March 30, 2020
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In Conversation: Discussing Writing From Your Culture & Diaspora With June Hur [CC]

welcome back to In Conversation this
is a new series that I’m doing featuring different writers that I have
conversations with about a certain topic and of course because this is a conversation
you can get involved at any time in the comments and today we’re talking all
about the experience of being a diaspora writer and I’m here with June Hur who I
will let introduce herself now. Hi my name is June and I’m the author of THE
SILENCE OF BONES which is coming out on April 21st 2020 and it’s set in Joseon
dynasty Korea so 1800s Korea and it’s about an indentured servant named Seol who
must assist a young inspector in solving the murder of a noblewoman
but there’s more to the case then we see wonderful it’s such a perfect pitch
you’re probably like very used to doing your pitch by now and I’m gonna
link all that information will be linked below so in case people are interested which
hopefully they are, you should add her book to Goodreads so we’re gonna talk
about being a diaspora writer and so I thought I would define that very quickly
for everyone so that you can know what the hell we’re talking about here so
diaspora is a term is really for the movement of any people away from their
place of origin to different parts of the world it’s become used I guess I
would say more colloquially as writers that are talking about that are writing
about cultural experiences that are their culture but they may not have
necessarily grown up in the place where that culture is from and then they have
a mix of culture from like their home or origin country where a lot of their
family or ancestors are from and then they also have the culture from where
they grew up and where they’re living currently. Is there anything you would add to that? [June: that
was a great definition] Perfect okay can you provide an introduction of a
little bit of your cultural background history. Yeah sure, so I’m I was born in
South Korea and that’s where my parents and my ancestors were all from
and then when I was a baby I don’t know how old that was but my dad wanted to go
study in the States so all of us went it was just my mom my dad and I we moved to
the States and we lived in Michigan for a few years and that’s where my sister
was born and then we moved to Canada when I was like like just a few years
old still like maybe five or six and then I lived in Canada until I was in
high school and that’s when we oh yeah and my brother was born too, I forgot,
in Canada but anyways in high school we all relocated back to Korea and I went into
the Korean public school system so it was all Korean there all the tests were
in Korean I had to speak Korean and then after high school I failed so miserably in
the Korean high school um had to come back to Canada
retake high school and then I went to university and I’ve been living here
ever since and my siblings as well, my parents decide to stay in Korea though
but they teach there yeah so I’m South Korean and yeah I would say I’m 1.5 gen
so basically the first gen is like people who lived and were raised there
and then second gen are like Koreans who identify more with like the Western
culture like more as like a Canadian or an American but I’m like in the middle
where I identify with strongly with very Korean values but I’m but I feel at home
in Canada in a way because I don’t know Korean as well as English so I’m right
in the middle yeah. That’s an interesting experience because you were born there and went back which is also like very different too. Wow I was gonna say how was
that experience besides failing high school. Oh my gosh
so so I remember when I was like because of writing I survived like basically
school would begin at around 8 a.m. and end at 10 p.m. because we’d be kept
after school to self-study so all the students would have studied from like 5
until 10 that’s when I would just write and even in during classes I would write
because I had no idea what the teacher was talking about I only did well in
English because I wasn’t English but I never got perfect because the
questions on the test were in Korean I’m yeah other than that like the like I
learned so much about like my roots and I like one of my favourite memories of
school and like friendships built in school were from the Korean school
system because you’re stuck with your friends like from morning until night
[Liselle: that long?] yeah so we were like basically family so yeah. Yeah such an
interesting experience and I didn’t know any of that about you [June: now you know] yeah it’s always kind of an interesting experience because sometimes
people that are like diaspora writers don’t really go like to the country where
their culture is from I’ve only been so my family is from Trinidad I always say
Trinidad it’s Trinidad and Tobago we’re from the Trinidad section so
I always just say that, anyway but my family are from there so my grandparents are on my
both well not just my mom side yeah they’re both from there and so they came
they had my mom, well they had her in Canada so she was born in
Winnipeg so my mom was first is that first or second second generation yeah
and so then I was born in Canada so I’m third generation I’ve actually been once
when I was five that was traumatic because the family I stayed with didn’t like us [June: oh that’s so tough] so
then I haven’t been back since but because in Canada my family
participates so heavily in the culture like all the food and yeah-yeah Caribana
which is like the Caribbean festival in Toronto all the time so I’m very
involved in the culture but I’ve only gone the one time and so I have like
very vague memories. [June: that’s really interesting] it’s yeah it’s a really interesting
experience that you’ve gone during a time when you could like more clearly
remember because when you’re little I’m like how much [June: no idea] do you remember and
there’s all the nuances of like being part of a culture that you miss when
you’re a little kid and notice more when you’re a teenager or an adult so
that’s really interesting I’m sure I’ll go back at some point during my adulthood [June: have a better experience I hope] yeah I think I would just not stay with family a lot except for one side of the
family okay like there’s one side on the other side, on one side it’s not good, and one side was good, so I would just [June: stay on the other side] yeah yeah visit the other side every once in
a while but not stay with them. How do you approach writing about your cultural experiences like in
terms of like research and how you get inspired to write stories from that
perspective? So like I mentioned I’m 1.5 gen and so I and like you said like when
your community has very has strong roots in a certain culture you end up like it
and it ends up becoming a part of you even whether or not you visit your
homeland often or not and so I grew up in a very Korean community and and then
I went to Korea and I was able to like experience the Korean culture like in a
immersive way and so it was a really interesting exchange was I actually
avoided writing a Korean historical for most of my life because I just didn’t
think Korea’s past was relevant to me but then when I was researching to write
about my book I realized like it was like there were
moments when I felt like I was looking at a mirror and seeing myself in Koreans
in Korea’s history and that’s when it really hit me that like I had no idea
but a lot of what I believe in and what I value takes root in Korea’s past and
so researching about the Korean experience and just mean overall Korea’s
past helped me realize like more about myself and so when I was writing I felt
like I could be myself more because I used to write British historicals before
and I felt like I was like restraining myself and I feel like I’d write
something really but I don’t think people in the Victorian era like felt
and thought this way but with Korean history like I I felt I could just
express more of what like more of the things I believed in like things like
filial piety it’s it’s such a strong like element to Korean history but also
to our present and so I did research a lot of research but another part of it
was just realizing like I have that lived experience and that in itself
played a big role in capturing the Korean experience and the culture but
yeah like the research was really difficult because there aren’t like
there are a lot of resources out there but when it comes to very niche details
it’s very difficult to find an English like scholarly article on it for example
for my second book it’s set in Jeju Island [Liselle: which you went to] yeah I went
there the interesting thing is Jeju Island
right now is considered the Hawaii of Korea but in the past it was considered
the island for like political convicts and so it’s even more difficult to find
out like you know how people live back then because there wasn’t as much
documentation and so I and so that’s when like storytelling becomes very
important because my dad grew up in Jeju and so I could ask him
you know like what was it like living there what did you eat how do you spend
your time and then I kind of from there I just kind of make educational occasional
guesses of like oh maybe people like you know 200 300 years ago maybe they did
something similar like they needed to collect wood like my dad and so they
went there and to this other place and maybe like they eat the same food and
you know so on. Yeah exactly family members can like suddenly become
this gigantic resource when you suddenly want to know stuff about [June, yeah can you please talk to
me] yeah cause then you’re like I actually don’t know this and I can’t find it on the
Internet and you’re like right I have family
members who’ve grown up this way I’ve never thought to ask them about stuff but then
suddenly they become like this very big resource like – I can’t do
historical because I can’t research that that much — but mine is an urban fantasy set with a Canadian family that have Trinidad roots and culture and all of that and I have a
scene of her ancestor and her ancestor is a slave and she’s working in a sugar
cane field and I’m writing a scene where the sugarcane is burning and I realize I
have no idea what that smells like and I like all right, my grandma
said she was visiting at the time, and I said what does a rotting sugarcane smell
like and she was like oh yeah it smells like sour vinegar she just like knew
right off the bat and she’s like and then she came out like unprompted
and said you know they used to like burn between during the sugarcane to get rid
of like pests and insects and stuff like that and I was like that’s a really cool
detail that I even know and now I know that and I’ve started trying to like
piece together a bit more family history to see you know what else I could be
we’re incorporating and now it’s like the family member the aunt that just sent me
memes on Facebook all the time like hey do you know anything can you
tell me about your past, my mom is like this is the relative that knows
everything, and I was like aha well she just sends me memes and I contacted her and she knew all of this stuff that I could have never known, like I don’t really, I think on average a lot of people don’t think to ask their
family about their history until it becomes salient and necessary. I was I was actually
thinking a lot about this am I am talking with other people with an immigrant
background and I don’t know if you experienced this as well but I find that
like growing up not just my parents but I’ve heard other people say their
parents as well like they don’t really talk about their homeland they don’t
they don’t just like randomly share like oh like when I was growing up like this
and this happened so I actually grew up knowing almost nothing about what my
parents life in Korea was like or like how you know just Korea general is
like, they never told me about Korea’s history or anything like that and so I
think starting from there there was like that disconnect like because they didn’t
tell me about it so I never felt like actually connected to it even though I I
was the community and I’ve heard other people share similar stories and I just
thought that was like really interesting yeah mine is the same because I decided
to do like a family tree and try and like gather up some more of this history and
my mom like has no idea what my grandparents names are like my
great-grandparents on my grandpa’s side we have no idea what any of them are. I don’t
know what he did in Trinidad growing up, all I know is he had like 10 siblings [June: I think I only know that too] yeah and they’re
like all almost left much all of them have left Trinidad but he never like sits
down and tells a story but there will be things where I learned about later so
like he got this plastic spider and my grandpa chased me with it
and he called it Linlu but he also talked about Anansi and I didn’t think
anything of it and then later I learned that there’s this whole
like Caribbean folklore about Anansi spider and like stuff like that were
later on and I realized that it was a cultural thing [June: but it didn’t click] yeah but I had no idea and he never really says anything unless he’s like worked up and
passionate about something yeah like when he randomly told us uh that
our family originated from a tribe in Africa that was called Samburu in Kenya
and that was all, he never elaborated and at the time I was just like okay cool but
I’m like oh my gosh I gotta go find him and I gotta piece together this because like slaves came
from the west side of Africa and Kenya’s in the east and so now I’m like what
happened. Oh wow that sounds like a fascinating story to check. But it’s true
he never just said stories about Trinidad my grandma doesn’t do that
after it just kind of felt like everybody’s just not talking about it. I don’t know what
it is about like like crossing over to another country that just for not
everyone but I’m sure but like for a lot of us it just disconnects the stories and we end up like growing up thinking we’re like this lone Island and
connected to like another country with them I think as we grow older we realize
like it’s like almost like a mystery we’re solving like everything starts
connecting like Oh like I see routes connecting to this other land I’ve
really been to but like you’re more connected than you think kind of thing.
Absolutely and I think it’s really common like what you were talking about
earlier where you’re a writer and you don’t write about your own culture for a
while because it feels kind of disconnected like for me in some ways it
was I wasn’t sure that I was qualified [June: ah same] but I don’t know who would have made
me qualified cause I wasn’t sure even though you’re living day in and day out you know you’re
connecting to your culture in different ways like for us it was always food my
grandpa cooked all time and my grandma my maternal grandma cooks sometimes and
that was kind of the big connection and again there was this weird issue where I
didn’t really write about being Trinidadian at all because it seemed kind of odd
to do it and just wrote stories about like Canada. Yeah I just wrote about
Britain. We are technically a British colony so close enough.
Oh what advice would you give to diaspora writers? So one of, like to just
give background context in Korean the word for diaspora is ‘kyopo’ and
historically it has a very negative connotation but it just means a Korean
who doesn’t live in Korea and who has lost their Korean roots and so for me my
advice is consider writing about your culture like you’re reclaiming ownership
over it and like you said it’s like when we’re writing about our culture we’re
learning about it there’s so much I learned myself about Korean history actually
knew almost nothing about Korean history except what you know I’d briefly hear in
school when I was awake. and what I’d see on TV that was basically
the entire sum of my knowledge but I learned so much and like I mentioned
like I felt like I was able to understand myself better and so I feel
like I was able to reclaim the culture in that way by studying the history so
you know take ownership by learning by discovering by examining the you know
even the pros and cons of your culture and understanding it better. And so I
feel like my advice is instead of focusing so much on the terror because
there will be terror and there will be you know I hope not but they’re often will
be people who will you know question your right to write
about your homeland and your culture so instead of focusing on that I think it’s
so important to feel empowered and to consider writing like I said as an act
of taking ownership of a place where it may be for so long you felt disconnected
from and a place you felt like you didn’t belong to and so that’s what I
personally learned through my own experience and that is my advice to
other diaspora writers. Yeah I think that’s perfect advice advice all of that
that’s awesome and yeah really like you said taking ownership and also giving
yourself permission to write it so in addition if you’re in a state where
you’re like ah I don’t know if I can write it because it’s your culture it
belongs to you in some way and you have the right to take ownership of that and
to explore that because you will learn a lot about yourself and it’s really
worthwhile I think there are a lot of things that you can get out of writing
that experience that you may not necessarily writing outside of it it’s a
different sort of experience doing both yeah so thank you so much for joining me
June and where can people find you on social media? Follow me on WriterJuneHur on Twitter or JuneHurWrites on Instagram and I you know love to talk
more about the diaspora experience and if you’re a diaspora author so I’d love to
connect and chat more about it and learn more about what you’re working on
perfect and I’m gonna link that all below and June is great she like on her Instagram will
post like like when you go on trips to Korea you’ll post about stuff like that
you have like quotes and stuff from your book and all sorts of information on
Twitter you’re always sharing new information about your book and the
history so follow her on instagram and twitter and also preorder her book it’s
coming out in April and at least add it to Goodreads, you know get the Goodreads
count up and yeah thank you so much for watching this episode of In Conversation
with June thank you so much June for joining me and of course if you want to
join the conversation feel free to comment with your experiences of being a
diaspora writer comment with any questions you have and I’m happy to go
through those and answer as best as I can and if you like this video please
give it a thumbs up please subscribe to my channel if you aren’t already besides
this wonderful series I also post writing advice publishing tips querying
tips all of that along with writing blogs etc and thank you so much for
watching bye

Jean Kelley



  1. lost in a booKCase Posted on March 19, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    ooh! I'm gonna check out Silence of Bones! Congrats on your debut!

  2. llama lover Posted on March 20, 2020 at 4:16 am

    I stumbled upon your channel completely by chance, but I'm so happy I did! I love your personality and the writing tips and discussions you have. As a writer (and a reader) I find your content very helpful and entertaining. Also, I just checked out your book on Goodreads. It sounds really good and I can't wait for it to come out!

  3. Littlest Pineapple Posted on March 21, 2020 at 2:41 am

    Really loved this conversation. Thank you both so much!

  4. Laurel Webb Posted on March 21, 2020 at 7:53 am

    I love this series you're doing! So far, it's really gotten me thinking. Keep up the good work!

  5. Trini UsaCutie Posted on March 21, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    My parents were both born in the Caribbean but we couldn't afford to go back to Trinidad often. I went for the first time in 20 years 2 years ago. We went to both islands. It was good because I was able to really experience the culture. We don't live around other Trinis who aren't family so even though I grew up eating curry and roti and listening to soca I had a very American life. I've learned more about the culture as an adult.

  6. Trini UsaCutie Posted on March 21, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    My dad doesn't talk much about his family or life back in Trinidad even though he still has sisters there so there's some disconnect there for me.