When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park + Author interview [in AsianWeek]
Although Linda Sue Park was just 9 when her work was first published – a haiku for a children’s magazine – it would be almost three decades before she attempted her first book. “My husband told me he was tired of hearing about my writing a book, why didn’t I just do it?” Park recollects. So she took up his challenge in the summer of 1997, and the result was her 1999 debut, Seesaw Girl, a young adult historical novel about an aristocratic girl growing up in 17th-century Korea.
The Kite Fighters followed in 2000, a story about two brothers in 15th-century Korea who compete in the New Year’s kite competition while secretly representing the boy-King. Then her 2001 title, A Single Shard, about a young orphan boy in 13th-century Korea who becomes an acerbic master potter’s apprentice, won the top honor in children’s literature — the coveted John Newbery Medal for 2002.
Park became the first Korean American, and the second-only Asian Pacific American, to win the award; Dhan Gopal Mukerji won in 1928 for Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. Park’s latest title, When My Name was Keoko, which debuted this spring, is about a young girl who lives through the Japanese occupation of her Korean homeland.
AsianWeek: What was your first reaction upon hearing you won?
Linda Sue Park: I was in my kitchen when I got the call. My first reaction was disbelief. I had to ask the woman to repeat what she had said a couple times before I could believe I had won.
AW: So what’s life been like since winning the Newbery?
LSP: My daily life has changed very dramatically. I used to sit at a computer for three to four hours a day and write, and maybe travel every couple months. But since winning, I’ve been traveling a great deal – a couple weeks every month, depending on the month. Which means I’m writing, but I’m writing speeches and presentations instead of fiction. It’s been a big adjustment. But it’s also been just wonderful and fun; I’ve been meeting so many great people.
AW: I notice you have various English literature degrees from schools in California, Dublin, and London. How did you go from academia to writing young adult titles?
LSP: I suppose it’s a sort of hallmark of my career that I never really thought anything through. There was no master plan [laughs]. Part of that was because I had my first child at 25, so I didn’t have the chance to set up the career thing first. Three-and-a-half years later, I had my second child. That’s what I did for many years – be a mom.
For me, writing was a matter of timing. When I started in 1997, my kids were grown and more independent. As for how I came to write for young people, again, I didn’t have a grand plan. I had a story in my head, and I just sat down and wrote. I thought it might be a picture book, but it got even longer. So I thought it might be a short story for adults, but it [kept getting] longer. When it was done, I realized I had a young adult novel [Seesaw Girl]. …[click here for more]
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult