Tight 5 with Sumi Hahn

2 minutes read
Posted 5 April, 2024
Sumi at Dragon Rock on Jeju island

by Rosie Fea

Born in Korea, raised in the United States, and now residing in Aotearoa New Zealand, Sumi Hahn is a writer with many interesting life-chapters to draw from. After receiving her Bachelor’s in English literature from Harvard University and her Master’s from UC Berkeley, Sumi worked as an esteemed columnist for the Times Picayune in New Orleans and penned music and food-centric pieces for various publications in Seattle. Most recently, she published her first novel, The Mermaid from Jeju. A research-intensive multi-year effort that tells the story of a young Korean girl just beginning her work as a haenyeo - Jeju’s deep-sea diving women who foraged for food during a bloody period of political unrest. The novel is a historically influenced tale that not only took shape in writing, but undoubtedly shaped and changed Sumi Hahn’s entire life and identity forever.

When did it all ‘click’ for you? (do you remember the first piece you were commissioned to write?)
I was 12 when I won $20 in a writing competition with a haiku. When I learned that someone would pay for my words, I was hooked.

In what ways did your perception of your Korean heritage and Korean culture develop and deepen as you penned your novel?
As I wrote my novel, I was painfully self-conscious of how much I wasn’t Korean and how much I didn’t know about Korea. That’s one of the reasons why it took seven years to write. I had to learn about being Korean in Korea before I felt like I had enough cultural authority to write about anything Korean.

Do you have any specific rituals or habits you engage in before you start writing? What helps you get in the flow?
Writing has to be a habit, like brushing your hair. That said, I haven’t brushed my hair in awhile.

Do you ever miss being a restaurant critic?! What was the writing process like for that? (Any lasting funny stories from meals out you can share?)
When I started writing at the Times-Picayune, I published under S.M. Hahn to obscure my identity, but word quickly got out that I was a petite Asian woman. I resorted to disguises—wigs and glasses—to throw them off my trail. Sometimes I pretended I couldn’t speak English, and my guests would “translate” the menu into whatever non-English language they learned in school. The funniest experience was when I pretended to be a heavily pregnant vegetarian Valley Girl from California. I ordered sweetbreads, saying they sounded like a nice pastry. My friend almost spit out her wine when I said that.

What's your dream project?
My dream project is to plant a permaculture food forest, like the Guyton’s have created in Riverton. Such an inspiration! (Permaculture is the solution to all the world’s problems, truly.)


Related articles

Latest issue

Issue 953 Read Now

Last week’s issue

Issue 952 Read Now


Download or update to the new Queenstown App today



The Lakes Weekly is part of Queenstown Media Group (QMG).

QMG is Queenstown’s leading locally owned and operated media company with print, online and social platforms that engage locals with what they care about — everything local!

The Lakes Weekly delivers stories and news that connects with local so they come away each week better connected to their community. Advertising sits within this curated content environment, and it’s a trusted relationship between readers and the Lakes Weekly. Advertisers benefit from the association with the LWB brand values.

The Lakes Weekly is hand delivered to every business in Queenstown, Arrowtown, Frankton, Five Mile Remarkables Park and Glenda Drive on Tuesday. Copies are available in service stations, libraries and drop boxes throughout the region and every supermarket throughout the Queenstown basin and Wanaka.

Online the issue is available Monday afternoon, on lwb.co.nz and the Qtn App.


Printed copies
each week


Estimated weekly
Read the
Latest issue