The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Andrew Porter on renewed attention in Korea for ‘Theory of Light and Matter’

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Sept. 16, 2023 - 16:00

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Andrew Porter (Sarah E. Murphy) Andrew Porter (Sarah E. Murphy)

American writer Andrew Porter said he is truly surprised and delighted that his debut work, "The Theory of Light and Matter," has resonated with Korean readers after all these years.

Porter’s debut work, a collection of stories published in 2008, won several awards, including the Flannery O'Connor Award for short fiction. While it was published in Korea in 2011, it wasn't until 2019 that the book received renewed attention after acclaimed Korean author Kim Young-ha introduced it on his podcast.

The writer could feel his popularity in Korea after he joined Instagram during the pandemic, seeking to connect with writer friends across the US.

“I began to notice that some Korean readers were following me and then they would send me messages and comments. It was wonderful. And that’s how I began to understand the book’s popularity,” said Porter.

He often commented directly on the reviews written in Korean and also replied to messages from Korean readers.

“It was a surprise to me,” he continued. “The book has been translated into a number of different languages, and in some places, it has resonated more than others.”

One bookstore owner on Jeju Island reached out to him and set up a virtual book event during the pandemic.

“There were over 100 people and it was very exciting. It was my first live connection.”

Visiting South Korea for the first time, Porter attended the Seoul International Writers’ Festival for a conversation with Korean writer Eun Hee-kyung on Sunday, under the theme of “What Must Be Remembered.”

Porter said that being in Korea, he began to understand why his stories might be resonating with Korean readers.

“Some of my stories revolve around memory, with characters trying to make sense of the past and dealing with loss. It’s a certain type of storytelling, very reflective, and there must be something in that style that appeals to Korean readers and Korean sensibilities,” he said. “That’s my best guess.”

Porter noted that based on the questions he had been asked by readers, it was clear they really understood the stories, and what he was trying to do in them.

“The Theory of Light and Matter” (left) and “The Disappeared” by Andrew Porter (Vintage, Knopf) “The Theory of Light and Matter” (left) and “The Disappeared” by Andrew Porter (Vintage, Knopf)

His latest short story collection, “The Disappeared,” which came out in April, is set to be published in Korean by Munhakdongne Publishing later this year.

The collection explores different types of disappearances -- from a literal disappearance about a missing person to a metaphorical disappearance in which it feels like a part of the younger self has disappeared.

These stories, like his debut work, delve into the realms of memory and our evolving relationship with our past selves as we get older, explained the writer.

“I wanted these stories to feel connected to the stories in 'The Theory of Light and Matter,’” Porter said. “So they're all first-person narratives and have a similar reflective tone.”