Choi was born in Pyongyang, now part of North Korea. During the Korean War, she fled to South Korea. She emigrated to the United States to pursue higher education, earning her B.A. from Manhattanville College in 1962 and becoming a school teacher in New York. She later moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she began working as a writer, lecturer, and creative writing teacher. She is the widow of Nung Ho Choi, with whom she had two daughters. The older daughter, Kathleen Choi, was a child actress on Sesame Street, and in 1993 went on to marry John J. H. Kim of Fort Lee, New Jersey, the great-grandson of Korean prime minister Kim Hong-jip. The younger daughter Audrey Choi was formerly chief-of-staff of the Council of Economic Advisers, and married Robert C. Orr, an aide to Richard Holbrooke, in 2000.
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