Korean Memoir Wins Prestigious Award

20 July, 2011

We were delighted to hear that Jid Lee’s TO KILL A TIGER (Overlook Press, 2010),  a memoir of growing up in Korea that gorgeously blends her personal recollections with history and myth, has been recognized by ForeWord Book of the Year Awards with a Bronze Award; these awards are specifically intended for distinguished books published by independent presses.  Jid spent twelve years writing and refining the memoir, including time spent working with a private editor who is now Editor-in-Chief of a major trade house before writing me a query letter.  It took me a long time to read it (it was well over 120,000 words!) and an even longer time to deliberate about whether or not to take it on.  I didn’t know if American readers had enough curiosity about Korean history and culture, although I thought they should be curious.

By the time Jid’s query letter landed on my desk, her work had been rejected by scores of literary agents.  I was knocked out by the brilliance of her insight, her mesmerizing use of a language that was not her native tongue, her in-depth understanding of the complex history of the country where she grew up in a time of tremendous upheaval and change, and the haunting power of memory.  I insisted that Jid work with an editor to cut the manuscript down and tighten it before we could submit it to publishers.  Many editors turned it down, albeit graciously, some of them perplexed by the idea of selling a work by a native Korean who lives and teaches at the university level in the deep South (a fact I found intriguing); we expect our “Asian” memoirs to be written by Asian-American writers like Amy Tan.  But Peter Mayer at Overlook Press was eager to develop an Asian list, and a young editor who was at Overlook at the time, Juliet Grames, brought it to his attention.  Thank you, Juliet and Peter, for your vision and courage in helping me and Jid bring this wonderful work into print.  I am so pleased to see ForeWord, read widely by booksellers and librarians, honor Jid Lee’s achievement.

–Joelle Delbourgo