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 Korea on this date in 1965, Lee is a novelist and professor of creative writing at Princeton where he has headed up that program for many years. Lee has used his Korean immigrant experience as a focal point for his award-winning writing. But, while that is his own focus, he stresses with students 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. Perhaps investigating all that strange variation of beauty has rubbed off on me … (and) that's why I enjoy teaching literature.” Lee's first novel, Native Speaker, 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, something he’s repeated in other works.
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 is 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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