Author Helie Lee to read Feb. 23-24

Helie Lee, author of the national best-selling memoirs Still Life With Rice (1996) and In the Absence of Sun (2002), will host a pair of events Feb. 23-24 for The SmartSet Series: Where Great Writers Read, sponsored by The Center for the Humanities in Arts & Sciences.

At 8 p.m. Feb. 23, Lee will read from her work in Anheuser-Busch Hall, Room 204. And at 4 p.m. Feb. 24, she will lead a seminar and audience discussion on the craft of writing in McMillan Café, Room 115 of McMillan Hall.

Helie Lee
Helie Lee

Lee’s work explores the history of her family amidst the turbulent circumstances of 20th-century Korea. Still Life With Rice recounts the story of Lee’s grandmother, Hongyong Baek, brought up to become a wife, bear children, keep a house and care for a husband chosen by arrangement.

The dramatic tale unfolds across World War II, when the family fled the Japanese invasion, and the Korean War, when the family split up and fought to escape the communist North. These stories bring Lee to a fuller sense of her own identity and help her to better understand the historical and cultural realities that shaped her mother and grandmother.

In the Absence of Sun revisits similar themes, chronicling Lee’s efforts to reunite Hongyong with her son, who had been forced to stay in North Korea, where he remained after the war.

Lee faces great difficulty in attempting to reach the son in the acutely isolated society of North Korea, yet her eventual success helps Lee achieve a measure of self-understanding as a Korean. She learns, in some way, what it cost her grandmother to be one, yet also why her grandmother takes such pride in that heritage.

Booklist described Still Life With Rice as “written with great narrative power and attention to detail, a testament to the will to survive.”

Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain, said In the Absence of Sun “reads like a thriller. Helie Lee has shown incredible personal bravery in both taking responsibility for the cost her previous book took on her family left behind in North Korea, and then in what she did to help get them out.”

Lee was born in Seoul before moving with her family to Canada and later Southern California, where she earned a degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and continues to make her home.

In addition to her books, she worked on television’s In Living Color, Saved by the Bell and The Martin Lawrence Show.

Both events are free and open to the public. Copies of Lee’s works will be available for purchase, and a book-signing and reception will follow each program.

For more information, call 935-5576.

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