“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
Born in South Korea on July 28, 1965, Lee is a novelist and professor of creative writing at Stanford University. Much of his writing focuses on his family’s immigrant experience in moving to the U.S., but what he stresses for his students is to be aware of a 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,” he said, “and perhaps investigating all that strange variation of beauty has rubbed off on me. Or perhaps that's why I enjoy teaching.”
Lee's first novel (in 1995), Native Speaker, jump-started his own career as it won numerous prizes, 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. His book about the Korean War, The Surrendered, was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize for Literature.
Often, he said, he isn’t sure where he’s headed when he starts writing, 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. “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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