Pigeon Pages Interview with Crystal Hana Kim

Photo by Nina Subin.

Photo by Nina Subin.


Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?

When I was six years old, my mother and I went to the pet store, and I saw a hatchling for the first time. I remember that moment so distinctly–the baby bird lay on the counter, veiny, wet, and fragile. Eyes closed, the feathers matted. I’ve been fascinated by birth stories, in various forms, ever since.

I also have a favorite bird poem! It’s called There Is a Bird in My Mouth by Natalie Scenters-Zapico.

What is your most memorable reading experience?

I spent so much of my childhood with books. My mother would laugh and berate me for walking down sidewalks while reading, and I’d constantly trip over myself, too absorbed to even notice. One of my earliest memorable reading experiences was on Christmas Day, when I was four years old. I unwrapped my gift and it was a bright yellow Curious George book. I loved it, and something about that moment, how magical it felt to turn pages and fall into a different world, imprinted itself on my mind.  

What makes you most excited about If You Leave Me?

It’s my first book, so there’s a lot I’m excited about. So far, what I’ve loved most is hearing from readers who have felt changed by the book in some way. Readers have told me they felt seen in the depictions of motherhood, post-partum depression, Korean identity. One reader told me they reached out to their own mother after finishing my book, and some have said the book gave them the courage to ask their grandparents about their experiences with the Korean War. Those stories have been the most gratifying part of the publication experience, hands down.

To tweet or not to tweet?

Ah, to tweet. I am too earnest for twitter, but there I am anyway, scrolling through at random lulls in my day.

What books do you have in your bag right now?

So many! Hala Alyan’s Salt Houses, which I’m in love with so far. The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair. Ask me about ultramarine or gamboge or madder! I can talk about colors all day long. Jenny Xie’s Eye Level. In my other bag, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and If We Had Known by Elise Juska.

Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?

When I was in graduate school for creative writing, I would send out my short stories from time to time, and I’d receive rejection after rejection. The rejections themselves were not particularly interesting though—they were mostly anonymous, slips of papers or short emails with nicely worded but formulaic responses saying no, thank you.

What literary journals do you love?

I’d like to shout out Apogee Journal, where I’m a contributing editor. I love Guernica, Freeman’s, Tin House, and McSweeney's.. I loved the latest issue of The Paris Review, which was the first under Editor Emily Nemens’s leadership. There are also so many great online platforms like The Rumpus, Catapult, and The Millions.

What shakes your tail feathers?

Lately, I’ve been listening to folk acoustic music while writing. I dance in my seat, swaying my head and arms while I come up with lines, characters, the next scene. When I’m on the dance floor, any sort of music will get me going. My parents instilled a healthy love of karaoke in me, so I love a good power ballad.  

What else shakes my tail feathers? A beautiful sentence, a perfectly steeped cup of tea, red wine so full of tannins that my whole mouth puckers, collecting rocks, when the sky turns that deep shade of blue that stops me mid-thought, lighting matches, sleep.

What advice do you have for fledgling writers?

Believe in your work, your worth, your whole self. Write. As much as you can, whenever you can. Read and then read some more.  

What other eggs do you have in your basket right now?

I’ll be reading at The Rumpus and Pigeon Pages holiday party this week, which will be a fun way to celebrate the end of the year. Apogee Journal’s Issue 11 (our first online-only issue!) will be published soon. I’m working with some brilliant high school students right now for my day job, and they inspire me every day. I’m back in the world of my second novel, and I have some personal essay ideas brewing around in my mind. I like to keep busy, with as many eggs in my basket as possible. Speaking of eggs, have you ever eaten a quail egg? My mother used to boil them for us, a dozen at a time, and my little sister and I loved cracking open their tiny, speckled shells.


CRYSTAL HANA KIM’s debut novel If You Leave Me was named a best book of 2018 by The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Literary Hub, and ALA Booklist. It was longlisted for the Center for Fiction Novel Prize. Crystal was a 2017 PEN America Dau Short Story Prize winner and has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Hedgebrook, Jentel, among others. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, Elle Magazine, The Paris Review,Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She is a contributing editor at Apogee Journal.