Photos by: Lauren Pisano
Saehee Cho is a writer, artist, and cook. She is the founder of
SOO N, a food concept grounded in an ongoing artistic engagement in all things culinary. Her work includes catering, food styling, and menu consulting.
Her poetry and fiction have been published in Tierra Adentro, Black Clock, Sidebrow, RECAPS, Entropy, and Eleven Eleven. She is an organizer and regular contributor for Enter>text : an ongoing performance series engaging with the expansive and immersive experience of literature. She lives and eats and writes in Los Angeles.
Girls At Library: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a lifelong reader?
Saehee Cho: The first book I fell in love with was The Secret Garden. I remember my mom giving me this beautiful hardback edition with these perfect delicate drawings in between chapters. It felt like my first real grown-up chapter book and I read it again and again obsessively, imagining myself as
“Mistress Mary, quite contrary”…
GAL: Having studied creative writing and literature in undergrad and grad school, was there anything you found most inspiring to read? Any texts that were a kind of guiding light for you?
SC: I associate Anne Carson’s work deeply with my time at both UCSD and CalArts. Even now she is a writer I return to over and over again. I’ve always appreciated the hybridity of her forms and the permission she gives herself to open up a text in such a way that same work can be studied as fiction, essay, poetry, or translation. I was first introduced to her work through, If Not, Winter, her collection of Sappho translations. She uses empty brackets to represent lost text, burnt papyri—that act of materializing absence—I think it changed me as a writer and reader.
GAL: What is the power of story?
SC: This is a hard one! Narratives are simultaneously escapist and a way into ourselves. At their best, powerful narratives can bring about both self-awareness of the construction of our own real-life narratives and also provide a way to transcend them. I think People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia is a good example of this. I don’t want to give too much away about the narrative twist that happens in the middle of the book, but it’s brilliant.
GAL: Would you say the power of a story ever rolls over into your catering company SOO N food and the intricate meals you prepare? If so, what is your process when creating food if it is led by text?
SC: I would say that my food process mimics the act of writing. A plate is a composition and a meal is a narrative. I think because of my background I automatically think about cooking as an art practice. It’s not simply about the food on the plate. There’s a drafting process, an editing process, even a workshopping process. Cooking feels almost sculptural to me in this way—like I’m sculpting little edible poems.
GAL: With your business picking up, how often would you say you read?
SC: I read every day but in spurts. Because I’m in a phase where I’m mostly reading poetry, it’s easy for me to pick up a book for 5 minutes and then go back to kitchen work.
GAL: Who is your favorite author?
SC: Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, both for her incredible writing and also for being the person who
encouraged me to pursue writing in the first place.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to re-read for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
SC: The Beauty of The Husband by Anne Carson
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
My Life by Lyn Hejinian
Palm-of- the-Hand by Yasunari Kawabata
Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
GAL: Is it important to you to physically hold a book you read? Or can you read on a device, without impacting the experience?
I wish I could read on a device (very practical!) but I’m too much of a romantic to give up on the physical object of the book. I love the feel of the paper, dog-eared pages, the way books age when we love them. You just don’t get that kind of character from a screen…
GAL: How do you choose the books you read? Have you found a strategy that works?
SC: If I find a writer that I really love, I tend to read all of their work, one book after the other. I also get great recommendations from friends who are avid readers too.
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot? Where is it?
SC: Right now, I like reading in bed the best.
GAL: Or—can you read anywhere—place is not important?
SC: I think a good place to read can definitely enhance the experience. The way the ambiance of a restaurant is important or the low-key buzzy feeling of that perfect bar—the conditions have to be right.
GAL: Fiction VS Non-Fiction?
SC: Both! Also, poetry!
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
SC: “In Search of the The Perfect French Fry: A Life” (I’m joking but I’m not joking).
GAL: Please name a few books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
B. Because these will break your heart (also A. and C.):
Reconsolidation: Or it’s the ghosts who will answer you by Janice Lee
The Sad Passions by Veronica Gonzalez Peña
Creature by Amina Cain
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine