Graduates who leave home to teach English as a Second Language abroad are not a rare species. What is rare is writing a book that enters into the controversial history of the place one finds oneself in, and that is what Mark Sampson did early in his fiction career, with his novel Sad Peninsula (Dundurn Press 2014), set in South Korea. Since then he has gone on to publish the short story collection, The Secrets Men Keep (Now or Never Publishing 2015), a poetry collection, Weathervane (Palimpsest Press 2016), and the novels The Slip (Dundurn Press 2017) and All the Animals on Earth (Wolsak & Wynn 2020). Sampson has been a frequent contributor to Canadian Writers Abroad, reviewing and interviewing fellow authors. He can also be found at his website, Free Range Reading. Born and raised on Prince Edward Island, he currently lives and writes in Toronto. He answers three questions below as part of our tenth anniversary series.
CWA: Where were you ten years ago?
Sampson: I was here in Toronto but gearing up for my wedding, in Hamilton, to fellow author Rebecca Rosenblum, which took place in August 2012. Writing wise, my log tells me I was working on several of the short stories that made it into my short story collection, The Secrets Men Keep, published in 2015.
CWA: What are you working on/doing now?
Sampson: I’ve got two manuscripts out on submission right now: a new novel and a new collection of poetry, so I’m waiting to hear whether either of them will be accepted for publication somewhere. In the meantime, I’m hard at work on another book. This one is a prequel of sorts to my 2017 novel, The Slip.
CWA: Would you recommend that writers spend time abroad and if so why?
Sampson: Absolutely. I lived abroad for a number of years and continue to travel abroad whenever I can. I find it refreshing, creatively, and it helps me to have a new perspective on where I live now and what I’m doing. As paradoxical as it sounds, gaining a bit of distance from a place you know well is often the best way to write about it.
- Ron Schafrick also taught ESL and his collection of short stories, Interpreters (Oberon 2013), is set in Korea. Read Sampson’s August 2014 interview with him here.
- Mark Sampson’s reviews and interviews at Canadian Writers Abroad.
- Alan Cumyn taught ESL in Xuzhou, China, which is reflected in his novel, Waiting for Li Ming (Goose Lane 1993). His time teaching in Salatiga in Central Java led to his two human-rights novels, Man of Bone and Burridge Unbound (both (McClelland & Stewart Emblem Editions 2002). Anyone want to review one of these? See also CWA review of The Sojourn at Imagine.
- Essayist Yolande House taught in South Korea for six years and writes regularly for Hippocampus Magazine.
- The Spring 2022 issue of The Malahat Review has a story that skewers an ESL teacher: “Paris Syndrome” by Jeff Noh.
Header photo of Toronto Rail Trail: Marilyn Legge