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Writer Kyo Choi: ‘East Asian literature is prevalent in the novel form but not so much in theatre’

Kyo Choi

Kyo Choi began her career as a journalist, then worked in banking, before pursuing novel writing and playwriting. She tells Giverny Masso about her participation in Yellow Earth’s playwriting scheme, which aims to put more East Asian voices on stage…

How did you go from journalism to playwriting?

I was an international correspondent with Reuters, based in Seoul in South Korea, mainly covering business and financial news. After working there, I had an offer to work in London in banking. I was probably quite successful, but it didn’t sit comfortably with who I am. I quit that, and went to do an MA in creative writing. I wrote a lot of human interest stories for Reuters, but to write creatively was another thing altogether. I wanted to become a novelist, and I still do. I wrote a novel about a love hotel in Japan – they are these fascinating hotels where couples go to have sex – and though I had a lovely agent I couldn’t get it published. I decided to take a break and think about writing for theatre, so I did a playwriting course at City Lit.

What play are you developing for Yellow Earth’s scheme?

I wanted to write about ‘comfort women’. These Korean women were led into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands of women were enslaved and used to service the men. My idea was to write a play set in the 1990s about a woman who finds out her mother was a comfort woman.

What inspired you to write it?

There is a bronze statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul of a girl dressed in a simple Korean costume. It is a form of protest because the Japanese government has never given a sufficient apology to the comfort women. Every Wednesday in Seoul, there is a protest outside the embassy. In the winter of 2016, I felt an urge to go and see it. I was really moved by the fact that these women have been protesting since 1992 – according to Guinness World Records, it’s the longest protest on a single theme.

How did you get involved with Yellow Earth?

I didn’t know about Yellow Earth until someone recommended I submit something to them. I sent a scene from the play I was working on and a couple of weeks later was called in for an interview. There are four of us on the programme, which started in March last year. The artistic director Kumiko Mendl has been so incredible. She comes to every meeting we have and it’s become such a close-knit family. The dramaturg Caroline Jester has also been wonderful.

Why are schemes such as the Yellow Earth programme important?

In terms of East Asian writing, literature is so prevalent in the novel form but not so much in theatre. Theatre is still very dominated by white writers. It is time now, with London being a polyglot city, for every race to be represented.

Click here for details of Yellow Earth’s Professional Writers’ Programme

CV: Kyo Choi

  • Training: MA in creative writing, Royal Holloway, London (2008-10); Playwriting course, City Lit, London (2014)
  • First professionally produced play: Empowered at the Arcola Theatre in London (2016)
  • Agent: None

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