What is the maiden name of Frankenstein’s creature?
Seo-Young Chu

What is the maiden name of Frankenstein’s creature? In which year was 1984 published? In whose brain was a funeral felt? In which year was Neuromancer published? How do you spell the title of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s most well-known work (CASE-SENSITIVE)? Who killed the pork chops? Where did James Gatz go to college? What is the name of the chambermaid in Pride and Prejudice? Where did Jay Gatsby go to college? What’s in a name? If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Rose, art thou sick? Ottava rima, art thou under-utilized? What is the name of Beowulf’s least reliable sword? In which month have sweet showers pierced the drought of March to its root? Do you await silent Tristero’s empire? What is the name of Sethe’s favorite daughter? Rhubarb is susan not susan not seat in bunch toys not wild and laughable not in little places not in neglect and vegetable not in fold coal age not please? Which flower by any other word would smell as fragrant? Who are these coming to the sacrifice? What men or gods are they? What maidens loth? What wild ecstasy? Whose dog is “Blue,” and whose cat was “Jeoffry”? Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under? Along the fine tan sandy shelf is the land tugging at the sea from under? How many poems take place underwater? How many novels are set in the underworld? Whose self is hell? Whose selves are hell? What, fastened to a dying animal, knows not what it is? Are you my angel? When will you look at yourself through the grave? Who is Nobody, and are you Nobody too?



I am Korean American
Seo-Young Chu

“I am Korean American.”

Looking at those four (or three?) words, I see not a verbal statement but the 조각보 to which the statement corresponds.



I am Korean American.

I am DMZ American.

I am 통일 American.


I am the opposite of straight.

I am spiral, diagonal, crescent, oblique.

(Dream home: a 한옥 spaceship filled with twisting stairs and rainbow stained glass windows.)


Once upon a time I was a New Englander of Virginian nativity.

Once upon a time I was a Californian of Virginian nativity.

Now I am a New Yorker of Virginian nativity.


I have always been an American of 0.5 South Korean descent (my mother’s side).

I have always been an American of 0.5 pre-divided Korean descent (my father’s side).

I have always been an American of 0.25 pre-divided Korean descent (my paternal grandmother’s side).

I have always been an American of 0.25 pre-divided Korean descent (my paternal grandfather’s side).

I have always been an American of 0.25 pre-divided Korean descent (my maternal grandmother’s side).

I have always been an American of 0.25 pre-divided Korean descent (my maternal grandfather’s side).

Etc. etc., i.e., I am the opposite of non-fragmentary.


Several years ago, when I was starting to re-learn my cradle language, I wondered if I would ever grow accustomed to transliterating “O” as “오.” Why add an upside-down “T” to a circle that by itself perfectly visualized the zero sound of that hollow vowel? Yet now the “O” alone seems strangely incomplete when juxtaposed with its 한글 counterpart.


I am an agnostic who was raised a devout Roman Catholic.

As a child I was a literalist obsessed with metaphor and “bread.”

I am a former believer who still prays to Mary.


(Sometimes, in my dreams, I am an American of reunited Korean ascent.)


I am madly in love with science fiction.

I was almost named “Jaime”—after the Bionic Woman.


I am a non-native half-non-speaker of fluent Korean, a half-native speaker of half-broken English, and an utterly fluent practitioner of broken Korean.


Recently some of my 머리 underwent 상실 (the words here become slippery) but new 머리 has been growing back.


I am a 딸 who will never be 어머니.

I am a 딸 who will never be 며느리/며느님.


The first time I encountered Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s DICTEE, something beyond adequate description took place: grave pain that hit me like an unexpected storm of the solar plexus; trance-like precipitation that did not stop until I had reached the end of the book.


In a past life I might have been a leaf on a tree in the secret garden behind 창덕궁.

In another past life I might have been a dot of pollen drifting past a row of 잡상.


Languages currently spoken: English (virtual fluency), French (rust-colored proficiency), Korean (ancient toy in the process of being repaired and transformed). Languages broken: Korean. (I speak such broken, broken Korean.) Languages written/read: English (virtual fluency), French (proficiency enhanced by dictionaries), Latin (ability to decipher with aid of dictionaries), 한글 (ability to decipher with aid of dictionaries, childhood memory, and DNA intuition?). Languages co-invented: sibling code (evolving fluency). Languages dreamt: Korean (telepathic apocalyptic fluency).


My name in 한글: 주 서영. Romanized version: Chu (last); Seo-Young (first). (“Jennie” is my middle name.)

Until recently I had considered my name unusual, but I’ve since learned of other “Seo-Young Chu” s out there (안녕하세요)!


I remember feeling a bit daunted when I realized that “Seo” and “Young” are assonant. The vowel sound shared by those two syllables does not quite exist in the English language. To this day my voice is too diffident to say my name the way it was meant to be pronounced.


Other possible ways of Romanizing “주서영”:

Cheu Psŏ-Yŏng
Chew Seoyeong
Choo Soh-Yong
Djoo Psau Yaung
Djou Psau-yŏng
Dju Seoyeong
Joo Saw-Yawng
Joo Sŏyŏng
Jou Sŏyeong
Ju Seoh-Yŏng
Zhu Pseo-Yeong
Zuu Psŏ Yŏng

One of my recent ancestors was born in China, where the surname “Chu” is quite common. (“Chu” is a relatively uncommon family name among Koreans and Korean Americans.) The ancestor’s name was “朱,” a Chinese character often Romanized as “Zhu” and translated into English as “cinnabar” or “vermilion.” For reasons unknown to me, this great-great-great-great-grandfather (plus or minus a few “great” s?) ended up in Korea.


Local time zones: Eastern Standard; lyric; post-______; the Koreas (all of them); dream; ___lag.


In my Queens neighborhood, it can be almost too easy to forget that this is New York City rather than Seoul. There are bakeries filled with 떡, eateries that specialize in 죽, eateries that specialize in 김밥, and massive restaurants where all the menus are in 한글 and meals are accompanied by mugs of fragrant 옥수수차. There are boutiques named after buildings in 인사동 and there are stationery shops that sell artworks made out of lovely 한지 textures and iridescent 나전칠기. There is a 노래방 or PC 방 on every other block. Once I even came across a family walking their pet 풍산개 (a breed rarely seen outside of North Korea). I was fascinated. She, the puppy, ignored me. (“강아지,” the Korean word for “puppy,” is a word whose sound I adore.) Occasionally a stranger, assuming that I’m fluent, will address me in Korean and then look dismayed by the disconnected nature of my reply. On such occasions the illusion that I live in Korea is especially heightened.

To dispel the illusion, all I need to do is notice the absence of mountains.

I miss the voluptuous slopes of the Korean landscape.


I am not “yellow.” Not quite. I am abalonescent, amaranth, amber, antique brass, avocado, beige, bittersweet, blood, bone, bruise, burgundy, ceil, chartreuse, citrine, concertina wire, copper, coral, dirt, drought, earth, ecru, flavescent, fluorescent, fulvous, gamboge, gray, icterine, jade, lo-res mist, molecule, ochre, outer space, pearl, phlox, puce, saffron, sand, shocking pink, tangerine, teal, transparent, turquoise, umber, vermilion, viridian, wavelength, wenge, zaffre.


I don’t work for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, but I admire what they do. Check out their website:




Seo-Young will die of hwabyung. Jennie Chu lived with it.

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Seo-Young Chu
Seo-Young Chu teaches at Queens College, CUNY. She wonders if metaphors dream of literal sleep. Some of her work can be found here: https://www.behance.net/seoyoungchu