Chang-Rae Lee

in conversation with with R. O. Kwon

Recorded Saturday, February 6th, 2021

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Chang-Rae Lee in conversation with R.O. Kwon

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Chang-rae Lee‘s My Year Abroad is an exuberant, provocative story about a young American life transformed by an unusual Asian adventure – and about the human capacities for pleasure, pain, and connection.

Chang-rae Lee is the author of Native Speaker, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction, as well as On Such a Full Sea, A Gesture LifeAloft, and The Surrendered, winner of the Dayton Peace Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He has also written stories and articles for The New YorkerThe New York TimesTime (Asia), GrantaConde Nast TravelerFood & Wine, and many other publications. Chang-rae Lee teaches writing at Stanford University.

R.O. Kwon’s nationally bestselling first novel, The Incendiaries, is being translated into seven languages. Named a best book of the year by over forty publications, The Incendiaries received the Housatonic Book Award and was a finalist or nominated for seven other prizes, including the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award for Best First Book and Los Angeles Times First Book Prize. Kwon’s next novel, as well as an essay collection, are forthcoming.

R.O’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Paris Review, NPR, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Born in Seoul, Kwon has lived most of her life in the United States.

“It is ‘where we are’ that should make all the difference, whether we believe we belong there or not.”

– Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea

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    What is the last thing you read or saw that moved you?

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    Who are you reading right now?

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    Where do you find inspiration for your writing? Does it come to you spontaneously or is it more structured than that? How long does it take to write a novel from start to finish?

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    How has your life (and your writing) been affected by the pandemic?

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    How much research do you do when writing? How much of the story do you draw from your own life and how much do you invent?

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    Can you talk about being a Korean-American writer coming up in the ’90s, and how things have evolved for Korean writers over the past 30 years? How much are things different and/or the same for contemporary writers like Reese?

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    What inspires the titles of your novels?

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    What are you working on now? What’s next?

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    Where did the inspiration for the character Tiller come from? What does he represent?

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    What advice would you give to young writers trying to make sense of this crazy world?

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    What inspired you to write “my year abroad”? What was the writing process like for this book?

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    Who are some of your favorite authors, whether fiction or non-fiction, and have they influenced your writing?