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Politics and Prose

Marie Myung-Ok Lee | Longreads | May 17, 2018 | 3,630 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Nonfiction, Story, Unapologetic Women

Politics and Prose

Marie Myung-Ok Lee finds herself conflicted about attending a controversial author’s reading and wonders: what does “speaking up” actually mean?
Alex Milan Tracy / Sipa via AP Images

Marie Myung-Ok Lee | Longreads | May 2018 | 15 minutes (3,630 words)

“Walls are built in the mind.” — Wole Soyinka

“The whole country is outraged and outspoken and you should be too

because if you’re not, then you’re not doing your part.”

— Rachel Coye, “New Year”

As a writer, a books columnist for the literary site The Millions, the co-founder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and a literary citizen with prolific and brilliant friends whose readings and performances I could probably ink every night on my calendar, let’s say I go to a lot of book signings. Some have food, some have wine. Some have people who wander in and ask irrelevant questions with disarming earnestness.

At one reading where I acted as interlocutor, the novelist I was interviewing took out a package of Swiss chocolate she’d brought with her from Geneva, and instead of putting it on the plate with the wine, handed it to me with a sly smile. I’ve been to several readings where I have been the sole member of the audience. I was asked to do a reading that would involve live exotic animals as accompaniment. I went to one on the Lower East Side, back when it was truly gritty, where the writer was accompanied — overpowered, really — by a person blowing random high notes on a flute. Each reading offers something different, delightful, educational, new.

But I’ve never been to a reading/book signing that had protesters. Especially not for a book the Cleveland Plain Dealer called a “Beautiful, eloquent, and timely” memoir authored by a young writer with a new MFA, a Fulbright, and a Whiting Award. In the era of Trump, where there is something new to protest every day (women’s rights, the EPA, the NEA, gun control, tax cuts for the rich, healthcare…), what would cause the lovely indie bookstore, Books Are Magic to send out a warning on Facebook before the event?

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