Meet Emma Choi
Written by K.L. Kranes
Talking with 18-year-old Emma Choi of Vienna, Virginia feels a bit like jumping into an episode of Gilmore Girls. If you are unfamiliar with the iconic TV show, it is about two fast-talking ladies who throw around references to things like pop culture, philosophy and books so quickly even the best viewers can’t catch them all.
During our phone interview, Emma’s words and ideas swirl so fast in my ear my nimble little typing fingers can barely keep up. When she starts listing off her writing resume, I have to ask her to stop and repeat. The list is long, especially for someone so young.
- An off-Broadway play performed in New York. Two plays performed at DC’s Capital Fringe Fest, one of which one the “best of ” week.
- Gold and silver medal winner of the American Voices Award for Poetry.
- Commended Foyle Young Poet.
- Winner National Young Arts Foundation Honorable Mention.
- Winner Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Young Creator Contest.
During our interview, I quip that Emma is quite the overachiever. But Emma doesn’t agree.
“I’ve never thought about it as being an overachiever. I do a lot of contests because I want to challenge myself,” Emma explains.
In fact, Emma is very humble when it comes to her writing. Whenever my questions turn to her achievements, her voice leaps from overdrive to hyper-speed and she quickly tries to change the topic. Emma is much more comfortable talking about literature, her writing process or diversity in books.
Perhaps this is because Emma has a writer’s soul. She understands a writer’s purpose isn’t to shine the light on herself but to shine it on the truth. Uncovering truth is one of the reasons Emma plans to major in writing in college despite the well-known struggles that scare many writers into safer academic pursuits.
“A lot of people frown on me when I tell them I want to be a writer,” Emma says. “They don’t realize the impact of writers on the world. Science changes but certain truths in writing always stay the same. I think writers show others their own subjective truths in the hope that it’ll resonate with someone else.”
For Emma, writing helps her process her emotions and sort through the complicated layers of the world. She focuses on discovering her own truths, particularly what it means to be an Asian American. Emma struggles with straddling the culture of her family’s Korean past with the culture of their Western present.
“It’s like being a child of two worlds and not really belonging to one,” she explains.
Growing up, literature did little to help Emma make sense of her identity, if anything it further complicated her search.
“As a reader I grew up on the classics and so many of the classics are by white men. I’m trying to reconcile how can my influences be who they are if I am who I am,” Emma says.
It is not surprising Emma views the recent focus on diverse women writers as an important shift in the literary world. She looks up to writers like Roxane Gay and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who help bring diverse female voices to the forefront. Emma hopes to add her voice to the chorus one day. However, perhaps not in the way most people expect.
“It’s a great time to be an Asian-American and a woman writer. People really care and want to hear about your experience,” Emma says. “But with that kind of attention comes expectations about the kind of work you put out.”
As a minority, Emma explains, writing can become a vicious circle where simply by writing about not wanting to be defined by race, a writer ends up being defined by race. Emma doesn’t want to be, “stuck in a box by people who want you to write about being stuck in a box.” Emma wants to be outside the box. She wants to define the box, regardless of sex or race or ethnicity.
“I don’t want to be one of the best women or Asian-American writers. I want to be one of the great writers. Period,” she says.
This is not surprising coming from a young woman who started an underground satirical newspaper at her high school after being denied permission at every level of county administration. Determined, hard-working and driven, Emma is one of only two students at her high school to be accepted to Harvard, which is another accolade she tries to slip in at Gilmore Girl speed.
If Emma had a motto, it would be ‘don’t stop’.
“I tend to barrel headfirst into things and I don’t stop until I’m done. Resilience is one thing I like to pride myself on,” Emma explains.
That said, Emma has no plans to overlook the importance of diversity. She feels writing about diverse topics drives forward acceptance and awareness and she wants to be part of that movement.
“I made a pact with myself to make all my characters a person of color or a woman,” she explains.
It is very likely Emma’s social awareness, drive for self-improvement and search for truth may just be the perfect combination for success as a professional author.
“I love that writing lets me be in a space with no rules— where I can experiment and play with language in ways I wouldn’t normally,” she says.
She certainly already sounds like one.
K.L. Kranes is a blogger and author of young adult novels. Her debut novel, The Travelers, was published in 2016 by Saguaro Books, LLC. See more from K.L. at www.klkranes.com/blog.