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Studio Visit: Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Asian American Writers’ Workshop cofounder Marie Myung-Ok Lee kicks off our new weekly Q&A series with writers.

By Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Studio Visit is a new weekly Q&A series in The Margins to spotlight writers we admire. Each writer sends us a photo of where they like to buckle down and write, and gives us a glimpse into their inner lives.

Korean American novelist and essayist Marie Myung-Ok Lee had dreamt of moving to New York City to become a writer ever since she was nine. Born and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, she finally moved to New York after college to pursue the literary life, but her day job at Goldman Sachs began to take over. To her parents’ horror, she quit her job and started freelancing.

Around that time, she joined a small group of Asian American writers who were conducting informal writing workshops and meeting at a Greek restaurant in the Village. “We all felt like small outlaws, rebelling against our parents who hoped we’d become doctors,” she recalls. Their ragtag group put on a reading at the Chinatown History Museum (now the Museum of Chinese in America) pre-Internet with almost no publicity, but famously, the reading attracted about 200 people. It was so crowded that the museum had to close down the event due to fire codes. The group of writers would go on to found the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in 1991. “It wasn’t an easy transition, going from proto-yuppie to full-time writer, but things tend to come into your life just when you need them.”

We asked Lee to kick off our new weekly Q&A series, Studio Visit. Above is a photo of where she has been writing her forthcoming novel.


What’s on your nightstand now?
Jeannette Winterson’s brilliant memoir: Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?

What superpower would you most like to possess?
X-ray vision

What role does place have in your writing?
As a person of color, I did not have the easiest time growing up in rural Minnesota. So it’s a little odd how much I find myself returning there fictionally. But perhaps I do it because it was complicated, not in spite of it.


What songs are on your iPod now?
Weirdly, a bunch of stuff by the Weepies and Radiohead (I know, strange mix). I also just went to a screening of Judy’ Blume’s Tiger Eyes (the movie) and was quite taken by the soundtrack, a lot of it by Michelle Branch. So I’m waiting for that to be available in the iTunes Store.

What is your writing process?
I like to be up when no one else is. When I’m on the first draft of a novel, my favorite time is 4 a.m. I try to stay as “asleep” as possible, but I like a cup of really strong coffee, candles, and gluten free chocolate chip cookies. Again, weird, but I’ve been doing this since college.

What are you working on right now?
My novel (out in 2015) is in edits. I’m also working on a few long-form nonfiction pieces, including one about my dad coming to America in the 1950s from Korea and ending up in Jim Crow Alabama.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Time to myself.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Ha. A writer. Still do.