Min Jin Lee is our 2023 Literary Arts Series speaker. The event will be held on campus Tuesday, March 28, 2023. All are welcome. The event is is co-sponsored by the Asian Heritage committee and the Institute for Multicultural Learning.
She is the author of two novels, Free Food for Millionaires (2007) and Pachinko (2017).
Essays and Recent Articles
The Imperfect and Sublime ‘Gatsby’“I’m a late bloomer. So I can’t help but admire the blue flame of prodigy. It took me eleven years to publish my first novel. A debut at age thirty-eight. A decade later, I published my second. I’m fifty-two years old and working on my third. I know. Growing up, I never thought I’d be a writer. My family emigrated from South Korea when I was seven, and I grew up in Elmhurst, Queens. In our first year, my dad had a newspaper stand in a Manhattan office building. Then my folks ran a two-hundred-square-foot wholesale jewelry store in Koreatown until they retired. My sisters and I were latchkey kids. When we enrolled at P.S. 102, we received free lunch for a term, and then, at my mother’s insistence, we paid in full for all the years following. It was public school for me straight through until Yale, where I studied history, and then Georgetown for law school. I practiced law for two years. When I was twenty-six, I quit to write fiction. When I started out, I knew nothing about being a professional writer. I learned how to write novels by reading and rereading great books and taking cheap classes at community centers. I wrote many terrible drafts, which I never published.”
What I Want the Woman Behind the Counter to Know
Asian Americans Have Always Lived With Fear
Breaking My Own Silence: Power is the confidence to speak for yourself
‘Pachinko’ author Min Jin Lee on wrapping up trilogy about Korean life“These days, Lee is working on her third novel, “American Hagwon,” about Korean after-school academies or “cram schools,” and “Name Recognition,” a nonfiction book. She is also the writer in residence at Amherst College."
Researching and writing history“Lee, who was also struggling with a chronic liver disease, said she realized life was too short to do something she didn’t love. So she turned her focus to writing, honing her skills at inexpensive seminars and in community classes, and reading everything she could find about writing. Like many aspiring young authors, she aimed high, intending to “knock out that novel and make a lot of money, and replace some of my income as a lawyer.” She quit her job in 1995. Her first book didn’t appear until 2007."
What Min Jin Lee Wants Us to See “But they just saved and saved, and eventually they moved to New Jersey, in 1985. They bought a house and they moved to the promised land of Bergen County.”
‘History has failed almost everybody who is ordinary’“All art is political because it is created by people. I explicitly intended to write political novels. My first book [Free Food for Millionaires] is a critique of class and immigration in America. My second novel is about Koreans in Japan in relation to colonialism and xenophobia. Both novels deal with themes of immigration, race and homeland. Primarily, they speak to what the diaspora does and means for people who are scattered throughout the world. My third novel, American Hagwon, will complete my trilogy; the novels are unrelated in characters, but related by the theme of diaspora. Political novels can be boring to read unless written effectively with the powerful tools of fiction; I was trying to do this. I want my books to be pleasurable and edifying. Though Frederick Douglass didn’t write fiction, his speeches have great narrative power because he integrates storytelling tools elegantly with his political analysis.”
What Writers Can Take Away From the Bible: The National Book Award finalist Min Jin Lee on how the story of Joseph, and the idea that goodness can come from suffering, influences her work“As I wrote Pachinko, I interviewed many Korean Japanese, individuals who suffered a hundred thousand times more than I’ve ever suffered in my life. What struck me most of all was how resilient they were—how much joy they felt, despite everything that had happened to them. Their humor, their ability to sing, or dance, or make light of people who were unkind. And I found this to be incredibly gratifying, because I think I initially viewed them only through the lens of their struggles. I was stuck in a space of focusing on the world’s darkness. But the people I interviewed reminded me that, even in darkness, there are still weddings. There are still children. There’s laughter. You can’t just look at the dark and you can’t just look at the light: Real human lives are a constant interplay of light and dark. And that gave me a great deal of great hope, an idea about how to carry on.”
A Novelist Confronts the Complex Relationship Between Japan and Korea“I do have love for Japan. At the same time, I have a complex relationship with Japan because I’m Korean,” she said. “But I think it shows the strength of a country when you can talk about the past transparently.”
Book Excerpts and a Short Story
‘History Has Failed Us, but no matter’ from Pachinko
Free Food for Millionaires
Axis of Happiness
Podcast interview with Susan Orlean
Podcast interview with Well Read Black Girl
Amherst DeMott Lecture 2019
Asian American Life on CUNY TV
Free Food for Millionaires“Is the story finally told?”
Literary Arts Series