Interview: Franny Choi

credit David Kong

Recently, technologies have blended and become murkier. Platforms are less static, more adaptive––modern flexibility. Why shouldn’t the same happen with art? Blending arresting, humorous graphics with a powerful, deceivingly simple narrative, Frances Choi aims to find out.

I found Franny’s recent piece, Body/Paragraph, in Fringe Magazine, and immediately requested an interview. While many magazines have writers including graphics in their work, I’ve not seen visual work so seamlessly included.

An Example:

Franny treats her story with a refreshing frankness––she overrates neither her graphics nor her text, but rather pairs both to the great benefit of Body/Paragraph.

After checking out Franny’s blog, I witnessed her much-praised talent for spoken-word poetry. In her various Youtube videos, she dominates the mic and the crowd with swift lyrics and little hesitancy. Both her written and spoken work are performances, it seems; Franny captures her viewer with quick wit and honest delivery, whatever the medium.

I caught up with Franny over e-mail; she kindly corrected my mistaken understanding of Korean language, and answered my questions with a humor and frankness reminiscent of her work.

I was quite excited with Body/Paragraph, so I’m afraid that dominates the interview. Still, you’ve got to check out her spoken-word stuff, for which she’s won many awards––I’ve embedded a favorite below.

Franny studies Literary Arts and Ethnic Studies at Brown University.  She was named Best Female Poet at the 2011 Wade-Lewis Poetry Slam Invitational and was a finalist at the 2011 Women of the World Poetry Slam.


Interview Follows


Though practical, does the e-reader dilute the “artfulness” of print works? E.G. does the sparse, hyper-digestable presentation influence the content?


I’ll start by saying that I love print– books, zines, journals, things made of paper and ink and bound into little packages to touch and hold and flip through. That said, a screen that tries too hard to imitate a page usually ends up being pretty gross.

Writers should be––and are––creating works with electronic media in mind, opening ourselves up to the expansive potential they bring to the craft. “Body/Paragraph” is a piece that isn’t built to work with conventional page breaks, and an electronic medium gives it the playing field it needs.


In this age of hyper-media and globalization, why is poetry still relevant?


Poetry is all the more relevant now. Poetic language is simply an alternative way of organizing meaning– or at least it allows for the poet to break the linear rules of prose in order to control exactly how the reader receives information.

Internet-speak abbreviations, instructional flowcharts, news media buzz words, punny advertising slogans– these aren’t a far cry from poetic devices meant to convey multiple meanings, make allusions, and create emotional experiences.

I think poetry and the hyper-efficient language of the information age can actually complement each other really well.

So there’s one answer. Another relates specifically to my spoken word practice. With such a flood of information everywhere, and with so much of it transferred through a series of electronic middlemen, I think there’s something really beautiful about a person standing up in a room and speaking a piece out loud.

It’s a direct human-to-human (P2P, if you will) exchange of writing, straight from vocal chords to ear drum, and anyone can participate as long as they’ve got something to say and the guts to get on stage. That’s awesome.


In your story, Body/Paragraph, you’ve incorporated a series of graphics that fuel and amplify the textual narrative. Did this incorporation require a different method of conceptualizing your piece?


Honestly, the graphics in “Body/Paragraph” arose out of a frustration with my own storytelling. They Venn diagram came first, when I was starting to write out each individual characters’ thoughts and was just boring myself. Bad sign. So in a fit of rage against my own lackluster storytelling abilities, I made a chart out of all this information.

I sometimes find writing stories somewhat tedious, so these graphics were born somewhat organically out of my wanting to skip the “what happened” and get to the good stuff. They then also became a way for me to make more theoretical digressions, to explain conceptual trains of thoughts on the quick and dirty. I began to really enjoy the way the graphics changed the pace of the story and allowed me to take it to weirder and weirder places.


Is there something to be said, on an artistic level, for erasing preconceived borders between, say, graphics, text, and video, and creating blended, hybrid works?


There’s a lot to be said! I mean, it’s all the same thing, it all has the same goal. Text is graphic, you know? Language is experienced visually and aurally, so why not explore its graphic and performative dimensions?

Video and performance art are already incredibly interdisciplinary, which is why they’re so captivating.

There’s always that danger, though, of celebrating things as interdisciplinary and innovative when all you’ve done is just thrown together, like, a grainy video and modern dancers and bagpipes and people smearing spaghetti on their faces and a synthesized voice reading someone’s twitter.

With hybrid art, you have to do a lot more work to justify each piece of the equation– otherwise it’s just a media clusterfuck.


The graphics make Body/Paragraph quite funny, with Venn diagrams of angst and maps of romantic relationships. Were you worried the striking delivery of humor might distract from the more serious themes your piece suggests?


Fuck no. Comedy is revolutionary.


When Han-soo and Caroline botch their kidnapping, they begin to swear in Korean–I can’t help but notice you’ve allowed the ideograms to go untranslated. In many ways, to an unversed reader, this could have an effect similar to the images. Does allowing the character his/her native language, untranslated, speak to the scene more aptly than a literal translation otherwise might?


First off, Korean uses a phonetic writing system, so they’re not ideograms. But if you aren’t familiar with Hangul letters, the effect is the same; they’re meaningless symbols, experienced only aesthetically.

It’s much in the same way we use asterisks and other symbols in place of swear words– replacing graphic language with “graphic language,” censor bars to cover up words that are too naked, that say too much.

Sure, the “native tongue” is often what comes out in moments of crisis, but swear words are simultaneously universal and extremely culturally specific, which is what makes that moment work for me.

Plus I just really like swearing in Korean.


N+1 and Slate recently published an article entitled “MFA vs. NYC,” discussing the artistic viability of America’s “two distinct literary cultures.” As a student with a bright future, which do you feel is most appropriate for an aspiring writer?


I’m graduating in about a week, so that’s a question I would love to have answered. The way I see it, a healthy balance of both is best. I know that sounds hokey, but seriously: my writing outside the classroom has taught me how to connect with people.

My writing in the classroom has taught me how to do this while being in dialogue with a community of writers and pushing boundaries. I don’t think one can really stand without the other.


What’s your next step? What’ve you been working on?


I’m going to the National Poetry Slam with the Providence team, and this year’s team is particularly interested in pushing the form to new and crazy places– so I’ve got some cool writing/performance exploration ahead of me.

I’ve also been working on editing and expanding on my Literary Arts honors thesis, which is a collection of short stories about transformation and gender. One of these is an pseudo-instructional manual on drag kinging, and I’m particularly interested in this prose-poetry instructional form right now.

I’m also working on sending out my play, Mask Dances (which enjoyed a smallish production here on campus).


Who’ve you been reading recently?


My thesis advisor, Renee Gladman. Incubation: A Space for Monsters, by Bhanu Kapil. Black Sexual Politics, by Patricia Hill Collins. Planning to go back and read I-Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita this summer.

Just read For Colored Girls, and it was fucking beautiful. And I started rereading No-No Boy and remembered how good it was.My thesis advisor, Renee Gladman. Incubation: A Space for Monsters, by Bhanu Kapil. Black Sexual Politics, by Patricia Hill Collins.

Planning to go back and read I-Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita this summer. Just read For Colored Girls, and it was fucking beautiful. And I started rereading No-No Boy and remembered how good it was.


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