has been traveling to North Korea as a journalist since 2002, and her essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, Harper’sand the New York Review of Books. Born and raised in Seoul, she lives in New York. Without You, There is No US: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite, a book of investigative memoir, is her second book.