NEA Literature Fellowships

R. O. Kwon

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(2016 - Prose)

from "Legends of the Seoul Dogs"

During their phone calls his mother always asked the same questions, was he studying hard and did he have enough to eat, and he always said yes. To his surprise, it had turned out that his father knew how to cook. "Is Abba helping you with your homework?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.

"How are your grades?"

"As," he said.

Then she asked if his father was still preaching on the sidewalk. When he said yes, she fell silent.

"Umma?" he said, finally.

"What does he preach about?" she said.

"Poor people, usually," he said. "Hungry people. God's judgment. Abba invites people to come to the house. No one comes, though. I think it makes him sad."

One day, she told the boy that the friend with whom she lived was someone he might like to meet. A lot was changing for her and she was coming up with a plan to see him soon, and he wasn't to say anything to his father, okay, darling?

The boy asked her to tell him more about her plan, but she said she would tell him more as soon as she could. When his mother started calling less often, the boy knew it was because she was busy piecing together a grand plan to get him back to her. The longer the silences between her calls, the grander the plan became.

R. O. Kwon’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in NOON, VICE, Ploughshares, the Believer, Tin House, Southern Review, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Yaddo, Omi International, the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and Hedgebrook, as well as scholarships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers' Conferences. In addition, she was a 2014-15 Steinbeck Fellow at the Martha Heasley Cox Center, and has been named one of Narrative's "30 Below 30" writers. Born in Seoul, South Korea, she has lived for most of her life in the United States. She is working on her first novel.

Photo by R.O. Kwon

Author's Statement

Since I often don't hear my phone ring, I was first contacted by the NEA via email, with a short note letting me know I hadn't been answering my phone. Could I please provide a time when I'd be available for a call? That night, I wasn't able to sleep: hoping this meant good news, afraid to hope too much. But it did turn out to be good news, wonderful news. The literature grant gives me more time to write, as well as a much-needed jolt of confidence as I work to finish my first novel. I am so grateful. Thank you, NEA.