Thursday, June 10, 2010

Draper Student Profile: Ji Hyuck Moon

A writer since the age of 12 (a “serious writer” since the age of 20), Draper student Ji Hyuck Moon has been relentlessly pursuing his ambition to become a successful fiction author for much of his life. This past year, he published a Science Fiction short story entitled “Chaser” on a prominent Korean website, and the story will be published as part of a larger print anthology this summer. He has also translated seven books from English into Korean. But while he has achieved a great measure of success in both the realms of fiction and translation, Ji Hyuck continues to set new goals for himself. Ultimately, he wants to write in English—to be an authentic Korean voice in American letters.

Choosing not to write fiction in one’s native language is a formidable objective, but Ji Hyuck points to one to one of his favorite authors, the Chinese-American novelist Ha Jin, as an example. (Jin began to learn English at the age of twenty, and now writes exclusively in English.) Ji Hyuck sees the switch to English composition as a creative choice as well as a practical way to break into the American literary community. “Writing in English, I can use language more as a tool,” he says. “Korean is too comfortable for me.” He favors simplicity in his work, and hopes to reduce any “surplus in [his] writing.” This, he says, will be easier to accomplish by writing in English.

Although he’s always wanted to be a fiction writer, he’s found himself involved with many other endeavors during his life. For one, there's his involvement in translation. The process to publish fiction in Korea, he explains, is rather convoluted. It’s expected that authors will win an award from a literary journal or newspaper competition before they can expect to be published in most venues. But although he was frequently a finalist in these competitions, he never won. It was dispiriting, he explains, having “no results” to show for ten years of dedicated work. So he jumped at an opportunity to translate a book from English, when a publishing agency contacted him with an offer.

After completing his BA in Korea, Ji Hyuck applied to MFA programs in the United States, but was not offered admission to any of them. He took a copy-writing job with an advertisement agency, thinking that doing any writing for a living would be better than nothing, but found the work dissatisfying. “You spend all day writing small, trivial ads which no one even looks at in the newspaper,” he explains. And so he turned back to academia, and eventually, found himself at Draper.

Although balancing his creative and scholarly work at the same time has been difficult, Ji Hyuck is now invested in both worlds. He is considering the possibility of pursuing a Ph.D. in the future, but is also continuing to write fiction. He’s recently completed another short story which will be published in a Korean mystery anthology, and is working on a novel. And while sometimes it seems like there’s too much to juggle, he always finds the time to write.

Ji Hyuck Responds to The Draper Dozen:

1. When did you start at Draper?

This is my first semester at Draper. I was admitted to Fall 2009, but I deferred one semester to graduate from my former graduate school, Korea National University of Arts.

2. Are you a full or part-time student?

Full time. Every international has to be full time student.

3. Where are you from?

Seoul, South Korea.

4. What are your primary research interests?

Asian American literature and Asian immigrant writers – Ha Jin and Chang-rae Lee would be ideal examples. Although the Asian population in the United States is increasing rapidly, their presence in literature is hardly visible. Where are they and who is speaking for them? I am curious to know what their voice is and how their voice resonates in this multi-cultural society.

5. Why did you choose to pursue an interdisciplinary degree at Draper?

After I was rejected from an NYU Ph.D program, I received a letter suggesting I consider Draper. At that time, I was totally exhausted from all the application process, so I thought it was spam mail at first. (Actually, it was in the spam mailbox.) A few days later, I read it again before emptying my spam mailbox and found it worth thinking about. I couldn’t decide what I should do, though I knew this might be the last chance for me. I hesitated for two reasons: First, Draper is Master’s program but I was already getting an MFA degree from Korea National University of Arts (KNUA). Second, I had come to mistrust the term “interdisciplinary” because my graduate major, creative writing, was also an interdisciplinary program. At KNUA it is said that students in the interdisciplinary program are “everyone’s children,” But this also means the opposite: Everyone’s children are no one’s children.

After careful consideration, I finally decided to apply to Draper. New York is a place where young writers should go and, above all, NYU was the only school that gave me a second chance. As mentioned above, I deferred one semester to graduate from KNUA, and to get married in that summer. I am still not sure that I made a right decision, but so far, I am satisfied with the courses I am taking and the atmosphere of Draper. Maybe it’s only after everything is finished that I’ll know if I made the right choice.

6. What do you plan to do after Draper?

Basically, I plan to apply another Ph.D. program in literature. If I can call that my short-term plan, my long-term plan is becoming an immigrant writer. I don’t know whether it is possible or not for now, but I’ll try and see what is next. Writing fiction and teaching students (which also means learning, of course) – that’s what I want to do not only after Draper, but also for the rest of my life.

7. Do you have any special activities or projects outside of your academic work?

I write fiction, including short stories and novels. As announced in Draper’s blog, I published a Science Fiction short story entitled Chaser on in this February and it will be published later by Minumsa in this coming fall. I also have a contract with Woongjin, a leading publishing group in Korea, to publish a collection of my short stories later this year. Currently, I am working on a novel entitled Wednesday, which is a story about Jesus’ last (and lost) Wednesday before he died.

I also translate books into Korean. The most recent translation is Elephant Faith, by Cynthia Boykin, which was published in Korea in January. So far, I have translated 6 books and my 7th book, In Quiet Light: Poems on Vermeer's Women by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, will be published later this year.

8. What do you like best about New York City?

People. Comparing with my soul city, Seoul, New York has much more diversity. You can encounter any kind of people around the corner. I like that I can’t predict who I will meet in the street at all. The same thing happens in class. The big picture made by the students who have different background and culture is fascinating.

9. What do you like least about New York City?

The smell. I have to take subway to get to NYU, but the smell of the subway stations is always hard to stand. Especially the smell after the rain – which is really unbearable. Compared to New York, the subway stations of Seoul are just like hotels.

10. If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

In Korea, my first job was a copywriter at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency. Every day I used to write short copy for advertisements. If I hadn’t quit the job to attend graduate school, I would be a workaholic copywriter. Maybe I would have a lot more things than I do now. Maybe I would have a fancy car or expensive gadgets. But would I be happier? No. I still remember the interview with Ha Jin, which made me decide to quit my job: “In life as a human being, nothing is secure. Just follow your heart.”

11. What was the last book you read for fun (not for class or research)?

Currently I am reading Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Oland, Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, and The Bridegroom by Ha Jin. These books are so great that I don’t want to finish them too fast.

12. If you could change anything about ______ [fill in the blank: New York City, the world, the economy, your hair…] what would it be and why?

My name. Ji Hyuck is my first name though there’s a space between Ji and Hyuck, but people tend to call me Ji. (Hyuck is not my middle name!) I think the space confuses them. Also, Ji Hyuck is hard to pronounce. If you want to torture or train your tongue, practice pronouncing my name repeatedly. Plus, my family name, Moon, is too weird to be a last name. When I say and spell it, most are surprising with widening their eyes and ask, “You mean the moon in the sky?” What should I do then? Mostly I reply with an awkward smile, “Yes.”

13. How do you feel about social media and which, if any, do you use most?

Social media on the internet is not very attractive to me. In my twenties, I was a big fan of, the leading Social Network Service in Korea, which is similar to Facebook. I was a heavy uploader and would write something on my mini-homepage every day – but now I don’t use as much. It’s okay for keeping in touch with old friends long distance, but definitely not good for making new friends.

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