My friend and fellow writer, co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, has just published her first book of poetry. Ms. Shin is also the recipient of the 2007 Bush Fellowship for poetry. If you are in the twin cities area, please come to her book reading on Tuesday,
April MAY 1 at 7 pm. at the Loft Literary Center. (Mianhamnida – SORRY I had the wrong month – good eye, Kyong!)
Sun Yung Shin was always "a huge reader" who was also intrigued by writing.
"The way I problem-solved in my life as a child was by writing things down. It wasn’t a huge part of my life, but it was satisfying when I did it," she recalls of growing up in Chicago. "At Boston University, I signed up to live in the writers’ hall, even though I wasn’t writing. And through my young adulthood, I gathered friends who were writers. I thought maybe I’d write later, when I would have something to say."
She has a lot to say in her debut poetry collection, "Skirt Full of Black."
In these poems, she uses word collages to weave together political, social and economic forces at work in the life of international adoptees, as well as the intersection of Korean and English languages and Buddhism and Christianity.
"If there is a byproduct of my poetry in terms of the adoption discourse, it would be that transnational adoption is a product of imperialism, of international war, of U.S. militarization, of Christianizing, a product of middle-class capitalist values, of reproductive injustice," she says.
Shin, who was born in South Korea, arrived in the U.S. in 1975 during the second big wave of adoptions of Asian children. She was 13 months old, part of the worldwide Korean diaspora of 6 or 7 million people, and her Caucasian parents didn’t know anything about Korea.
"They were very clear that my ethnicity was Korean and my nationality was American," Shin recalls. "That makes sense, but I would like not to have had my Korean nationality so quickly swept away."
She rarely experienced prejudice during her school years, since there were a lot of black students and faculty, and one her best friends also was adopted from Korea.
"What I did experience was a total erasure, a dearth of information about Asia and Asian history," she says. "That’s what I call the racism of my childhood, as well as racism of my family against black people, against Mexican people. Because even though I was neither black nor Mexican, I felt intuitive solidarity with other people of color. My family was not talking about me in particular when they used the ‘n’ word or locked car doors in a particular neighborhood. But I knew in some way it was about me."
Shin graduated from Macalester College in 1995 and had to find a job right away to pay off her college loans. After working in technology for companies whose clients included Pillsbury, United Health and the U.S. Navy, the dot-com bubble burst and she changed careers.
She was working toward a teaching license at the University of St. Thomas in 1998, when she took a course on adolescent literature from playwright John Fenn.
"I wrote a poem for the class that John liked," she recalls, adding that Fenn took the poem home to his partner, poet Jill Breckenridge, who encouraged Shin to keep writing.
"I had never thought of writing poetry. I never read poetry. But once I started, I was addicted," Shin says. "At Macalester, I was poetry editor, by default, of the campus literary magazine. I thought a lot of student poetry was not very good and that I could write something better, with fewer cliches and more arresting images."
In 2001-2002, Shin was in the SASE: The Write Place mentor program with Minnesota poet Mark Nowak. She was also mentored by Wang Ping through the Loft’s program.
"I was impressed with the intellectual and experimental quality of her work," Wang Ping says of Shin. "She was already a mature poet."
When Shin asked Coffee House about publishing her poetry, she was told the schedule was full until 2008. But when she submitted her manuscript, senior editor Chris Fischbach was so impressed he found a place for "Skirt Full of Black." Now that her book is out, Shin can concentrate on her trip to Korea in August. She has been to South Korea twice, and this time she hopes to travel in the north.
Shin has not tried to find her biological parents in Korea, and she pauses when she’s asked why not, as though she has been asked this many times.
"It’s such a complicated question. It’s hard to communicate it to someone who is not adopted. Things tend to sound trite," she replies. "I will say that I experience my adoption as a violent trauma and the central experience of my life."