Pigeon Pages Interview with Susan Choi

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Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?

When I first met my husband, he had a small parrot named Ignatz he’d inherited from a neighbor.  There’s an amazing long piece in the old New Yorker by Jane and Michael Stern about parrots, in which the Sterns describe living with a parrot as being like living with a very small, very irritable dignitary from some foreign country whose language you can’t understand.  Living with Ignatz was just like that.

What is your most memorable reading experience?

I was reading War and Peace while on vacation in a place where the tidal displacement is so extreme that at high tide, the beach vanishes, and at low tide, the water vanishes.  I would take my beach chair all the way out on the flats at low tide and read War and Peace until the water reached me, then I’d move the chair back a few yards and keep reading until the water reached me, and I’d keep doing that until the beach disappeared.

What makes you most excited about your earlier novels like American Woman or My Education?

It’s always exciting to have people react to those books with total immediacy, when I stopped dealing with them or thinking about them years ago. 

To tweet or not to tweet?

Definitely not. 

What books do you have in your bag right now?

Oreo, by Fran Ross, which I’m teaching next week;  the Lydia Davis translation of Madame Bovary;  and We the Animals, by Justin Torres, which I taught last week.

Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?

The first short story I ever published was rejected by countless journals and then accepted by Gordon Lish at The Quarterly - except then he cut literally 50% of the story, rewrote the ending, and changed the title.  So I rejected THAT, because it seemed really, really weird.  Eventually the story got published in Epoch the way I’d actually written it.

What literary journals do you love?

I spent a lot of today reading an online journal called Pleiades which I was really liking.  But reading stuff online, where you can just wander in and wander out again, has made me flaky and disloyal and I forget to return to places because I can’t even remember their names.  Pleiades was still open in a tab or I would have probably forgotten what it was. 

What shakes your tail feathers?

I took a nap today and it was the highlight of my week.

What advice do you have for fledgling writers?

Write to enjoy yourself, not to have a career.  Hopefully you’ll have a career anyway, but whatever happens at least you’ll be enjoying yourself. 

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

Weirdly, I have a note on my phone right now to buy eggs because I’m all out.  But to answer the metaphorical question, next year I’m publishing both a novel and a picture book for children, which is pretty exciting, because most years I publish no books, and next year I’ll publish two!


Susan Choi’s first novel, The Foreign Student, won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction.  Her second novel, American Woman, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize.  Her third novel, A Person of Interest, was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award.  In 2010 she was named the inaugural recipient of the PEN/W.G. Sebald Award.  Her fourth novel, My Education, received a 2014 Lammy Award.  Her fifth novel, Trust Exercise, will be published in 2019.  A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, she teaches fiction writing at Yale and lives in Brooklyn.