Award-winning writer Chang-Rae Lee is born on this day in Seoul, South Korea.
Lee’s father, a doctor, moved to the United States to finish his training and brought his family over when Chang-Rae was three. The family lived first in Pittsburgh, then in suburban New York. Lee’s parents tried not to speak English in front of the children, to keep Lee and his sister from learning to speak with an accent.
Lee attended prep school and Yale. After graduating, he worked on Wall Street as an equities analyst for a year, then went to the University of Oregon to study creative writing, where he later joined the faculty. Lee’s first book, Native Speaker (1995), was one of the earliest examinations of the relatively recent Korean immigrant experience. It was widely acclaimed and won the prestigious PEN award.
In 1998, Lee abandoned work on his nearly finished second novel, deciding he couldn’t do justice to the characters. He moved to New York and took a job as director of Hunter College’s creative writing program; he later held the same position at Princeton University. Lee’s second book, A Gesture Life, came out in 1999; two others, Aloft and The Surrendered, appeared in 2004 and 2010, respectively. Lee lives with his wife and two daughters in New Jersey.