Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Min Jin Lee on Writing

Among the books I've enjoyed the most this year is Min Jin Lee's "Free Food for Millionaires" which, friends and family, I encourage you to read (as in, you have to buy it because buying books is how we will keep the damned industry from falling apart before, oh, next fall). It's a very good book, set in the world of Korean immigrants in New York and filled with love and longing for money and other people. Except, it isn't really one of those books. Min Jin Lee is a super driven, inner-tormented smarty.

I was curious to learn more about this writer, who I assumed would be somewhat guarded. In an interview with the Asian American Writer's Association, she says:
GT: You want to succeed.
MJL: I'd like to do it for the home team. I do want to succeed. I've failed for such a long time: twelve years of not having a book. I've watched a lot of people younger than me publish.

And earlier:
As an Asian American and a Korean person, you're not supposed to talk about yourself and brag about your accomplishments. All those things you have to turn over, because you're there to hawk your book. I felt a lot of pressure, I didn't want to let my family down, let my publisher down.

Then she has a more outspoken moment.
I'm glad my book is coming out in my late 30s. The older I get, the more I see how everybody suffers. Nobody is protected. Everybody is vulnerable. You start to think the world isn't so simple. If you're going to make anything worth reading, it should have that level of complexity and sympathy.

I will say the past twelve years, the humility that I have comes from having failed consistently. I realized that writing is nothing short of a compulsion. If you stick with it, if you're really serious, you realize that rejections are a real part of the job.

Even if it hurts to wait or be rejected, and you still feel the compulsion to tell your story, I really encourage you to persist. Even if it's humiliating. I would never tell you it's not humiliating.

Well yes of course it's humiliating. The interesting thing is to try to forge some kind of dignity out of the humiliation--which she has. Most complexity comes from the overlap of two things which, at first glance, seem totally incongruous. Is anything interesting really ever easy?

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