Nicole Chung's Memoir on Growing up an Adopted Korean American
You may have known Nicole Chung as the managing editor of The Toast before the quirky humor and feminist writing website closed. But she’s still doing what she’s best at - she’s currently Editor-in-chief at Catapult and just published a book, All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir, available on Amazon.
Chung was managing editor of The Toast for two years and has written for The New York Times, Buzzfeed, Hazlitt, The Atlantic, ELLE and other publications. She has covered a variety of topics, including her experience as an Asian American adoptee to a white family, casual racism, reflections on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s loss in the presidential election and more.
“I miss The Toast,” Chung said. “I will never forget working with Nicole Cliffe and Mallory Ortberg. It was a special experience working for that site.”
Now, Chung has a book. Chung, who is Korean American, has written many essays on race and adoption in the past. The book focuses on her reunion with her Korean birth family, which coincided with the birth of her first child, and includes her experiences growing up adopted and the reunion’s aftermath.
There are stories told from adopted parents’ perspectives and told from a very white perspective about America,” Chung said. “There’s a lot more education and discussion than there used to me, but you don’t often hear the adoptee perspective. I want to make sure it’s out there.”
Her work does not come without challenges. One is knowing when to set boundaries between home and work. Another is social media. Chung often uses social media to stay connected with writers and editors.
But as a woman of color, sometimes people call her racial slurs on Twitter.
“Anytime I write on topics like race, most people say it’s really great, but five to twenty percent say it’s wrong,” Chung said. “It’s a challenge to figure out how to deal with it. I have coping mechanisms like stepping away for a whole weekend and finding ways to put that into perspective.”
However, the benefits of social media outweigh the negatives for Chung, especially since she has been able to make friends with people from a variety of backgrounds through Twitter. Chung’s childhood hero, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, even shared an article Chung wrote about her.
Chung’s favorite piece, “What I Learned From Kristi Yamaguchi,” was published in the New York Times Magazine in which Chung reflects on seeing the Japanese American skater win the gold medal in the 1992 Winter Olympics and how much it meant to her.
“It was the first time I saw anyone who looked like me on the national spotlight,” Chung said.
As a child, Yamaguchi was a hero to her, and to this day, Chung still remains a huge fan of Yamaguchi. Not only was the piece well-received, Yamaguchi herself shared it on Twitter, saying, “It's now come full circle with you inspiring others. Thank you.”
Yamaguchi’s costume designer even chatted with Chung, sharing memories leading up to the Olympics. The designer still had fabric scraps of Yamaguchi’s iconic black and gold sequined costume and she sent them to Chung. The scraps are special to Chung, and she uses one of the scraps as a bookmark.
“It was really nice to have that to show my kids,” Chung said. “You don’t usually get souvenirs from what you’ve published. To write the essay and see the reception was amazing.”
While Chung loves writing, she considers herself an editor at heart. She enjoys working with writers to figure out ways of telling their stories and making them feel less alone in the process.
To aspiring writers, Chung says it’s important to read widely and be familiar with the publication they pitch to. She also says to follow editors on social media and observe what they’re publishing.
“Remember who you enjoyed working with,” Chung said. “Don’t waste your time with people who don’t respect your work. Send your work to people you trust with it. […] Follow what they’re publishing and find the holes in storytelling.”
Photo from Instagram