Nami Mun

  • Nami Mun

Columbia College professor Nami Mun picked up a $50,000 Whiting Writers’ Award in New York this week for Miles From Nowhere, her powerful little book about a child struggling to survive alone on the streets of that city.

Born in South Korea, Mun emigrated to New York with her family when she was eight years old and was living on the streets of “all five boroughs” by 13. Though she could be telling her own story, she says she’s not; she won’t discuss her family or her own experiences on the street. But she says that eight years ago, when she began working on the first of the linked stories that became the book, she was surprised to find herself writing in tears. That story, “Club Orchid” (now the third chapter of the book), relates the initiation of a child prostitute, desperate to make enough money to put a roof over her head for a night. “When you’re a runaway, you don’t look back,” Mun says. “And, until then, I never had.”

The circumstances she describes are sordid, the writing stripped down to a deceptive, often poetic simplicity. In deference to her protagonist, Mun says, she axed anything “writerly” in the text. The result is like an easy reader guide to hell.