Featuring | NYFA Hall of Fame Honoree Min Jin Lee
Lee will be celebrated at NYFA’s 2019 Hall of Fame on April 11, 2019 alongside Sanford Biggers and Karl Kellner.
The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) will induct Min Jin Lee, Sanford Biggers, and Karl Kellner into its Hall of Fame during its 2019 Hall of Fame Benefit on April 11, 2019. The ticketed event will feature cocktails; dinner; and a live/silent auction of art, experiences, and more. All tickets come with a signed, limited-edition print by Sanford Biggers created exclusively for the event.
2019 Hall of Fame Inductee and Novelist Min Jin Lee (Fellow in Fiction ’00) was born in Seoul, South Korea and immigrated to Queens, New York with her family in 1976 when she was seven years old. Her extensively-researched, emotionally-resonant novels Pachinko (Grand Central Publishing, 2017) and Free Food for Millionaires (Grand Central Publishing, 2007) create “radical empathy through art” and center on the Korean diaspora; she’s currently at work on the third diaspora novel of her trilogy “The Koreans,” titled American Hagwon. The book will focus on hagwons, or private institutions for supplemental education that are commonplace in South Korea but stigmatized in the United States.
“I’ve been asked why I write about Koreans,” said Lee in a February 2019 interview in Harvard Magazine. “And it seems like such a strange question. Because why wouldn’t I write about Koreans? To me, Koreans are mothers and fathers and daughters and sons, which means Koreans are like us; we are worthy of consideration and reflection.”
A graduate of Yale College and Georgetown University, Lee worked as a corporate lawyer for several years in New York prior to writing full time. Success did not immediately follow: “After I failed for a long time, I decided that I would write to seek answers for my personal questions instead of writing to earn external validation,” said Lee in a National Novel Writing Month blog post.
It was 12 years before Free Food for Millionaires was published. The novel, which follows the story of the Korean-American daughter of first-generation immigrants as she strives to join Manhattan’s inner circle, was a national bestseller that was recognized as a “Top 10 Book of the Year” by The Times of London, NPR’s “Fresh Air,” and USA Today.
Lee’s second novel, Pachinko, follows a Korean family through seven decades as they struggle through conflict and cultural displacement. “Like most memorable novels, Pachinko resists summary. In this sprawling book, history itself is a character. Pachinko is about outsiders, minorities, and the politically disenfranchised. But it is so much more besides,” wrote Krys Lee for The New York Times. NPR’s Jean Zimmerman reported that Pachinko is “the kind of book that can open your eyes and fill them with tears at the same time.” The book was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction; a runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; and was included on The New York Times, BBC, CBC, and New York Public Library lists of “The 10 Best Books of 2017,” among other “best of” lists from NPR, PBS, CNN, and many others. It has since been translated into 24 languages.
Lee’s work has appeared in publications and programs including The New Yorker, NPR’s “Selected Shorts,” The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal. She also served three consecutive seasons as a “Morning Forum” columnist for The Chosun Ilbo of South Korea.
In 2018, Lee was named to Adweek’s “Creative 100” for being “one of the 10 writers and editors who are changing the national conversation” and The Guardian’s “The Frederick Douglass 200” list of people who best embody the spirit and work of Frederick Douglass. Lee is a recipient of fellowships in Fiction from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard, and is currently a Writer-in-Residence at Amherst College.
Image: Min Jin Lee (Fellow in Fiction ’00), Photo Credit: Elena Siebert