Sonya Chung characterizes herself as a late bloomer, a writer who came to the love of books in college rather than in childhood. Now, however, with a string of awards to her credit—including a Pushcart Prize nomination and the Charles Johnson Fiction Award—her life is all about books and the love of creating stories. Her first novel, Long for This World, has gained her both critical acclaim and many loyal fans. Sonya recently joined the Creative Writing Program at Columbia University as a faculty member. And her office? It just screams “Writer!”
What does your desk—the bare desk itself—look like, and how did you acquire it?
It’s a 7-foot table, Portuguese-made. It’s pine, we think (grainy but not knotty), the wood is worn and stained and nicked all over. It looks like it’s survived some rough times. It actually belongs to my partner John, who acquired it from a friend (who acquired it in Mexico) and kindly allows me to work at it. It used to be our combination dining/work table; we recently splurged on a separate table for eating, so now I can spread out a bit. Did I mention we live in a studio apartment?
What’s on your desk?
My iBook G4 comes and goes at the center of the table (the lonely power cord sits there awaiting it, trailing down to the power strip on the floor, when it goes on journeys). At one end is the printer, an ancient inkjet that seems to keep on going, and a lamp (K-mart, electric-pink shade). At the other end is a placemat, for mid-day snacking or lunching while working. Scattered about: pen/pencil cups (two), an electric pencil sharpener (for no good reason, I’ve recently taken to using mechanical pencils), a tall vase with dried roses from a bouquet given to me at my book party in March, one small speaker (podcasts, audiobooks, music). Various piles: books I’m currently reading (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, The Virgin Suicides), research books for my second novel, books for teaching, manuscript drafts (mine and students’), the misc (junk) pile, the mail pile. Always a coffee mug, usually at least half full.
What do you wish wasn’t on your desk?
Dust (relentless). All these charger and connecting cords: printer, speaker, laptop power, iPod syncing. Complete cordlessness is my fantasy. What a mess.
Research books (Russia-related, mostly) and hard-copy draft sections for my second novel. Clipped articles (cut-and-paste is still a literal, physical act for me) in yet another pile for potential short essays for The Millions, where I’m a regular contributor.
Are there living things in your office (besides yourself)?
As I mentioned, it’s a studio. So yes—partner/roommate in the mornings and evenings, plants (rubber trees, vegetable seedlings on the window sill), and my amazing pup Pax.
What else surrounds you?
A room-divider/bookshelf the length of the table-desk; a view of high-rise housing projects in one direction, Columbia graduate schools and Morningside Park in another; recycling buckets, shoe rack, dog-hair dust bunnies, magazines seemingly everywhere…
OK, I’m back. This exercise is making me get up and start putting away all the clutter around me.
What’s on the walls?
The schedule for the 32nd Asian American International Film Festival is taped up behind me; by the couch and bed, framed: a Romare Bearden drawing, a panoramic black-and-white photograph (by Tom Blackmore) of JFK at Fort Bragg in 1961, and a painting by John’s aunt.
What have you lost in your office that you really wish you could find?
It’s funny; I know I’ve lost things, but I’ve forgotten what they are. So I guess I don’t really care that much about finding them. Hopefully they’ll find me if they need to be found.
What tools do you write with?
Mostly the laptop; I wear these black wrist support things that look like roller-derby gloves but are soft and feel more like lingerie. I also sit on an Exer-ball instead of a chair, because of back problems. (I’m really a ridiculous sight, now that I think about it.)
When screen overload kicks in, I use a legal pad, mechanical pencils, and Bic Pilot G-2 retractable (click-top) pens. I also, as mentioned above, use scissors and tape, sometimes to play with moving around different sections in a story or my novel.
I also try to use my imagination and intelligence as much as possible.
Is anyone allowed to come in and clean?
God, I wish. Anyone interested, come on over.
T. Myers is a writer who also wishes somebody would come in and clean her office. Somebody very brave.