The Paris Review

The Adoptee’s Perspective: An Interview with Nicole Chung

Nicole Chung (photo: Erica B. Tappis)

By the time I received Nicole Chung’s proposal for All You Can Ever Know on submission at Catapult, I was already—like so many others—a fan of her work. Her essays about identity and family in places like the New York Times, Longreads, and The Toast had left a permanent groove in my imagination. When something happened in the news, I’d wonder what Nicole thought about it. To read one of her articles was like diving into clear water after months of wading through flotsam: here was moral and stylistic clarity, and writing with purpose. Nicole’s sentences have led me to a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be human. You can imagine how I felt when I learned our bid for her debut memoir had been accepted.

Even as a proposal, All You Can Ever Know had an urgency of intention that can take years to wrest from a manuscript. Nicole’s voice is so distinct, she could write compellingly about pretty much anything. But in making the story of her transracial adoption and the search for her biological family her subject, she has done us all a great service. There are so few narratives of adoption from the adoptee’s perspective. Despite having known many adopted people, I had never read or heard anything quite like Nicole’s story before.

After years of working together, Nicole and I sat down to have a formal conversation about her story, the evolution of her book, and what it means to both of us to be both writers and editors. 

INTERVIEWER

I know that as a child you struggled to find stories that matched your experience of growing up adopted. Did this absence of comparable stories present a challenge for you as you worked on the book?

CHUNG

Yes—people ask me for recommendations all the time, and it’s difficult to know what to say, especially if they’re looking for books that kids and teens could also read. The majority of the books that deal with adoption—both fiction and nonfiction—are written by non-adoptees. I don’t think I read any adoption stories when I was growing up, except for and a few others from a different era, when adoption wasn’t

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