Chang-rae Lee
Chang-rae Lee signed copies of "Native Speaker" at the University's Community/Staff Day Oct. 12. The University gave away 100 copies of the book as a special door prize.

photo: Denise Applewhite


New faculty member gets novel welcome to Princeton

by Jennifer Greenstein Altmann
When novelist Chang-rae Lee arrived at Princeton this summer as a professor in the Council of the Humanities and the Program in Creative Writing, he received quite a greeting. Hundreds of people in the Princeton community were reading his novel "Native Speaker," which was selected as the first book in a program that encourages members of a community to read the same book at the same time.


The Princeton Reads program, which launches Oct. 20, will hold more than 15 discussion groups about "Native Speaker" at various locations in Princeton. Author Chang-rae Lee will talk about the book at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Princeton High School's auditorium. For free tickets or to register for a discussion group, call the Princeton Public Library at (609) 924-9529, ext. 220.

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Lee is delighted that his new hometown has embraced his work as the first selection of the Princeton Reads program. "Princeton seems in some ways the ideal situation" for the program because of the town's small size, said Lee.

A native of Korea, Lee immigrated to the United States at the age of 3. His writings explore the themes of identity, belonging and assimilation. "Native Speaker," his first novel, tells the story of a Korean-American outsider who is involved with espionage. The book won the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, the American Book Award and other honors. It was one of two finalists chosen for a proposed reading program in New York City that was later disbanded.

His second book, "A Gesture Life," is a narrative about an elderly medic who treated Korean "comfort women" during World War II. The novel, which won the Anisfeld-Wolf Prize in Fiction and the Asian-American Literary Award for Fiction, earned Lee a spot on The New Yorker magazine's list of the 20 best American writers under 40. "A Gesture Life" was chosen as the fifth book in Seattle's reading program.

Alexander Nehamas, the Edmund Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities, has described Lee as "one of the most prominent and promising Asian-American authors of this generation." As Lee settled into his new home in Princeton, he talked to the Princeton Weekly Bulletin about his approach to teaching writing and what draws him to explore certain stories in his fiction.

The full story is available in the Weekly Bulletin.





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