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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Taking a 'rash' leap

Part of writing a novel is being willing to leap into the blackness. You have very little idea, really, of what's going to happen. You have a broad sense, maybe, but it's this rash leap. – Chang-Rae Lee

Chang-Rae Lee is a Korean American novelist and professor of creative writing at Princeton University where he has headed up that program for many years.  Born in Korea on this date in 1965 he emigrated to the U.S. with his family and has used the Korean immigrant experience as the primary focus for his award-winning writing.  But, while that is HIS primary focus, he stresses with his students that they should be aware of the broad spectrum of writing and writing styles.

“I'll offer them stories from Anton Chekhov to Denis Johnson, from Flannery O'Connor to A.M. Homes, and perhaps investigating all that strange variation of beauty has rubbed off on me. Or perhaps that's why I enjoy teaching literature,” he said.
Lee's first novel in 1995, Native Speaker, jump-started his own career as it won numerous awards, including the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. The novel centers around a Korean American industrial spy, and explores themes of alienation and betrayal as felt or perpetrated by immigrants and first-generation citizens, something he’s repeated in other works. 

Often, he said, he isn’t sure where he’s headed when he starts, but that’s not a bad thing.   As for what's the most challenging aspect of teaching, he said it's convincing younger writers of the importance of reading widely and passionately.

Chang-Rae Lee
“I often think that the prime directive for me as a teacher of writing is akin to that for a physician, which is this: do no harm.”

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