Nami Mun is a Chicago-based short story writer and novelist.
Miles from Nowhere
2009 Finalist for Orange Prize for New Writers, 2010 Finalist for Asian American Literary Award, 2009 Booklist Top 10 First Novel, 2010 Semi-finalist for Tournament of Books
If you could recommend two or three books—fiction, nonfiction, drama, or poetry—to world leaders to help them gain a better understanding of America, what would they be?
My original list contained 37 books, filled with mostly the canonical works. After three hours of whittling … Miss Lonelyhearts, by Nathanael West; The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor; Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones; The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.
For their language—for their ability to make words seem larger than they are. And for their characters, whom I absolutely love, though I’d deny most of them entry to my house.
Who in your childhood—for example, parent or teacher—encouraged you to read books, and which one or two books do you remember most fondly?
My parents worked twelve hours a day, trying to make it in this new country of ours. They didn’t have the luxury of books, let alone time for the intangibles in life, such as encouragement. And I’m sure my teachers pushed me to read but I just don’t remember them doing so, which is more a statement about my faulty memory than anything else. But what I do remember distinctly is my first English-language book—Andrew Henry’s Meadow—a picture book about a boy inventor who runs away from home because his parents don’t appreciate his wacky (genius) creations. Andrew builds a home for himself at a faraway meadow and forms a community of other wayward children. As soon as I read this book, I wanted to read another. And another. A few years later I myself would run away from home, and nearly 25 years after that (long after I had forgotten about Andrew Henry) I would write a novel about a runaway who forms her own community in the underbelly of New York. I can’t help but wonder about these connections. And how, in the end, it was a book that had encouraged me to read other books, and perhaps to write one too.
Which books by writers from other countries have been most important to you as a writer?
I prefer to name authors rather than books, of which there are too many:
Chekhov (Russia), Brecht (Germany), Bruno Schulz (Poland), Younghill Kang, who paved the way for Korean American writers, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, who, although deceased, is still secretly paving.