Catherine Chung

Posted by Sue Leonard on Friday 6th December 2019

Catherine always wanted to be a poet. But, with no creative writing programmes on offer at her university, she studied mathematics instead.

“I fell in love with maths. It’s so poetic. But literature felt like my first language whereas maths was like a foreign language.”

After her primary degree, Catherine worked at a think tank, but then she decided to study creative writing.

“I applied for poetry, but when I wrote my application, I wrote two short stories instead. I’ve been waiting for the poems to return.”

Turning to novels, she wrote Forgotten Country, published in America. And after her MFA, she lived off fellowships and residencies.

“I worked at a non-profit environmental organisation, and I taught creative writing at the University of Leipzig, and Cornell. I got tenure tracking but left my job when I sold The Tenth Muse. 

The novel draws on her knowledge of mathematics.

“The plot feels like a maths puzzle,” she says.

Catherine has been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, and a Granta New Voice. She won a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize for poetry.

The Tenth Muse is her first novel to be published outside America. 


Who is Catherine Chung?

Date of birth:1979 in Evanston, Illinois.

Education:   University of Chicago, mathematics. Cornell University, MFA, Creative writing.

Home: New York.

Family: Husband David, Ella, 2.

The Day Job: Fulltime Writer.

In Another Life: “I would love to be a Kung Fu Master.”

Favourite Writers: James Baldwin; Virginia Woolf; Fyodor Dostoyevsky; Gogol; Ursula LeGuin; Chiang Lee.

Next Novel: “I’m in the flirtation phase of it which is lovely. I’m circling it, and seeing all the potential, without having hit the limitations.”

Top Tip: “Figure out what works for you; and try to get rest and exercise and eat right.”

Website:   Twitter: @chung_catherine

The Debut: The Tenth Muse. Little Brown: €18.95 € Kindle: €10.07 

Striving to take her place in the world of mathematics, as she struggles to conquer the Riemann hypothesis, Katherine must make difficult choices, and in doing so, rethink everything she knows of herself.

“Women have told me that through reading the book, they have reconsidered their own experiences. I love that.”  

The Verdict: A profound, elegiac, and deeply moving look at the difficulties scientific women faced.


Published in The Irish Examiner on 30th November.

©Sue J Leonard. 2019


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