Zoiks! It’s a Ghost!
MFA student studies Korea’s monsters and folklore on Fulbright
Kat Lewis MFA ’20 was a child terrified of the ghosts and ghouls on the popular kids’ television show Scooby-Doo. When the cartoon’s theme song started, she ran upstairs. Yet, she couldn't resist watching the show's reflection in a wall mirror from her hiding spot on the staircase. One day, her mother decided it was time for Kat to confront her fears and sat her daughter down for a marathon viewing session — before binge watching was a thing.
“I ended up loving every monster on the show. And now as an adult, I’m mostly interested in monsters that cheat death,” says Lewis, who's an MFA in writing student focused on fiction.
From Scooby-Doo, her monster interests expanded to vampires and werewolves and she ended up landing a job editing a collector's edition book about her all-time favorite television show The Vampire Diaries.
Studying monsters at Oxford
In fall 2015, while studying writing at Johns Hopkins University, Lewis's monster obsession took her to Oxford University for a semester abroad. At Oxford, she completed a course on monster literature. Stories she wrote there and at John Hopkins ended up being published in her collection of monster tales, In and of Blood.
This fall, the same obsession took her to Seoul, South Korea, on a Fulbright grant to study Korean ghosts and folklore at the Korea National University of Arts. Lewis chose Korea because her high school friend was from Seoul and taught her some of the language and culture.
“After she taught me all of the curse words — because that's the first thing you want to know when you're 13 — she taught me how to read and write in Korean. I went on to study Korean formally in college,” says Lewis, who is working on a novel about Korean monsters that is currently called Field of Mosquitoes.
Bringing Korean ghosts to America
“In studying ghosts in Korean folklore, I can bring the richness of the Korean monster tradition to an English-speaking audience," says Lewis, who strives to expand the representation of people of color, people on the autism spectrum like her sister, and members of the LGBTQ+ community in her writing.
"Most of the characters in my new novel are either African American or Korean. With the success of films like Okja, Snowpiercer, Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther, and Get Out, the representation of the black and Asian communities in American media is on the rise. I plan to contribute to this expansion with Field of Mosquitoes,” says Lewis, who has gained new insight into her writing during workshops with other women writers and writers of color in USF's MFA program.
"The diversity within the student body in our department and our faculty was a big selling point for me, and I've grown so much as a writer because of this program," she says.