Laughter Elicited during Reading at Warren County Community College
Novelist Sung J. Woo
and Poet Michael Broek Read
Warren County Community College’s Visiting Authors Series boasts novelist, Sung J. Woo, and poet, Michael Broek, to the list of visiting authors who have read at the college this Thursday, February 11th. In fact, Woo is one of select few authors to read at the college twice (his first appearance happened seven years ago). The reading took place in room 123A from 7:30pm to 9:00pm. Woo, a Warren County native, lives only a few miles from the community college, but recognition for his writing has extended to national audiences. Broek, author of two poetry chapbooks, currently lives and teaches in New Jersey. Both writers read from their 2015 released books.
Professor BJ Ward, curator of the Visiting Authors Series, introduced Broek as a “weaver of truth…arriving out of music,” and Broek’s poems were certainly musical. There was a quiet tension in the room as students and teachers listened in complete silence as Broek employed repetition and rhythmic series of sounds, such as “cities, fissures, fractures.” Twice Broek’s reading was interrupted by late arrivals, but he carried on without stumbling. Broek’s website states that his poetry has appeared in many magazines, including; “The American Poetry Review, The Literary Review, Drunken Boat, Literary Imagination, Blackbird, Fourteen Hills, The European Journal of American Studies, American Literature Compass, The Journal of American Studies, and others.” One of Broeks’ chapbooks was adapted into a screenplay, which debuted in Boston. Visiting Author Series curator, Professor BJ Ward played Broek in the stage production in Boston many years ago, which brought Ward and Broek to laughter.
In fact, Broek was circulating the room and joking around with students before he got up to read from his chapbook, Refuge(es). Broek separated Refuge(es) into series of coupled poems –the first of the pair entitled “Cloud Poem,” and the second, “Counterpane.” After reading a few of each type of poem, all of which were numbered, Broek explained that the cloud poems were the “big picture” poems and the counterpane poems focused more on singular occurrences and specifics, usually influenced by political events. When asked if the cloud/counterpane pattern was planned before forming the chapbook, Broek answered that they were not “a pre-conceived idea” and that they “happened” organically. I [Broek] laid them [the poems] out on the table and realized they were talking to each other.” Later, Broek was asked if he had any other structured projects in the works, to which he explained that he was stuck working on a project in which he is translating French poems and cookbook recipes, and felt the project was, “terribly willed.” Broek’s book, Refuge(es) served as an excellent transition to Woo’s novel, Love, Love which involves the transition of a Korean family assimilating to American culture.
After immigrating to America in 1981 when he was just ten years old, Sung J. Woo and his family settled down in Warren County. When asked how it felt to return to his hometown and read after gaining praise for his first two novels, Woo claimed that his following is, “not that wide, I’m [Woo] not that big of a deal,” and that it was “a blessing to be here” at WCCC. Woo’s first novel, Everything Asian (2009), won the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award in 2010. Woo’s second novel, Love, Love received the Booklist Editor’s Choice in 2015, and was among the top 25 APA books named by Smithsonian Dragonbook. Robert J. Lennon, author of Familiar and See You in Paradise explained that Woo’s novel, Love, Love, “has got it all: tennis…organized crime, pornography, a venomous snake, and more twists than a bag of Rold Golds.” Woo read from, Love, Love, he disclaimed the book as, “probably rated PG13,” which elicited giggles from the audience. Half of Love, Love is narrated by Judy, a middle-aged woman desperately seeking romance in her life. The other half is narrated by Judy’s brother, Kevin, an ex-pro tennis player (get it? “Love,” as in the tennis score?).
The next author scheduled to read is Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickle and Dimed: on (Not) Getting by in America. Come listen to Ehrenreich read about her experiences working various minimum-wage jobs on April 14th in room 123A.
After a reading an excerpt from a section of Love, Love narrated by Judy, who goes on a horribly comical date, Woo became serious and told the students in the audience that, “persistence is key in life. Keep trying, keep knocking on doors.” Woo understands perseverance first-hand, because he was forced to find a new agent for his second novel, Love, Love. His previous agent, according to Woo, “hated the book.” Not only did Woo find another agent, but he e-mailed his manuscript to the editor of Sports Illustrated, who responded with a quote that Woo put on the back of his book: “You will love, Love, Love,” and the audience did.
Despite the small audience (only nineteen students and staff members attended), Broeke and Woo both stated that they were pleased to be a part of the Visiting Authors Series. Both authors employed comedy throughout their reading, making the tension in the room dissipate, and both writers made what Ward called, “lucid, intelligent observations” about the world and human nature, which is surprisingly the same across cultures
Broek and Woo’s reading marked the twenty year anniversary of the Visiting Authors Series, which was founded by Warren County Community College Professor Brian Bradford. Bradford read from his own book, Greetings from Gravipause, in 2015. The next author scheduled to read is Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickle and Dimed: on (Not) Getting by in America. The Visiting Authors Series is free and open to the public, so come listen to Ehrenreich read about her experiences working various minimum-wage jobs on April 14th in room 123A.