Exclusive Interview with Author Annie Choi

Annie Choi

By Michelle Xia

Lover of skivvies and animals, Annie Choi is a young rising author who is rather unique. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Choi grew up in a rather Korean cultured family. Annie Choi was faced with cultural hardships when American customs were different from her mother’s old Korean customs. All the mishaps and situations that were spurred up from this conflict were compiled into short anecdotes in Annie Choi’s first novel, “Happy Birthday or Whatever.” Everything from her first B in a grade school spelling test to holy home makeovers, Choi has covered in her sidesplitting and playful book. In her next book, “Shut Up, You’re Welcome” she explores the mindboggling, disappointing, and aggravating topics. For example, the unforgettable essential package misplacement during the holiday break. Annie Choi’s books dig into her personal narratives to share her past happenings and search to find her identity by juggling her Korean and American roots.

Annie Choi

AsianinNY had the privilege to have an exclusive interview with Annie Choi, who now resides at New York.

1. Tell us about your background. What is your childhood story?

Both my parents were born and raised in Seoul and immigrated to California in 1971. They were the first in the family to move to the States, and at the time there weren’t a lot of Koreans in Los Angeles. Now, I can’t even imagine Los Angeles without Koreans. My grandmother in Seoul would ship food to my parents every month. She’d entomb a jar of kimchi so it wouldn’t leak, kind of like those Russian nesting dolls, except stinkier. (This reminds me of the time when my friend took kimchi on an airplane and it spilled everywhere. You can imagine the rest of the story.) My brother and I were both born here. Later, most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins moved over. I have a big, loud, obnoxious family and a lot of my childhood experiences come from having this big, loud, obnoxious family. My cousin just got married and all of us stormed the dance floor during “Gangnam Style” and it looked like a Korean flash mob. Everyone was dancing around, pretending to ride a horse. I doubt any of them had ever ridden a horse before.

2. What did you want to be when you grow up? Why?

I wanted to be a vet. I love animals–still do. I particularly love animals that eat other animals. I mean, penguins are cute or whatever, sure, but you know what’s even better? A killer whale that swings a seal around until it dies. I’m sure I would’ve been a great vet, but my parents discouraged me–Why be a doctor for animals when you can be a doctor for people? My father believes animals don’t need doctors.

3. What made you decide to write your narratives?

It actually started as a professional development. I had a job and my boss recommended that I take a writing class, so I enrolled in a memoir writing class. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I had a lot of fun. So I just kept going. Writing is a socially acceptable outlet for my constant feelings of outrage and disbelief. Also, I enjoy complaining. I find that I’m really good at it.

4. Why did you specifically choose to share your story as an Asian American to the world? Was there a specific intention or message you’re trying to bring forth?

I see it less as sharing the Asian American experience and more as sharing the Choi experience, which, of course, is rooted in immigrant life. I tell specific stories that are unique to me (I mean, how many fathers out there gold-plate every object in their house?), but I touch on common themes and feelings that everyone can relate to too (like that are-you-kidding-me-Dad-you-are-killing-me feeling). I didn’t have any intention other than to connect and explore the complicated interactions that people have with each other.

5. Your books are actually a required reading for a college “Contemp. Asian American Literature” course. Do you feel that your novels portray modern Asian Americans well?

I think my books do portray the Asian American experience, but I think they also portray the modern immigrant experience too. It is the experience of growing up with stubborn people with high expectations and standards and hilariously restrictive, yet has hypocritical world views.

6. What is your inspiration?

I find that it’s easier for me to write when I’m annoyed at something. I like to explore why something sucks.

7. Where do you hope to see yourself 5 years from now?

I love writing rants and essays and will continue doing that. I don’t have a set plan of where I think my career should be. I’m just happy to keep doing what I’m doing and see where I go next.

8. I noticed that in your first book, Happy Birthday or Whatever, you noticed the similarity between your personality and your mothers (ex. your mother trying to throw away your stuffed animals and then you trying to throw away your mother’s holy figurines), what is your response to that realization?

I think it’s inevitable that children end up taking after their parents in some way. You spend so much of your childhood and young adult life rebelling that you fool yourself into thinking you’re different, but really, you’re not. When your parents argue with each other and ask, “Where did she get that from?” they blame each other.

9. There are not a lot of Asians who are very popular in American literature. The literature career path is not favorable in general. So, what advice would you give aspiring Asian American young adults who have a passion to write?

My advice is to write, keep writing, and always make the time to write. Tell your parents that if they want a doctor in the family, maybe they should go to med school themselves. My parents are still skeptical of this writing business and I don’t think it’ll ever go away. Last week my mother asked if I was “done” with writing books, as if it’s something you just finish, like eating lunch. Like oh, this salad was great, I guess I’ll go die now.

10. Since writing is a never-ending revision process, is there anything in the two novels you have written that you would like to change/revise?

I don’t look back on my writing and think of changes. If I analyzed every piece I’ve written, I’d find endless number of paragraphs where I could add another joke or another line or another scene. It’s a losing game. So I think of what I can improve for the next one: new ideas, new jokes, different perspectives on a common experience, or new ways to make fun of myself. I have good material.

“Happy Birthday or Whatever” and “Shut Up, You’re Welcome” are lighthearted, entertaining books that are a must read. Get your copy today at your local bookstore!

Annie Choi


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