Thursday, January 4, 2024

The Writing University conducts a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.

Jungin Angie Lee

Today we are speaking with Jungin Angie Lee, an MFA candidate in fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has received fellowships and grants for her writing from the University of Iowa, the Ragdale Foundation, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and Stanford University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English.


1.    Can you tell us a little bit about what brought you to the University of Iowa?

I’ve long been aware that the University of Iowa is the “place to be” for students and lovers of writing, and that the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is renowned for its unprecedented and consistent nurturing of the next generation of poets and fiction writers. Once I began to think about pursuing creative writing seriously -- in my early college years -- and as I learned more about MFA programs, the University of Iowa became my dream graduate school, especially due to its mid-sized cohorts and philosophy that “writing cannot be taught but writers can be encouraged.” What topped it all off was getting to learn from Lan Samantha Chang, the director of the Workshop, as an undergrad at Stanford when she was a visiting professor, and again at a summer writing conference. She is so brilliant and moving, both in her work as a teacher and as a writer, and in addition to desperately wanting to learn even more from her, I gained an absolute trust that the MFA program she ran would be just as brilliant and inspirational. (Now, I know I was right!)

2.    What is the inspiration for your work right now?

The sheer excitement of being at the Workshop -- and having the privilege of reading and discussing the wonderful work of my friends here -- is inspiring me every day. I’m currently focused on writing short stories and hope to complete a novel one day (sooner than later!) My stories so far have tended to center friendship and family, and many feature characters with disabilities. I was born with spinal muscular atrophy and am very interested in representations of disability in fiction. Historically, disability has often been used as metaphor in literature. Disability as impasse. Disability as evil. Disability as tragic insight, etc. I’m inspired to work on stories in which disability does not symbolize anything else, but rather disabled characters are just being, in the many ways they can be. Sometimes disability does lead to a major conflict in the story -- as it can in real life -- and other times it is a mere fact of a character’s life, a small aspect among many that define them, which is another way it can function in reality.

3.    Do you have a daily writing routine?

This is part of what I hope to discover and solidify before I graduate: how best to structure my daily writing practice. I do write every day (well, most days), and try to write before I do anything else. For some reason I’m a harsher self-critic in the evenings, so I often draft in the mornings and edit or revise at night. I go to bed thinking, wow, this sucks. Then I wake up and reread what I revised the previous night and think, wow, this isn’t too bad, and hence feel the motivation to draft again, and then I come back to revise in the evening, and boy is it terrible, and the cycle continues.

4.    What are you reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

For research, I’m reading The Billion-Dollar Molecule by Barry Werth, because I want to write a story or novel involving drug discovery. For profound thoughts on the practice and craft of writing, I’m reading Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor. For pleasure, I’m taking my time through a collection of 52 stories by Anton Chekhov and devouring Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans. The latter three of these books were recommended to me this semester by my ingenious professor, Jamel Brinkley. Honestly, he’s so smart and thoughtful, I’d read anything he recommended! And for recommendations of my own, I’ve been telling nearly everyone I know that I’m obsessed with the stories of Claire Keegan and Weike Wang.

5.    Tell us about where you are from - what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

I grew up in a Chicago suburb and have most recently considered the San Francisco Bay Area home. Hot take: the Chicago suburbs have better sushi!




Thank you for talking with us today, Jungin Angie Lee!