E.J. Koh is a poet and an author. Her work has been published in TriQuarterly, Southeast Review, The Journal, La Petite Zine, Susquehanna Review, Gulf Stream, and elsewhere. She is a poetry finalist of the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Prize and is currently completing her Masters of Fine Arts at Columbia University. She blogs at thisisEJKoh.com and tweets as @thisisEJKoh. Red is her first novel.

What Louis C.K. Taught Me About Genre

Last night I passed out listening to Louis C.K.’s Q&A on RSRV. Half-drunk, I was translating Korean poems with my dad on the phone – both of us trying to find an English equivalent of ‘death trap.’ Louis C.K.’s voice boomed in the background. He talked about working on The Dana Carvey Show. He had grappled with controversial material, which was the right thing to do. But for the wrong audience at the wrong network:

“We were on primetime television, the show’s like at 9 o’clock at night on ABC, it was just a mistake, those people didn’t want to see us…We got letters from old ladies like ‘You hurt my feelings.’ I learned from that, kind of like, you got to go where you’re wanted, you know?”


First off, I am someone everyone can hate. I’m a poet coming out of an MFA with a scifi/fantasy novel. Poets? They see me as a cop out. Non-MFAers? They think I’m a purist. Fiction writers? They don’t believe my prose to be prose. So my mentor from the program tells me as casually as a dying pig that publishing my grammatically reappropriated genre novel will be the mistake of my writing career. I shit you not; she says this to me three weeks before my novel’s release. Of course I cried like a reverent idiot. I thought I had let her down, that I had let my colleagues down.

But I’m a real idiot for a different reason. While my mentor is primetime ABC, I’m the late-night show on FX. I didn’t even think of going where I was wanted – to other scifi/fantasy readers. Then my editor, a usually patient man, cussed me out. Not because I let someone make me believe my work was crap, but because I sought approval in the weirdest place. He said, “Everyone starts their book years after their program. Why? Because a program is great for workshop, for giving you the space to create. But it does nothing for individual license.” He meant, Fuck the rules.

As a writer, I’m a little odd around the edges. But my editor realized what I never did: There is another audience. One that prefers a dash of gore, jives with multiverses, and are on board with fragmented syntax. I’m rediscovering genre, sure, but readers are taking a risk when they pick up a book. Who needs primetime and letters from old ladies – when you’ve got that?

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