This week, CalArts welcomes MacArthur Fellow and National Book Award winner Don Mee Choi (Art BFA 84, MFA 86) as its 2024 Katie Jacobson Writer in Residence. Organized by the MFA Creative Writing Program in the School of Critical Studies, the annual Katie Jacobson Writer in Residence Program brings a prestigious writer to campus for both public readings and student workshops.
On Thursday, Jan. 18 at CalArts, Choi presents the lecture Translation Womb., which delves into her award-winning practice as a translator, while discussing her long-term work translating prominent Korean poet Kim Hyesoon, and her own first experiences of English.
On Friday, Jan. 19, Choi holds a poetry reading at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles. The program also includes a discussion about Choi’s work led by poet and translator Youna Kwan. This event is being held in partnership with GYOPO, a Korean diaspora arts collective.
A trailblazing figure in contemporary experimental poetry, Choi artfully blends the visual, the documentary, and the lyrical within her acclaimed literary works. In Choi’s visceral and haunting Kor-Us Trilogy, the author intertwines her family history and the painful, devastating, modern history of war and colonization in South Korea. The final volume in the trilogy, Mirror Nation, will be released in April by Wave Books.
“Don Mee’s work has a special synergy with the CalArts MFA in Creative Writing’s approach to the art of writing,” said Anthony McCann, the director of CalArts’ Creative Writing MFA Program. “Her work crosses genres, blends the visual with the textual, and the documentary with the lyrical as part of her resolutely decolonizing practice. Her methods provoke difficult thoughts and feelings that linger with a reader long afterwards. It’s great to be able to have Don Mee here with us this week while we also honor the memory of our alum Katie Jacobson. We’re very grateful to Katie’s family for the Writer in Residence program.”
In addition to her own poetry, Choi is an extraordinary translator, having introduced many English readers for the first time to contemporary South Korean poets, including the aforementioned Hyesoon. Choi most recently translated Hyesoon’s Phantom Pain Wings (2023), which earned year-end accolades from The New York Times and The Washington Post. She also served as a translator for the International Women’s Network Against Militarism (IWNAM), an organization which stands firmly against all war crimes and military violence.
Choi’s dual roles as a poet and translator consistently influence each other. According to the MacArthur Foundation, her “intertwined practices as poet and translator bear witness to otherwise unspeakable histories and expand the range of expressive possibilities for writers from diasporic and multilingual backgrounds.”
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Choi has already received some of the highest honors in the literary arts, including the MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the National Book Award for DMZ Colony (2020). She is a winner of the Whiting Award and the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize.
Read a profile of Choi in issue 10 of The Pool.