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MFA Collaboration Series: Durango

James Lee, One Book Fellow

May 12, 2024

As part of a continued effort from the Virginia Wadworth Wirtz Center of the Performing Arts to promote the creative efforts of their MFA Directing students, Julia Cho's Durango premiered at the Hal and Martha Wallis Theatre of the Wirtz Center on May 12, 2024, directed by Tae-Heum Yeon. The play's premise is fairly straightforward — after a 56-year-old Korean man named Boo-Seng (Wonjin Hahn) is laid off from his job, he decides to take his two sons, Isaac (Ethan Cheng) and Jimmy (Oliver Tam) on a road trip to Durango, Colorado. Over the course of the trip, however, their personalities and identities collide, creating a well-constructed tapestry of characters whose individual clashes between the American Dream, traditional masculinity, and filial Korean values create turmoil along the journey.

Even as the play seems to take on a relatively familiar premise that's been treaded upon frequently by other artists like Cho, the angle that Durango takes on its Korean-American family — one of repression, broken promises, and the seeming failure to self-actualize — is so grounded in the interactional realities of its characters that the naturalism of its story allows it to distinguish itself. All three characters have some kind of aspirations of their own; Isaac seems to be looking forward to the results of a job interview, Jimmy is an aspiring superhero graphic novelist, and Boo-seng wants to see his sons flourish in the wake of his sacking. But it's about the aspirations that these characters keep to themselves, all of which involve some kind of deception about the type of people they are, that create a significant source of conflict between the three. Combined with the fact that the traditional Korean values imposed on them become a breeding ground not just for conflict with the lives they've led in America, but also a desire to subvert and break free of these values' restrictions, and you have a potent story about the strife of Korean immigration and the legacies that immigrant children create in new territory — desired or otherwise.

Yeon's direction charts through these interactions and truths about Cho's characters with significant grace and pointed minimalism, while the performances he leads are all nothing short of exceptional, as Cheng, Tam, and Hahn in particular all find a way to range the gamut from energetic and rebellious to despondent and desperate. Durango proves to be another wonderful piece of theatre from Wirtz's productions in a year full of spectacular play premieres — among them being Will Arbery's Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House, and Annie Baker's The Aliens — and one whose angle on Korean immigration, grief, and the contradicting faces on the American Dream prove to be its greatest source of narrative and emotional insight.

screenshot-2024-05-13-at-11.29.39am.pngPhoto Credit: Justin Barbin

Carrying Our Ghosts

Vivian Bui, One Book Fellow 

April 10, 2024 

In Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner reflected on her own grieving process of her mother, who she lost to cancer. In a personal essay published in the New Yorker, she wrote about her grief by thinking about her trips to H Mart after her mother had passed. She writes, “Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart” (Zauner 2018). Looking at various items in the store, she is reminded of when she and her mother cooked Korean dishes together, the lunches her mother packed for her, and the food cravings they satisfied together. She explains that her grief comes in waves and how it is typically triggered by something arbitrary. She explains, “I can tell you with a straight face what it was like watching my mom’s hair fall out in the bathtub, or about the five weeks I spent sleeping in hospitals, but catch me at H Mart when some kid runs up double-fisting plastic sleeves of ppeong-twigi and I’ll just lose it” (Zauner 2018). 

Many participants of the Carrying Our Ghosts writing workshop, led by Jamie Nakamura Lynn, author of The Night Parade, seemed to experience similar feelings when asked to consider grief through objects. In the workshop, Lin showed examples of several authors who thought about their grief through objects, which allowed them to reflect on their relationship with the object, idea, or person they were grieving. Then, she asked us to think about something we were currently grieving. In the next exercise, we listed concrete items to use as entry points to what we were grieving. Participants wrote together and some shared what they were writing about. From grieving lost friendships and loved ones who have passed, Lin encouraged a safe, open environment for individuals to think about grief they have or are currently experiencing. 

The writing workshop was unique in how it approached writing about a difficult topic. The workshop showed me how writing about grief does not have to be inherently sad. Grief can be angry, calm, and even happy. The method she introduced of looking at grief through arbitrary objects also seemed to help mediate the feelings and memories. 


2024 International Women's Day Program

Hannah Simmons, Student Contributor

March 8, 2024

On March 8, 2024, in celebration of International Women’s Day, the Women’s Center welcomed a mixture of faculty, staff, and students to a Zoom celebration, centering Head Creatrix at Unconventional Counseling and Northwestern University Family Institute alum Ayda Ad Astra. Ayda’s speech encapsulated this year’s International Women’s Day theme, “Inspire Inclusion.” The program began with Njoki Kamau, Associate Director of the Women’s Center, welcoming us to the space and reminding us through Gloria Steinem, “the story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist, nor to any one organization, but to all who care about human rights.” We then looked through South African artist and visual activist Zanele Muholi’s photography series, highlighting the everyday intimacies and beauties of LGBTQIA+ South Africans. Njoki then introduced Ayda Ad Astra.

With a calm, gentle voice, Ayda led the group through a brief meditation, setting a tone of comfort, safety, and care they carried throughout their speech. Ayda then led us through a beautiful, touching speech about their journey of self-discovery in a world that tried to shape how they identified. They led us through a road map of their life in three sections. The first section, “I’m not a boy.” The second, “I’m not a straight girl?” The third, “I’m me.” 

With grace, tenderness, and rawness, Ayda discussed their relationship with their family and community and their inner battles and examination of their life, ultimately leading them to a deeper understanding of themself. In their concluding remarks, Ayda stated, “When I was 6, something was exposed. When I was 14, something broke. And, when I was 28, something clicked. Ayda ended by leading us through a collective breath and thanking us for being there with them. Ultimately, Ayda’s speech and the Women’s Center’s International Women’s Day celebration showcased the importance of celebrating gender and sexuality diversity. The program truly embodied this year’s International Women’s Day theme, “Inspire Inclusion.” 

Geographies of Korean Diasporic Communities: Exploring the Northern Chicago Suburbs

Melanie Ahn, Student Contributor

March 4, 2024

On Saturday, February 24th, roughly forty students from three of Professor Helen Cho’s classes – Contemporary Issues in Asian America, Critical Studies in Journalism, and Asian American Uncivil Rights – piled into a bright yellow school bus to participate in a sense-learning field trip. The day consisted of a guided tour of the Chicagoland suburbs insightfully narrated by Dr. Ji-Yeon Yuh, a stop at Kong Dog to sample Korean-style corn dogs, and a visit to the Korean Culture Center of Chicago (KCCoC) – where we tried our hands at writing our names in 한글 (hangul), walked around the KCCoC campus, witnessed musical performances of traditional Korean instruments (단소 (danso), 가야금 (kayakeum), and 풍물 (pungmul)) presented by Soribeat Ensemble from the Korean Performing Arts Institute of Chicago (KPAC), and engaged in a talkback discussion with the high schooler performers in Soribeat. 

As a Korean American who was born and spent the first eight years of her life in Chicago, traversing through Skokie, Morton Grove, Glenview, and Wheeling prompted much introspection. I tend to envision the Midwest as a region of small town, white suburbias – an image to which downtown Chicago seems antithetical. What I had previously neglected, however, is that despite Chicago’s apparent comparability to diverse and metropolitan East and West Coast cities, the experience of living here is still informed by the city’s status as a regional anomaly, whereas New York and San Francisco are neighbored by similarly multicultural areas. Thus, when I recall my early childhood in Chicago, the vividness and prominence of my Korean church, attending 한글학교 (hangul hakkyo, Korean language school), and my pseudo 이모s (eemos, aunts) and 삼촌s (samchons, uncles) exemplify the distortive properties of memory and youth as they conveniently and naively fail to account for the long drives and intricate community-building that my parents conducted in order for their daughter to have access to her ethnic identity. I came to recognize that the traditional Korean customs I had participated in growing up – 장구 (janggu, drumming), 가야금 (kayakeum, zither), 태권도 (taekwondo), 부채춤 (buchaechum, fan dancing), 민화 (minhwa, folk art) – were activities that required the identification and dissemination of resources and expertise. In participating in them, I was given the permission to express without being asked to represent. 

The absurdity of going on a field trip during my third year of college enabled me to appreciate it in ways that I did not necessarily think imperative in years past, when these outings were obligatory and not at all novel. The excursion – made possible by the Center for Civic Engagement – exposed and explored cultural access points in Midwestern suburbias through a comprehensive mode of learning that employed both quantitative and qualitative methods as well as sight/sites, taste, and sound. In doing so, we were asked to think critically about the mundane. A drive was no longer a tedious means to an end but a chance to examine how changing demographics in local populations navigate and construct urban planning. Corn dogs were no longer a scrumptious snack or an overhyped trend but an example of South Korea’s growing list of culinary delicacies and cultural exports. After school commitments were no longer obligatory or competitive occupations but opportunities for personal discovery and co-ethnic communion. 

Thank you so much to Professor Helen Cho, Dr. Ji-Yeon Yuh, the Center for Civic Engagement, and our friends at KCCoC and KPAC for a wonderfully exciting and thought-provoking day!


Exploring 'Crying in H Mart:' Case Studies for Facilitating Meaningful Dialogue in the Classroom

Samanta Habashy, One Book Fellow

February 26, 2024

The fascinating session "Exploring Crying in H Mart: Case Studies for Facilitating Meaningful Dialogue in the Classroom" was hosted on February 22 by the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching. 

Using intergroup dialogue, intercultural theory, and trauma-informed education as lenses, the session offered a journey into the art of dialogue and navigating trauma. Co-led by Laura Ferdinand, PhD, and Eun Sandoval-Lee, EdS, the program aimed to provide educators with a broader understanding of the frameworks used to enable meaningful conversation and talks best while regarding cultural and social identities, family connections, and more with greater compassion and depth. 

Through a combination of self-reflection periods, a well-organized presentation, and collaborative group work, the online session explored the nuances of trauma and its implications on learning in and out of the classroom. Additionally, they worked with case studies that were taken from Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. 

Feedback from the event highlighted how these discussions have the ability to change lives—not just in the classroom, but also as a vital skill in our increasingly diverse society. The curriculum stressed the need to create spaces where tough conversations may promote growth, understanding, and a feeling of community.

Argyle Lunar New Year Parade

Megan Lin, One Book Fellow

February 26, 2024

We took a few other students on the trip to Argyle to see the Lunar New Year Parade!

It was a sunny but slightly chilly day. For our group, we first bought coffee from First Sip (highly recommended), and then went to a sound bath at Qideas. It was also here that one of our other fellows bought a plant with a “pothead” planter. We also went to Tai Nam Market and the infamous Chiu Quon Bakery. I got egg tart and tried the coconut jelly for the first time. It was soft and not too sweet. By the time we finished all our exploring down W Argyle Street, the parade was just starting. We found a spot along the main Argyle street and cheered as various groups passed by with their floats and banners. One thing worth noting is that this Argyle parade was significantly smaller than the parade in Chinatown that I independently went to (the very next day after the Argyle parade). There were moments when there was barely any cheering or sounds. I had never been to a Lunar New Year parade in the US before this, but I had seen one in China once. I think I expected the Argyle one to be more lively. It was still nice to go to, though, and it’s way closer to the Evanston campus than the Chinatown one, with less traffic to boot.

After the parade, my group joined other students for a dim sum lunch at Furama. I liked their Har Gow and Shiu Mai as well as the fried tofu, which were very savory and had great textures. I got to make new friends, who also seemed to enjoy this outing — and who doesn’t love free dim sum? 

Overall, it was a good experience. I love walking around Argyle and eating there. And its location is convenient. If my mom were to ever visit me, I hope to take her to a Lunar New Year parade like this. 


One Book “What Looks Like Home” Photo Contest Exhibit

Vivian Bui, One Book Fellow 

February 1, 2024 

Photographers and guests gathered in Main Library’s 1South to view the One Book What Looks Like Home photo exhibit. As Professor Ji-Yeon Yuh gave opening remarks, guests started to look at “what looks like home” to each photographer. Three photographers shared why they chose their respective photos. From honoring the memories of those who have passed to annual family traditions, the photos are connected by the theme of food. Every photographer shared how their photo captures a moment that they shared with loved ones, which goes to show how food has the power to connect people. We were able to do that as well, as we viewed the photo exhibit while sharing empanadas and donuts.


Conversations on Race, Education, and Leadership Post-SFFA 

Vivian Bui, One Book Fellow 

February 1, 2024

When Dr. OiYan Poon’s daughter asked her, “Are we black? Are we white? What are we?” she responded, “Asian American is not a color.” In her upcoming book, Asian American is Not a Color, she discusses the ways Asian Americans conceive their identities in the context of affirmative action debate through personal reflective essays addressed to her daughter. In this discussion, Dr. Poon explained the difference between affirmative action and race conscious admissions. 

Similar to the individuals she interviewed, I thought affirmative action and race conscious admissions were interchangeable terms. She explained that affirmative action is a process that started with employment and contracting; it is an active process of recruiting a racially diverse group of people. It dispels the notion that quality and diversity are two distinct things. Race conscious admissions refers to how race is used as one of many factors; it is used holistically. It is an intersectional approach of looking at race in context with other factors. Compared to affirmative action, race conscious admissions is a passive process. To put it in the context of admissions processes, after a first draft of a class has been chosen, a race conscious admissions team would work to protect the racial diversity of that first draft. A non-race conscious team would ask if they can afford that class. If they’re unable to, then they would have to reconfigure that class, which may result in a whiter, richer group of students. 

This is a great example of Dr. Yoon’s conversation on how racial frames make a difference. Supporters of affirmative action are more likely to view racism as a systemic problem requiring systemic solutions while opponents may see racism as an individual problem requiring individual solutions. I thought it was great how she was willing to talk to Asian American opponents to learn more about their perspectives. In my opinion, I agree that these opponents have been misinformed and are being used to further white centric notions of race. 

I appreciated how Dr. Yoon clarified her background and clearly distinguished herself as a scholar and not a lawyer. By doing so, she showed how her work goes towards the court of public opinion versus the court of law. While both are important, it is important to recognize each court’s respective audience. As someone who is interested in both courts on this issue, I am curious how they overlap.


Kimchi Making Workshop

Diana Deng, One Book Fellow

January 8, 2024

On November 30, we gathered in Schapiro Hall for a kimchi making workshop led by Garret Professor Anne Joh. Before Professor Joh went into detail about her story with Kimchi, we invited our faculty chair Professor Ji-Yeon Yuh to give a brief introduction on the history of kimchi. While the recipe of kimchi was shaped in the century-long process of cultural exchange, kimchi making has already been carved into Korean people’s cultural DNA as a traditional winter activity of Korean families. 

The history of kimchi greatly resonated with Professor Joh as a Korean American, who grew up watching “people gather together to make food especially during holidays.” For Professor Joh, kimchi making is steeped in the memories of her mother, who used to cater Korean food for the community church when she was young. She admitted that living in the US, she had been made to feel ashamed of kimchi before. When making kimchi, she had to use a separate fridge to conceal the smell of its fermentation. However, kimchi making now serves as a way for her to reclaim her identity in the age of diaspora and anchors her to the people who share her cultural heritage. When Professor Joh first learned how to make kimchi, her mother told her that although there were some basic ingredients, there was no right or wrong in making kimchi as long as she put her heart into it.  Every winter, Professor Joh makes kimchi as a spiritual practice. She said kimchi making is very meditative, as it requires a lot of patience and effort to cut and wash the ingredients, cook the broth, and brine the cabbage before eventually mixing them together. For Professor Joh, and many Korean Americans, kimchi feeds not only their taste buds but the soul of their families.

“We Are Waiting For You”: Grief and Loss in the
Korean Diaspora by Jinah Kim Talk

Alison Choi, One Book Graduate Assistant

November 28, 2023

On Thursday November 16th, Professor Jinah Kim (Cal State Northridge) visited Northwestern to give a talk on grief and loss in the Korean diaspora, with a focus on the activism and deep national loss that followed the 2014 Sewol Ferry Disaster in South Korea. Kim delivered a moving presentation, covering the recent history of the April 2014 Sewol ferry sinking that took over 350 lives. Most of the victims were high school youth, taking the ferry on a school field trip. Kim discussed the failure of the South Korean government to avert a completely preventable disaster, and the corporate negligence that allowed for overloading the ferry with passengers to maximize profit, and failing to rescue them when the ferry began to sink. A central topic in her talk was the reaction of the Korean national public after the ferry sinking. “The drowned teenagers,” Kim stated, “came to represent the nation’s children.” Protests across South Korea erupted in response to the ferry sinking, blaming the South Korean President at the time, Park Geun-Hye for her failure to regulate the safety of the ferry and criticizing her for being unreachable in the first several hours of the disaster. Indeed, the name of the talk — “We Are Waiting for You” — references the masses of Post-it notes that covered subway stations around Seoul after the ferry sinking, with the phrase “we are waiting for you” written on them, signaling the immediate impulse of the public to wait for the survivors. 

The national outcry over the ferry disaster provided context to situate the deep pain and grief experienced by the parents of the drowned teenagers. The activism of Sewol parents following the sinking formed a significant component of Kim’s presentation, as she discussed how parents grieved and remembered their children through and orienting their lives around their activism. It is particularly the Sewol mothers who organize themselves, and Kim discussed meeting two Sewol parents—Ms. Park and Ms. Hong—who visited the US to raise awareness about the Sewol disaster. Each parent donned all yellow, which symbolizes Korean national mourning, as well as yellow ribbons. Their children’s school name tags hung around their necks, and they introduced themselves to Kim in reference to their children—“I am the mother of [child’s name].” While this is the customary way to introduce yourself as a parent in Korea, Kim notes that for the Sewol mothers, such an introduction is a rhetorical strategy to keep their children’s legacies alive. Kim shared these touching details and stories along with pictures of the Sewol mothers’ presentation, weaving a narrative that focused specifically on the experience of the Sewol parents, and traced the national reaction to the ferry incident. 

As a graduate student conducting research on Korean diasporic history, I highly anticipated Professor Kim’s visit. Her talk showed me how people cope and react to immeasurable loss, in a specifically Korean context of recovering from different fascist regimes following the Korean War, and the lack of care embedded in the state. During the Q&A, I was moved to ask about the transnational connections between Kim’s work on postcolonialism and grief and the current crisis in Gaza right now. As Kim writes in her book, Postcolonial Grief, “This book explores moments when the present is so bloated with dead bodies demanding mourning that their claims threaten to overtake life.” Her statement captures the reality faced by the Sewol parents, by the Korean public, the Korean government, and echoes the state of violence and despair that Gazans and Palestinians in the diaspora face right now.

As far apart as Crying in H Mart and the Sewol Ferry Disaster may seem from the humanitarian crisis in Gaza right now, death and loss are universal experiences, and both Koreans and Palestinians inherit histories of suspended liberation in the last 75 years. Since I study History, I am acutely aware of the longer timeline that impacts grief and loss in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry sinking, and I am still learning about the history of Palestine and its parallels to my knowledge of Korean politics and loss. Kim was gracious in answering my question, and all of us in the room took a moment to consider how we reckon with atrocities all over the world as we simultaneously go about our daily lives, attend academic presentations, and exist amidst our grief. I greatly appreciated Jinah Kim visiting our campus and the opportunity to listen to her through our One Book programming. I look forward to her coming to visit again and the upcoming publications that will come out of her incredibly important research.


What Tastes Like Home? Cookbook Event

Brian Whetsell, One Book Fellow

November 20, 2023

As fall quarter at Northwestern University starts to wind down, the wind picks up and all we want to do is stay indoors and eat comfort food. Indeed, the only thing students look forward to in week 10 is seeing our families and scarfing down the best homemade Thanksgiving meal. But before the One Book team said goodbye for Thanksgiving break, we wanted to bring our taste of home to the NU community. 

On November 20, 2023, the One Book fellows and ambassadors hosted our “Taste of Home” cookbook launch on the Evanston campus. With over one hundred attendees coming to celebrate and sample the dishes significant to us, we felt and saw the love and support from our peers as they ate everything and left no crumbs (literally). 

“Taste of Home” is the product of One Book’s annual student-led project designed to promote engagement with the student body and create a sense of community on campus. Inspired by this year’s book selection Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, we wanted to not only write about the significance of food but create something tangible (and digestible) to share with our peers. Both fellows and ambassadors began working on the project this past summer, partnering up with one another to test recipes, bounce ideas off each other, and, most importantly, try the food. Ranging from atsomo to bossam to butter brickle dessert, we each picked a recipe that represented the power of food to bring people in our lives together. 

The team came together in Parkes Hall, thanks to Wilma. With copies of our beautiful cookbook edited by Diana spread across the tables, students piled in and immediately began reading about what was on their “menu.” The night kicked off without a hitch as our MC Viv introduced the project and our various dishes to the attendees whose stomachs were growling with anticipation. 

When it came time to dish out our creations, I didn’t expect both of my trays to be empty by the end of the night. It’s funny, bringing a taste of home to college. What previously seemed so niche yet mundane in my life was transformed into something to desire, something to crave, something to have seconds (even thirds) of. Creating a dish that tastes like home at NU reminds me of the power of reading Crying in H Mart and Zauner’s candidness about not necessarily expecting such a warm reception. Not only can stories connect people but so can food. “Taste of Home” allowed me to experience first-hand what we heard Zauner tell us just over a month ago at our One Book Keynote. 

Luckily, I was able to try many of my peer’s dishes and was so impressed with their cooking skills! Despite our collage of various appetizers, main dishes, and dessert, everything on the plate tasted delicious together. It made sense, then, why everyone was so into the food, why everyone that came sat down to indulge in the dishes and talk with their friends and meet new people sitting across from them. We created a new sense of home, a new kind of bond and hunger for community (especially when food is involved!).

KASA H Mart Sale

Megan Lin, One Book Fellow

November 18, 2023

I passed by the KASA's (Korean American Student Association) H Mart Sale by the Rock on my way to class in University Hall. Their selection was wonderful: Milkis (a carbonated milk-yogurt drink), Shin Ramen, Choco Pie, yakgwa (honey cookies), and dalgona cookies. I was running late to class, so it wasn’t until after class ended that I went up to the table to buy something. By then, the people running the table changed, but both times, I was familiar with them. I asked them how the sale was going, and it seemed to be well — for a moment, I was indecisive, but I eventually got the deeply underrated apple-flavored Milkis and a yakgwa. I had never had yakgwa before, but I saw it on the Korean Netflix series, Alchemy of Souls, and wanted to try it, and it was absolutely wonderful. The texture was soft but chewy, all while keeping the perfect amount of sweetness, as well. I could eat a whole box of them if I could. I happened to be going to Norris next, where another table was selling the same goodies. I impulsively bought a pack of milder Black Shin Ramen, since I haven’t had that specific flavor of Shin Ramen in a while. Being able to get these snacks is nice, especially since the Evanston campus isn't very close to H Mart or another Asian convenience store. Food, including snacks, are a way we can continue to stay connected to our own and other cultures; after all, I remember all the times I’ve bonded with people over White Rabbit and Choco Pie. Unexpected things can evoke a memory of feeling we didn’t realize we missed.


Exploring Identity & Family Stories Through Food: Dittmar Dinner with author, journalist and Professor Cheryl Tan

Sam Habashy, One Book Fellow

November 9, 2022

Surrounded by the Dittmar Art Gallery, attendees were treated to a feast for both the senses and the soul as they delved into Cheryl Tan’s, Medill's inaugural George R.R. Martin Chair in Storytelling, tapestry of identity through the lens of food. A fusion of aromas wafted through the gallery air as people enjoyed mango salad and pad thai where Tan stood behind a podium next to a projected photo of her grandmother. 

As someone who immigrated to the United States from Egypt at a young age, breaking bread has always been a cornerstone of my upbringing. My mom’s love language is cooking and her gift for it is known throughout my community. She has served thousands of people just through her food and when I stand with her in the kitchen, hoping to grasp onto every ingredient she mixes in, I know how powerful the universal language of food is. 

This talk was a powerful combination of flavors and narratives, unraveling Tan’s personal connection between food, storytelling and cultural identity. She dived into how she came to write her memoir, A Tiger in the Kitchen, after years of research but only weeks to meet her publisher’s deadline. Tan shared how she peeled back the layers of her late grandmother's life in Singapore through the art of cooking. She recalled how the women in her life were always in the kitchen and the men were the ones who got to pass down the stories, but she soon realized that the women had a powerful story to share through the food they made. The audience was transported across continents as Tan vividly recounted the tales embedded in each recipe, painting a vivid picture of familial ties and cultural heritage.

This year’s One Book, Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, was a part of the evening's discourse. Tan talked about how, together, the narratives of her and Zauner’s memoirs draw similar parallels between her own culinary scene and Zauner's ability to express grief, healing and identity through the role of food. As the night went on, the available buffet became more than just a buffet: it was a symbolic banquet of diversity. Attendees enjoyed an array of food while being immersed in Tan’s fascinating adventure as she badgered her family members on every recipe. She emphasized her experience with making a Singaporean pineapple tart, a dessert her grandmother was notorious for. She went into detail about how these pineapple tarts were hard to get right, mainly because her grandmother and aunts did not follow a set measure of sugar. They simply told her to “add more” if necessary.

After Tan’s discussion, she helped foster conversations at the tables where attendees sat and ate. Questions about food and identity and Crying in H Mart were asked and answered. Tan ignited a shared appreciation for the keen ways in which food can encapsulate one's heritage.

As the event came to a close, Tan's story left attendees with a newfound appreciation for the stories imprinted in the dishes we know to come and love. Tan further clarified the ongoing theme that food is a powerful vehicle for storytelling– a universal language that traverses time and generations and shares the stories that shape us. It reminded me of the way my own culture bridges food and identity.



2023 One Book Keynote with Michelle Zauner in conversation with History Professor Ji-Yeon Yuh — Evanston Campus

James Lee, One Book Fellow

October 30, 2023

It goes without saying that the most anticipated One Book event of this year is the One Book Keynote featuring the book’s author, but rarely does anticipation for this event reach such a notable height. On October 18, 2023, Michelle Zauner, author of Crying in H Mart and lead vocalist of Grammy-nominated shoegaze band Japanese Breakfast, spoke to an audience of over 1,000 attendees with History professor Ji-yeon Yuh at the Evanston Campus’s Cahn Auditorium. Combining a talk moderated by Professor Yuh, a Q&A for audience members, and book signing afterwards, the keynote as a whole made for a night to remember.

Among the range of topics discussed by Zauner and Professor Yuh was the concept of writing as a method of parsing through personal feelings, and how such personal writing can resonate with a wider audience. In the process of creating what Zauner called “a love letter to [her] mom,” she discovered that the subject material of her book ended up reaching countless readers who resonated with its themes of grief, biracial and immigrant identity, and food as a grounding cultural force. In speaking about her grief, Zauner also discussed the affection between her and her mother, even after her mother’s passing — especially how the existence of the book speaks as a testament to the love she had for her mother. Crying in H Mart took roughly five years to complete, and Zauner spoke about how the experience of writing it was an emotionally taxing process, but she also spoke of how she appreciated its value as a document of her experience at the time.

As for future plans, Zauner is taking a hiatus from Japanese Breakfast, moving to South Korea for a year to live with her aunt Nami and learn the Korean language. Her next book will document the process through which she learns Korean, as well as her life in South Korea, regardless of the result that comes out of it; it will be a book that grounds itself in the present rather than recollecting the past. At the reception following the book signing, I was able to have a conversation with Zauner about the upcoming film adaptation of Crying in H Mart, where we discussed the difference between prose and screenwriting, the film’s production process, as well as how Zauner is translating her story into a new medium.

Crying in H Mart is a book that's had profound personal resonance for me ever since I first read it the summer before coming to Northwestern. As someone who has frequently struggled with ideas of existing between American and Korean cultures, its stark yet compassionate portrayal of grief, as well as how to ground oneself in their own sense of identity, spoke to me in a way that few books do. It is hard to describe how deeply moving it was to not only hear Zauner speak about the process of writing the book, but also to see many of my peers listen intently to her, each of them carrying their own stories and narratives that no doubt must have resonated and aligned with hers.


Field Trip to H Mart Niles

Megan Lin, One Book Fellow

October 20, 2023

One of the events I’ve been most looking forward to was our trip to H Mart Niles! We had so many people sign up for the event that we had to eventually close the form within three hours. We had many people attend this trip, ranging from 1st years to 3rd year students. Our Fellows Wilma Tay and Diana Deng, our guides Jamie Kim and Jeong-hyun Moon, and Nancy Cunniff, director of the One Book Program, all helped run this event! When we got there, we had the students take a tour around the store as they shopped and then we gathered together for lunch. 

Nancy, the other fellows and I got multiple different dishes for some variety. We ended up ordering about 9 orders of mandu (dumplings), 7 bowls of jjajangmyeon (black bean noodles), 6 bowls of jjolmyeon (spicy cold chewy noodles), 10 boxes of kimbap (seaweed rice rolls), 4 orders of spicy fried chicken (a favorite among attendees), and 6 bowls of tteokbokki, a good serving of chewy and spicy goodness. We definitely went over budget, and there were some leftovers, but at first, we were kind of scrambling because the food court was already busy. There were also no tables and not enough food at first. So everyone was standing around with plates and their chopsticks as we served it to them. But I would say most people seemed to enjoy it and were full by the end. As we winded down, some students sat down and continued to happily eat the remaining kimbap and jjajangmyeon. I felt like a proud Asian grandma watching her kids eat. I myself ate some jjolmyeon, which was my favorite, along with some kimbap dipped in tteokbokki sauce — in my opinion, the best combo.

Afterwards, everyone had some extra time to shop, so I bought some facial cleanser at the Face Shop. I was supposed to buy coffee for myself, but at the moment, I forgot. The other students got things like ramen (buldak, chapaghetti, shin, etc.), turtle chips, instant rice, fish cake, ice cream, choco pie, and even bok choy! Most people came out of the store with multiple bags. Even though I didn’t have much money or time to buy any groceries for myself, I was glad that we were able to make this event happen, and hope to do it again. Being in Asian grocery stores just makes me so happy. I love seeing all the food and sharing it with others, and I think many other people are the same.

Although the title of our One Book is Crying in H Mart, and food is mentioned in the book, it isn't necessarily the book's most important element. Still, I like that we have all of these food events this year because food works as a love language, and sharing it is a way for people to bond. I hope while we do more food events, we also emphasize how it is a way to reflect on our identities and family rituals.


"Crying in H Mart": Online Collection Talk

Vivian Bui, One Book Fellow 

October 13, 2023 

On Thursday, October 12th, members of the Block Museum’s staff — Melanie Garcia Sympson, the Curatorial Coordinator, and Isabella Ko, the Engagement Coordinator — hosted a virtual talk considering an artwork from the Block’s collection that reflects on the complexities of love, family, identity, and grief; themes central to the 2023-24 One Book One Northwestern selection, Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. 

Ko discussed Ronald L. Freeman’s photograph, Combing Hair, Amoke Alayoe, and her children, Silver Spring, Maryland, June 1978. Ko first analyzed the child whose hair is being combed who is screaming, and like Ko, I could almost hear the child screaming just by looking at the photo. I was more interested in the child sitting next to the mother because of how distant the child seems. As Ko mentioned, the child appears physically and emotionally distant from her mother. Ko suggested that this photo encourages us to consider the complex relationship between mother and daughter. 

Freeman’s Combing Hair and Zauner’s Crying in H Mart focus on the importance of beauty, which may be a source of the tension in the mother-daughter relationships of both works. By choosing to photograph this moment of combining hair, Freeman highlighted this mundane, but very intimate, daily routine. Similarly, Zauner mentioned how her mother frequently brought up beauty standards. She writes, “My mother was always trying to shape me into the most perfect version of myself… [if] I furrowed my brow or smiled too widely, she’d smooth my forehead with her fingers and instruct me to ‘stop making wrinkles’” (Zauner 108). Both Freeman and Zauner suggest that the daughters feel controlled when their mothers highlight the importance of beauty through small actions such as hair combing and smoothing foreheads. 

Additionally, both works emphasize the value of memory, as the artist and author use their pieces as a way to remember these mothers. Ko also presented a clip from one of Zauner’s music videos featuring her mother. By capturing these moments between mothers and daughters, the memories are documented: “What remained were documents and my memories, and now it was up to me to make sense of myself…” (Zauner 223). 

At first, I did not see the connection between Freeman’s photograph and Zauner’s memoir. However, as Ko explained the painting, it became clear that the works share the theme of complex mother-daughter relationships as seen through the value of beauty. It is interesting how this relationship can be portrayed across various mediums. The Block’s collection is available online throughout the 2023-2024 academic year, and I encourage everyone to take a look at the pieces they have selected.


"Otto Frank"

Vivian Bui, One Book Fellow

October 7, 2023

On Friday, October 7th, One Book fellows and ambassadors boarded the intercampus shuttle to see Roger Guenveur Smith’s Otto Frank at the Wirtz Theater. For the one-hour play, Smith sat at a table in the center of the stage and spoke into a handheld microphone. At first, I was surprised by the lack of movement. However, this play didn’t need any movement. Despite sitting still at the table, Smith kept the audience engaged for the entire play. With powerful lines, intense volume changes, and dramatic facial expressions, Smith’s play was delivered in the most unique format I’ve ever seen. 

Inspired by Otto Frank, father of diarist Anne Frank, Smith intertwined moments of history with the Franks’ story to show how the most tragic historical events only continue to repeat themselves. He included a variety of references: the shooting of police officer Stephen Tyrone Jones at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009, Norman Morrison’s self-immolation to protest the Vietnam War in 1965, as well as Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria’s death in the Rio Grande river in 2019. While I initially wondered how they related to Otto Frank’s biography, I soon realized that all of these tragedies were caused by some form of hatred and violence. 

I am an English literature major, and my focus is human rights literature. For me, this play connected many of the stories and ideas that I am interested in and have written about. My favorite moment was when Smith focused on the recycling of barbed wire. While we often become aware of tragedies that occur, we fail to ask what is common between them. Barbed wire, as a material used to keep people confined from the rest of society, is a weapon in itself. Used to construct Holocaust camps, Japanese internment camps, the U.S.-Mexico border, barbed wire is one material that has been consistently used to degrade and dehumanize people. 

This play also contains the theme of survivor’s guilt, which is shared by Michelle Zauner in her memoir, Crying in H Mart. Otto Frank, the sole survivor of his immediate family, dedicated his life to ensuring his daughter’s voice would outlive him. Similarly, Zauner did the same thing for her mother by writing her memoir and focusing on her relationship with her mother. Both Smith and Zauner showed how stories can not only keep relationships alive for the survivors or those who are still alive, but that stories outlive everyone. Although this play only ran for one weekend, we look forward to seeing Smith’s next work, because we are confident that it will be as powerful and moving as Otto Frank.


"Crying in H Mart" Named as the One Book One Northwestern Selection for 2023-24

Vivian Bui, One Book Fellow

April 10, 2023

As soon as I saw Michelle Zauner's name, I thought to myself, "Wait… didn't I see Japanese Breakfast perform seven years ago?" I thought that if her writing was as great as her music, I should read her book. Crying in H Mart had been recommended to me at least five times before I saw it listed as an option for the 2023-2024 One Book One Northwestern selection. Like many of my friends, I found myself flipping through tear-stained pages, while laughing out loud at Zauner's anecdotes. It is compelling, heart-warming, and tragic in all the best ways. It reminded me of my own move away from home and how difficult it can be to leave your parents as "empty-nesters." While this book represents her Korean American upbringing, many of her experiences are universal. I'm excited to attend her keynote address and for all of the programming (lots of food-related events hopefully) next school year.