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Ep#55: James Han Mattson isn't afraid of the dark: on writing about race, desire, and belonging

In this episode we have the pleasure of speaking to Korean adoptee and award-winning writer James Han Mattson. We start with James' path to becoming a writer and the moment when his Iowa acceptance letter arrived in the mail. He treats us to two readings of his work: an extended excerpt from his recent novel Reprieve, and his essay “Letter to a Stranger” published in the literary magazine Off Assignment, which is about a pivotal moment during his time living in Korea.

We discuss some of the themes explored in Reprieve - including the complex intersections between love, desire, and racial preferences - as well as the challenges of learning one birth language in one’s birth country, while you’re also so deeply engaged in your craft as a writer who publishes in English.

Finally, James tells us about how his time in Korea changed his writing and gives us the scoop on his new novel in progress, which features a Korean adoptee protagonist.

James Han Mattson was born in Seoul and raised in North Dakota. He reunited with his birth family in 2009. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he is the award-winning author of two novels: The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves and Reprieve, which was a Fall 2021 Book Pick by The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, and the TODAY show, among others. He is currently the fiction editor of Hyphen Magazine.

You can follow him on Twitter: @jhmattson or check out his website at

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