Skokie, I Love You

Through the window of my airplane seat, I watch the wintry Midwestern landscape float by, the white of the snow, the blue of the sky.  All morning, American Airlines has warned us that our flight from Chicago to Newark is full, that we’ll need to be mindful of the limited storage space above us.  But when the cabin door slams shut, who is sitting beside me?  No one.

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My trip has been blessed from the get-go, so I shouldn’t be surprised at this point that my charmed life continues.  My wife and I have spent the last four nights in Skokie and Chicago, and a part of me believes it’s all been a glorious dream.  Because where but in dreams does everything, and I mean every little thing, goes exactly as planned?  Where but in dreams am I fed amazing food at every meal and celebrated like a beloved dignitary?

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During Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township this week, I dined with the First Lady of Skokie and her husband, the Mayor.  I read in front of a captive audience, not once, not twice, but three times!  I got to talk about my life and my work at the public library, and at moments my interviewer and I delved so deeply that our discussion almost became a therapy session.  Breaking bread (or more accurately, rice) with the Korean-American community leaders of Skokie brought me back to my own heritage, in ways that I haven’t felt since…to be truthful?  Never.  Never have I felt such pride as a Korean and an American than in Skokie, Illinois. And I felt something else, too, hope, because I witnessed the students of Niles Township at work.  Educators in this country of ours need to look no further than Niles North and Niles West for the ideal template to create the very best high school.  With their world-class facilities and their dedicated teachers, these kids at Niles are going to challenge our world.  How lucky was I to have played a tiny part of their education.

And how lucky for the next author, whomever he or she may be, to be picked for Coming Together next year.  It was heartening to meet with the volunteers who were integral to the previous Coming Togethers: Greek, Assyrian, Filipino, and Asian Indian.  They were all in attendance for my events, which means Coming Together is accomplishing exactly what it aims to do: bring together the culturally diverse residents of Skokie so they can learn from one another.  Is there anything more powerful than that?

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Skokie, you opened up your arms and you took me in.  If I may paraphrase Sally Field, you loved me, you really really loved me!  So I love you right back.  These were treasured, cherished days.  Thank you!

p.s. Chicago, you’re awesome, too!  You made me laugh (Second City), you filled my belly (char dog and pizza, Chicago style), and wrapped me up in your beauty (the impressionists collection at the Art Institute).

p.p.s. Thank you to my lovely wife for taking the bulk of the photographs below!

Chicago Tribune and Skokie Review


A pair of stories from the local papers regarding Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township.

From The Chicago Tribune:

Annual Skokie program focuses on Korea

Korean culture, entertainment and culinary delights will be shared and celebrated during the fifth annual Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township.

More than 60 events and activities are planned during the next six weeks as village officials join hands with the local Korean-American community, Niles Township High School District 219 and library officials in Skokie, Morton Grove, Niles and Lincolnwood to spread knowledge about Korea.


From Skokie Review:

From K-Pop to hanbok, this celebration of Korean culture has it covered

SKOKIE — Coming Together in Skokie & Niles Township celebrates the Korean culture with an opening ceremony featuring an exhibit and refreshments at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 26 and a cultural program at 2 p.m. at Niles West High School.

The event will highlight Taekwondo, K-Pop, traditional performances and more.

This officially launches some 60-plus eclectic Korean-themed programs over the next six weeks at various Niles Township venues. The following is a schedule of events categorized by the type of activity being held.


Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township 2014


For the last four years, Skokie, Illinois has held Coming Together in Skokie.  Here’s the snippet from the site:

Now in its fifth year, Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township is a unique program begun by Niles Township High School District 219, Skokie Public Library, the Village of Skokie, the Holiday Inn North Shore/Skokie, and the Indian Community of Niles Township. During the winter, we explore in depth a different culture each year through reading and discussing common books and enjoying a host of other exciting activities. The event takes place during a six-week period from January through March. Our first four years showcased the Asian Indian, Filipino, Assyrian, and Greek communities. Thousands of residents attended book sessions, lectures, dramas, and musical events for each celebration.

For this year, Skokie is celebrating Korean culture, and I can’t tell you how honored I am that they chose my first novel, Everything Asian, for their adults and high school students selection.  An entire community is reading my book, right now — and I have proof!



That thumbnail graphic on the left is from the Skokie Public Library catalog, and there are enough copies of my book in circulation that I actually have to scroll the page to get to the end.  During the month of February, the following discussions will take place:

Book Discussion: Everything Asian

A witty, relatable family drama, Everything Asian tells the tale of the Kim family’’s immigration from South Korea to New Jersey. Adjusting to strange new foods, customs and people, the Kim’s story is one that will resonate across cultures as it is one that is uniquely American.

When: Saturday, February 8, 2014, 1PM
Where: Skokie Public Library – Off-Site (Korean Cultural Center of Chicago, 930 Capitol Drive, Wheeling)

When: Monday, February 24, 7PM
Where: Skokie Public Library

Lit Lounge Book Discussion – Everything Asian

When: Wednesday, February 12, 2014, 7PM
Where: Skokie Public Library – Off-Site (Curragh Irish Pub, 8266 Lincoln Avenue)

Everything Asian: Exploring Family and Gender Narratives in Korean American Literature

In Everything Asian we are presented with narratives that touch upon the Korean American experience from multiple perspectives. In this lecture, Professor Ji-Yeon Yuh of Northwestern University will expose and deconstruct these narratives to provide deeper insight on the themes of immigration, family, and gender as they relate to the experiences of contemporary Koreans and Korean Americans.

When: Wednesday, February 19, 7PM
Where: Skokie Public Library

I’m especially grateful to Jessi Schulte and Lynnanne Pearson of the Skokie Public Library for their kindness and guidance, and to Skokie’s First Lady Susan Van Dusen for spearheading this wonderful event.  I’ll be making my visit to Skokie and Nile Township in March, and I can hardly wait!

Meet Everything Asian Author Sung J. Woo

The author of Everything Asian, this year’s featured book for Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township, will speak and be available to autograph his book.
Thursday, March 6, 7PM
Skokie Public Library
Petty Auditorium



[Skokie Review article]
[Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township (site) (facebook)]
[Skokie Public Library]