Interview: Victoria Namkung – Author of These Violent Delights

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For nearly 20 years, Victoria Namkung has been a Los Angeles-based author, journalist, essayist, and cultural commentator. Her writing has been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, NBC News, VICE, Washington Post, USA Today, and InStyle, among other publications. After receiving a master’s from UCLA in 2000, she taught courses on gender, immigration, and writing at UCSB, UCLA, and 826LA, respectively. The daughter of a Dublin-born Jewish mother and Korean father, Victoria was raised in Irvine, California and maintains dual citizenship in Ireland. She’s the author of the 2015 novel, The Things We Tell Ourselves (Standard Time Press), and These Violent Delights (Griffith Moon), hardcover published in the fall of 2017. Paperback published in May 2018.

Learn more about Victoria Namkung’s book recommendations, work, and the research process behind her timely contemporary book, These Violent Delights, which tackles sexual abuse in the US elite education system:

What inspired you to write These Violent Delights? What was the most rewarding or the most challenging part of writing this novel?

I would often read media accounts about teachers who were abusing their students, and it seemed like an epidemic to me, but I never heard about any actual statistics, so I went in search of them and was horrified with what I found. Our society appeared to be desensitized to these stories and so I thought illicit teacher and student relationships and the aftermath of sexual abuse was worth exploring in fiction. The most rewarding part has been hearing from victims and survivors of this type of abuse. One woman came up to me after an event with tears in her eyes. She said, “I can’t talk about what happened to me at school, but thank you for talking about it.” I’ve had other women write to me to say things like, “This is exactly how I felt when it happened to me.” The hardest part was during the research period. I read a lot of Victim Impact Statements from real court cases and will never forget them for as long as I live.

You’ve undertaken research around sexual abuse cases in the US elite education system. What first led you to this research?

I read about the case at Marlborough School in Los Angeles in Vanity Fair and Buzzfeed and I was pretty stunned by the abuse itself and how the school handled things. I think we often believe this type of abuse only happens at public schools or to underprivileged kids and that is not true. I knew that because I grew up privileged and remember various cover ups and a general “boys will be boys” attitude when terrible things happened to girls in my schools. The Marlborough case sent me down a rabbit hole of further research, and around the same time, the New York Times and Boston Globe and other newspapers were reporting on abuse cases and cover ups at famous elite schools such as Exeter and Choate, so I knew I was onto something.

Representation can be neglected in discussions about victims of sexual abuse but Jewish, Asian, Latina and multiracial characters also appear in These Violent Delights. Why is it important to share these stories?

The book is set in contemporary Los Angeles, so it made sense that the characters would be from all kinds of backgrounds. It was also intentional on my part, because I care deeply about representation. I grew up with kids of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, and I’m biracial myself, so it felt natural to write these characters. It’s important for readers to see themselves in fiction, especially as imperfect human beings. I also wanted to shed light on how abuse may affect an Asian girl or Mexican American daughter of immigrants differently. The media tends to sensationalize white victims, but what about all the non-white kids who are being hurt? Their stories need to be told too.

Have you seen the impact of the #MeToo discussion through the publication of These Violent Delights? Are there any other areas that you hope the discussion will carefully spotlight more of?

The timing of my book’s publication was eerie as the plot of These Violent Delights — a group of women banding together to take down an abuser with the help of a journalist — is essentially what we have been seeing play out in real life. In my novel, the predatory teacher is punished and the women get some form of justice for themselves, however, in real life that is often not the case. Teachers like the one in my book are often given probation or allowed to quietly resign and move away. In some cases, they go on to teach and abuse elsewhere. I think the #MeToo movement is a great starting point for change, but we are still far from any kind of justice when it comes to harassment and sexual abuse crimes. Aside from Dr. Larry Nassar, one of the most prolific abusers in U.S. history, most of these men who have been called out during #MeToo have simply lost their job. They are still rich and free to live their lives. I can’t stand when people call credible claims of abuse “a witch hunt”. None of these men are being burned at the stake.

What are you working on at the moment? What should readers keep an eye out for in the future?

Next, I’ll be working on a collection of non-fiction essays. I also have a piece about traveling to Africa with my dad in an upcoming anthology, Mixed-Koreans: Our Stories, that will be out this year. I really want to write an Asian American romance novel as well.

Any book recommendation(s) for our readers looking for more books by Asian authors?

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer is one of my favorite books in recent years. In YA, I thoroughly enjoyed Kristi Wientge’s Karma Khullar’s Mustache. The first Asian American books I read were John Okada’s No-No Boy, Monica Sone’s Nisei Daughter, and Shawn Wong’s American Knees. These books helped shape who I am so they are sentimental favorites.

Thanks so much Victoria!

Readers can find Victoria Namkung on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads: @victorianamkung.

Interview conducted by Lit CelebrAsian team member: Glaiza

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