Robert Yune was born in South Korea. He teaches at Chatham University’s MFA program (Pittsburgh campus and low-residency). His fiction has appeared in GreenMountains Review. In 2009 he received a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Learn more on his website. KR published his story “Solitude City” in the Spring 11 issue.
KR: What’s one book, contemporary or otherwise, that you wish you had written?
RY: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, but it feels strange to say I wish I’d written it. I love its scope, its sense of wonder. I really liked those “Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbooks” that were popular a few years ago. Having instinctive knowledge of how to win a swordfight or escape killer bees might come in handy, although “running away” seems like an easy enough solution. I really like Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply and Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant.
KR: Have classroom experiences (as a teacher, as a student) figured largely in your development as a writer?
RY: Yes. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t still be writing if it weren’t for Chuck Kinder, my teacher at Pitt. He was supportive and encouraging. His writing is disarming, funny, but there’s also something dangerous about it. He taught me that writing is an exploration of the wonders and mysteries of the human heart, to stay curious about the “eternal conflicts” within. That’s from his syllabus, which I still have.
My students at Pitt are great because they’re filled with energy and joy. My students at Chatham inspire me because they’re ambitious and talented in a way that almost scares me. My students at The Neighborhood Academy are dreaming big and fighting dangerous odds, but they’re doing so with a quiet courage and determination–I’ve never seen anything like it.
KR: What advice would you give yourself five years ago?
RY: If I could send a message back in time? “A Gaslit Desert of Barbarism” might be a great quote from Baudelaire describing 19th century America, but it is not a good title for your first novel. Or any novel, for that matter. Also, when you’re working as a census taker and people invite you into their house, make sure they’re wearing pants before you accept.
KR: Of all the things you could be doing, why do you write?
RY: My answer to this always changes. Right now, writing is great because all of one’s experiences, no matter how strange or beautiful or small, become useful somehow. It’s a career that rewards hard work and risk.
Writing is an act of permanence, of noticing and remembering, and I think there’s value to that. It’s also hopeful: writing assumes that people learn from their mistakes, that actions have consequences, that things happen for a reason. I know there’s value, however difficult to quantify, to that hopefulness as well.
Robert Yune was born in South Korea. He teaches at Chatham University’s MFA program (Pittsburgh campus and low-residency). His fiction has appeared in GreenMountains Review. In 2009 he received a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Learn more on his website.