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Celebrating Recent Work by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

New Books in the Arts and Sciences

dateApril 17, 2023 timeMonday, 6:15pm–7:30pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University locationVirtual Event
  • Office of the Divisional Deans in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
  • The Columbia University MFA Writing Program
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Cover of The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

The Evening Hero
by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

A sweeping, lyrical novel following a Korean immigrant pursuing the American dream who must confront the secrets of the past or risk watching the world he’s worked so hard to build come crumbling down.

Dr. Yungman Kwak is in the twilight of his life. Every day for the last fifty years, he has brushed his teeth, slipped on his shoes, and headed to Horse Breath’s General Hospital, where, as an obstetrician, he treats the women and babies of the small rural Minnesota town he chose to call home.

This was the life he longed for. The so-called American dream. He immigrated from Korea after the Korean War, forced to leave his family, ancestors, village, and all that he knew behind. But his life is built on a lie. And one day, a letter arrives that threatens to expose it.

Yungman’s life is thrown into chaos—the hospital abruptly closes, his wife refuses to spend time with him, and his son is busy investing in a struggling health start-up. Yungman faces a choice—he must choose to hide his secret from his family and friends or confess and potentially lose all he’s built. He begins to question the very assumptions on which his life is built—the so-called American dream, with the abject failure of its healthcare system, patient and neighbors who perpetuate racism, a town flawed with infrastructure, and a history that doesn’t see him in it.

Toggling between the past and the present, Korea and America, The Evening Hero is a sweeping, moving, darkly comic novel about a man looking back at his life and asking big questions about what is lost and what is gained when immigrants leave home for new shores.

This event will be in person at the Heyman Center and live-streamed online. Please register for both in-person and virtual attendance via the link.

Please email [email protected] to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.

About The Author

Marie Myung-Ok Lee is the Writer in Residence at Columbia University's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. She is an acclaimed Korean American writer and author of the young adult novel Finding my Voice, thought to be one of the first contemporary-set Asian American YA novels. She is one of a handful of American journalists who have been granted a visa to North Korea since the Korean War. She was the first Fulbright Scholar to Korea in creative writing and has received many honors for her work, including an O. Henry honorable mention, the Best Book Award from the Friends of American Writers, and a New York Foundation for the Arts fiction fellowship.

About the Speakers

Frances Cha is the author of the novel If I Had Your Face, which was named one of the Best Books of the Year by Time Magazine, NPR, BBC and Esquire, among other publications and is being translated into 11 languages. She received her MFA in fiction from Columbia University, where she received a Dean’s Fellowship. She worked as the assistant managing editor of Samsung Economic Research Institute’s business journal in Seoul, and as a travel and culture editor for CNN in Seoul and Hong Kong. She has taught media studies at Ewha Womens University and creative writing at Yonsei University and currently teaches undergraduate fiction at Columbia University.

Denise Cruz writes and teaches about gender and sexuality in national and transnational cultures in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She uses spatial and geographic frameworks (from the transpacific, to the regional, to the Global South) to examine previously unstudied archives (from the first works of English literature by Filipina and Filipino authors, to private papers that document connections between the Midwest and U. S. empire, to fashion shows in Manila). She contends that this combined analytical and archival approach extends our understanding of the importance of national, regional, transnational, and global dynamics in North America, the Philippines, and Asia.

Lis Harris, a staff writer for The New Yorker for more than two decades, is the Chair of Columbia University's School of the Arts Writing Program. In addition to innumerable articles, profiles, reviews, essays and commentaries for The New Yorker, she has also contributed to The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The World Policy Journal, Du and other publications. Her books include Holy Days: The World of a Hasidic Family, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Rules of Engagement: Four Couples and American Marriage; Tilting at Mills: Green Dreams, Dirty Dealings and the Corporate Squeeze; and, most recently, In Jerusalem: Three Generations of An Israeli Family and a Palestinian Family.

Dana Spiotta is the author of five novels: Wayward, a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of the Year; Innocents and Others (2016), winner of the St. Francis College Literary Prize and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Stone Arabia (2011), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Eat the Document (2006), which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the winner of the American Academy’s Rosenthal Foundation Award; and Lightning Field (2001), a New York Times Notable Book.