Best-Selling Author Michelle Zauner Discusses Memoir 'Crying in H Mart,' Shares Her Writing Process In Conversation With Bryan Washington
HOUSTON, May 9, 2022 – Indie rockstar Michelle Zauner, singer and guitarist under the name Japanese Breakfast, joined Asia Society Texas for a conversation about her New York Times best-selling memoir, Crying in H-Mart. In a sold-out Sunday evening program, Zauner spoke with Houston author Bryan Washington about her writing trajectory and process. A book-signing with Zauner followed the program, with books available for purchase onsite from partner Brazos Bookstore and food available from Seoulside Wings.
Reflecting on her writing journey, Zauner shared with the audience that she had taken creative writing classes in college — where she focused on fiction, never nonfiction — and originally wanted to “write like a white man” because those were the authors whom she grew up seeing lionized. However, in the grief after her mom died, Zauner realized writing an album wasn’t enough as she had so much more she wanted to share. This led to her exploring nonfiction, she said, first through an essay titled “Love, Loss, and Kimchi,” which grew into a longer essay in The New Yorker, which became the foundation of her memoir.
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An author himself, Washington expressed curiosity about Zauner’s artistic process – in crafting her voice on the page, constructing a scene to allow for numerous emotions to exist simultaneously, and writing to an audience. Zauner spoke candidly about how she tried to write fast and dirty, 1,000 words a day regardless of quality, much in the same way she recorded a song daily for her digital album, June. The goal was to produce source material that could then be edited, and revisiting the material to see what stood out and what could be fleshed out. For instance, Zauner shared that she went back through her manuscript to add more details about weather, to anchor a scene or mood. On the whole, she said she tried to write from her natural speaking voice, but added that she would collect tidbits of people around her to store away in her mind and add into her writing where appropriate to make them more relatable and more fleshed out.
Both Zauner and Washington shared that it can be difficult to write through hard topics that often involve reliving trauma. Washington emphasized that it is important to learn to care for yourself when writing, and Zauner agreed, though confessed it is a work in progress for her. Looking back on her memoir, Zauner indicated that its editing process benefited from her downtime during the pandemic — but she believes she has grown as a writer since then as well. Regardless, she values all her past creations — whether prose or music — as an archive of who she was at the time.
Performing Arts and Culture programs at Asia Society Texas are presented by Syamal and Susmita Poddar. Major support comes from Nancy C. Allen, Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Endowment, and The Brown Foundation Inc. Generous funding also provided by AARP, The Anchorage Foundation of Texas, The Clayton Fund, and Miller Theatre Advisory Board. Additional support provided by the Wortham Foundation, Texas Commission on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, United Airlines, and through contributions from the Friends of Asia Society, a dedicated group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional programming and exhibitions to Asia Society Texas Center.
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About Asia Society Texas
Asia Society Texas believes in the strength and beauty of diverse perspectives and people. As an educational institution, we advance cultural exchange by celebrating the vibrant diversity of Asia, inspiring empathy, and fostering a better understanding of our interconnected world. Spanning the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, our programming is rooted in the educational and cultural development of our community — trusting in the power of art, dialogue, and ideas to combat bias and build a more inclusive society.