Interview with Nicole Chung + ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW giveaway

We are thrilled to welcome Nicole Chung to the Debutante Ball this week! Nicole Chung is the author of the memoir ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW, which has been long-listed for the PEN Open Book Award and named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, NPR, The Boston Globe, TIME, Newsday, Library Journal, BuzzFeed, Real Simple, Paste Magazine, Chicago Public Library, and Seattle Public Library, among many others. Nicole’s writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, The Atlantic, Slate, Longreads, Vulture, Shondaland, and Hazlitt. She is the editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine and the former managing editor of The Toast.
Find her on her Website: nicolechung.net
Twitter: @nicole_soojung
Instagram: @nicolesoojung
ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW: What does it mean to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them?
Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hopes of giving her a better life; that forever feeling slightly out of place was simply her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as she grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth.
With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets—vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong.
Nicole is giving away a copy of ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW to one reader who shares this interview on FB or Twitter (details at the end of the post)! Thank you so much for being here!
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Devi: Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
 
NC: I am extremely happy that it’s no longer 2018. My father died a few days into 2018, and it was the hardest year. I was ready to see it end.
 
Devi: Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
NC: Oh, so many, but in terms of what I ended up doing with my life—I probably learned to love the essay form when I read E. B. White’s collected essays. Specifically, those saltwater farm pieces—I reread them a couple of times a year. I wish I wrote about anything as clearly and stirringly as he writes about brown eggs.
Devi: Where do you love to be?
 
NC: I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so I love evergreen forests, big mountains, and cool, windy, deserted beaches.
Devi: Which talent do you wish you had?
 
NC: I wish I could play a string instrument. I took cello lessons for about five minutes in elementary school and still regret not sticking with it.
Devi: What’s your secret or not-so-secret superpower?
 
NC: I can identify the episode title and plot within the first twenty seconds of any Star Trek: The Next Generation episode—sometimes all it takes is one line of dialogue—though I think of this as more of a talent than a superpower.

Devi: When you were a teenager, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
 
NC: For a while I really wanted to be an astronaut. Then I thought I’d be a journalist. For most of college, I wanted to be a history professor.
Devi: What time of day do you love best?
 
NC: I’m a total night owl. I loathe mornings with all my being.
 
Devi: The road to publication is twisty at best—tell us about some of your twists.
 
NC: A twisty thing about my road, I suppose, is that I did not actually publish my first essay until I was in my thirties. I came late to nonfiction; I never thought I’d write a memoir—growing up, and well into/after college, I wrote mostly fiction and (terrible) poems. Even after I began writing about adoption and decided that I wanted to write All You Can Ever Know—to explore the topic in book-length form, I was eventually convinced, would be the only way to do it justice—there were times when I didn’t know if I’d have the opportunity. I was very conscious of the fact that there aren’t all that many memoirs by Asian American women, and that  adoptees, especially adoptees of color, are underrepresented in mainstream adoption narratives. But I was lucky to end up with a gutsy publisher that believed in the book as much as I did, and also believed there would be an audience.
Devi: What is your advice for aspiring writers?
 
NC: I’d say “Read a lot,” but everyone says that, and I hope everyone is also doing it. I always hesitate to give writing advice, I just don’t feel qualified, but I will say I’m grateful to be a flexible writer—by which I mean I don’t need any particular conditions to write. I don’t have a preferred time of day for writing; I don’t need a certain type of music or dead silence; I don’t seek out a certain space or room or coffee shop. I can make myself write just about any time, in almost any place or circumstance, probably with a lot of background noise (thanks, kids), and over the years I’ve found this to be a real professional strength. To me it’s never made sense, the whole notion of waiting until you have time, space, focus, permission, what have you, to write—I guess because I’ve never had the luxury of all those things at once. My “advice,” then, if you want to call it that, is not to wait until you think or feel that you can write, not to hope for perfect confidence or the ideal conditions, because you might be waiting forever. The only way to get it done, ever, is to just do it.
Devi: What are the hardest and easiest things about your job?
 
NC: The hardest thing about being an editor who also writes is finding the time and energy for my own writing. It’s not difficult to be an editor if you find people’s lives and minds and obsessions interesting (which I do) and are any good at asking annoying questions (which I definitely am), so I don’t think about the work in terms of “easy” or “hard.” I used to be very nervous just jumping into someone else’s draft and making suggestions and notes and cuts; I don’t feel that trepidation now, though I do feel the weight of responsibility, every time, to the writer and their work. I love helping other writers shape their writing, figure out how to tell the stories that matter most to them. I won’t say it’s not work, because it obviously is, but I enjoy it so much that occasionally it’s still hard to believe I am paid to do this.
Devi: Do you have any phobias?
 
NC: I am sad to say that I have trypophobia. I advise you all not to google it.
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GIVEAWAY DETAILS! Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter and SHARE the interview for a chance to win ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW! For extra entries, comment on this post by Friday, Jan. 11. We’ll choose and contact the winner shortly afterwards.

“I’ve been waiting for this writer, and this book—and everything else she’ll write—and now it is here.” —Alexander Chee, national bestselling author of The Queen of the Night and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

“This book moved me to my very core. As in all her writing, Nicole Chung speaks eloquently and honestly about her own personal story, then widens her aperture to illuminate all of us. All You Can Ever Know is full of insights on race, motherhood, and family of all kinds, but what sets it apart is the compassion Chung brings to every facet of her search for identity and every person portrayed in these pages. This book should be required reading for anyone who has ever had, wanted, or found a family—which is to say, everyone.” —Celeste Ng, New York Times bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere

“Adoption is neither an incident nor a process—it is an evergreen story of lives growing and resisting simple definitions. Chung’s All You Can Ever Know takes the grammar of adoption—nouns, verbs, and direct object—and with extraordinary integrity remakes them into a narrative about what it means to be a subject. A primary document of witness, Chung writes her memoir as a transracial adoptee with honesty, wisdom, and love. Her search and what she discovers offer us life’s meaning and purpose of the very highest order.” —Min Jin Lee, author of Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko, a National Book Award Finalist.

Read excerpts of All You Can Ever Know in BuzzFeed and Longreads.

Interviews with Nicole Chung: The Daily Show with Trevor Noah | NPR Weekend Edition with Lulu Garcia-Navarro | On Point with Meghna Chakrabarti | Live Wire with Luke Burbank | NPR Code Switch | KUOW’s The Record | KERA’s Think | KCRW’s Press Play | WNYC’s All of ItThe Paris Review | The Atlantic | Longreads | NYMag/The Cut | Literary Hub | The RumpusHazlitt

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Devi Laskar

Poet, photographer, soccer mom, VONA & TheOpEdProject alum, Columbia MFA, former reporter, debut novelist!

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