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E.J. Koh Books In Order

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Publication Order of Collections

A Lesser Love: Poems (2017)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

The Magical Language of Others (2020)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Anthologies

Mipoesias(2014)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

E.J. Koh is an author and poet best known for her memoir, The Magical Language of Others. The book was released in 2020 and was the winner of the Pacific Northwest Book Award and Longlist for the PEN Open Book Award.

Koh earned her B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing, University of California and then went on to earn her MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Columbia University, New York. She accepted fellowships from the American Literary Translators Association, Kundiman, MacDowell Colony, and others. She then made her way to Seattle to begin work on completing her PhD at the University of Washington in Seattle for English Language and Literature on Korean and Korean American literature, history, and film.

Koh has also written extensively in the world of poetry and released her poetry collection, A Lesser Love: Poems, in 2017. That collection was the winner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry. E.J. was named in Flavorwire’s list (at number two) of 23 People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry. She has also worked as a translator and was the co-translator of Yi Won’s The World’s Lightest Motorcycle. In addition to her book releases, her work has appeared in Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Chicago Review of Books, Slate, World Literature Today, TriQuarterly, Southeast Review and Pleiades.

E.J. came to writing as a young girl, but she did so as a way to help herself. She had terrible nightmares as a child and her mother said that the women in their family were cursed with this as they weren’t allowed peace nor ignorance of their dreaming lives. In order to help herself with this affliction, Koh began writing down her dreams each morning which allowed her to go about her day without being haunted by the events of the night before. It was a tool for her to use to get rid of that pain in her head and that was it. It wasn’t until her twenties that she would begin writing as a creative endeavor.

She decided to make her way to writing when her grandmother passed away. She feared of losing her memories of her grandmother and decided to write them down in order to keep them in her life. Writing came well to her as she was raised with what Koreans call jeong, which translates to into a deep attachment, bond, and reciprocity for places, people, and things. Jeong gives everything meaning in her life and is a huge part of who she is. Through writing, she is trying to answer the question of is trauma worth the greatest heights of happiness, belonging, and love as possible in jeong?

Koh finds creative community extremely important and depends on it. When she first moved to Seattle, she met Kundiman poets who introduced her to the local writing center, universities, and journals. She finds that the camaraderie is rich and unburdening. Earlier in her life, in New York, she would try to do everything and know everything. In Seattle, she was able to learn to say no and realize that knowing the community is there and nearby.

E.J. runs her own website at thisisejkoh.com. One of the things that she does at her website is a project where she aims to write one thousand love letters to strangers by hand. The way people enter is by emailing her from the site and telling them a bit about themselves. She then writes them by hand and sends them out. These letters can take 3-4 months to arrive, but they are very unique and are a unique collector’s item for those who receive them.

The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir was the winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award and Koh’s first non-poetry release. The book is the love story of mother and daughter told through letters. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh saw her parents return to South Korea for work. She was left behind in California along with her brother. Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and struggles to make her way in the world without her mother. Eun Ji’s mother writes letters to her in Korean over the years, sending her her love and wishing for her forgiveness. Eun Ji can’t fully understand them though and is unable to until she finds them years later hidden in a box.

As Eun Ji translates the letters as an older person, she looks into the history of her family for answers. She finds answers in her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, and the loss and destruction her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre. She also finds answers in poetry, as well as her own experiences. Eun Ji questions things like where our elder’s stories end and ours begin, and how we find the words to articulate how distance can shape love. The book is the story of hard-win selfhood as well as the deep bonds of family, place, and language. It is a story that Eun Ji is uniquely able to tell.

A Lesser Love: Poems is Koh’s book of love poems and elegies for those who have fumbled and stumbled and disappointed. Koh writes poems of love and departure that apply to romantic partners, family members, and even countries and continents. Koh describes her work as deeply influenced by the idea of jeong, a deep attachment, bond, and reciprocity for places, people, and things. The spirit of jeong is found in every page of the book of poems that are astonishing in the connections they draw and the ties they bind. Each poem in the book begins with a bit of excitement and a chance to make things right. Each birth is seen as an opportunity to right the wrong of what came before, and to get revenge on those who did the wrong. Koh, through her poems, tells us that the choice is ours to make.

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