In 2018, Michelle Zauner wrote a New Yorker essay about finding solace in the aisles of H Mart after her mother, a Korean immigrant, passed away from cancer. She expanded the essay and, last month, Knopf published her 239 page memoir that delves into familial relationships, self identity and Korean food.
On Tuesday, May 4, Zauner will do a virtual event hosted by Boswell Books and 88Nine Radio Milwaukee. Radio Milwaukee Music Director Justin Barney will engage in conversation with Zauner at 7 p.m. Register for this virtual event here.
Zauner is the solo musician behind “Japanese Breakfast.” Under the alias she has released two albums and will release a third, Jubilee, coming out in June.
OnMilwaukee recently chatted with Zauner about her experience writing “Crying in H Mart,” which is available through Boswell Book Company, and more.
OnMilwaukee: As someone who has wanted to write a memoir for a long time, but struggles with how my mother would take it, I've hesitated. I'm wondering if you were worried about how your family, or the people you were writing about, would respond to the book?
Michelle Zauner: I certainly had some concerns, but I feel like so much of being an artist is about your willingness to go there, and the most meaningful stuff is often that which terrifies you the most, what brings you some shame and hesitation. The best I could do was try to present myself and the other characters as wholly as possible, both good and bad.
How do you remember so much about your life? Is it important to you to get every detail right or do you allow yourself to have some wiggle room?
In a way, what a book can hold is actually such a small part of your life. A lot of what is in the book are memories that were super formative and stuck with me for a long time, and then taking the time to go in on them and extrapolate, and you discover a lot in that process. I found both to be incredibly important and feel I was loyal to how things happened, incorporating only moments that fit within the book's narrative, theme and feeling.
What is your favorite part of your memoir? What was the most difficult to write?
I love a lot of the first third of the book, because it was the most enjoyable to write and relive, these really beautiful memories from my childhood, the funny idiosyncrasies of my mother's character and of my upbringing. I really love the penultimate chapter, the passage about fermentation and controlled death and how that relates to preserving memories. Living and Dying was by far the hardest chapter to write, and underwent many revisions. It's the chapter where my family goes to Korea after learning my mother's cancer is terminal and it all goes wrong. In the audiobook recording it was actually the only chapter where I had to stop and let out a good cry. It still stings quite a bit.
What aspects of Korean culture do you incorporate into your personal life the most?
Well of course food. Grocery shopping, trying new Korean restaurants, cooking food at home, these are all little rituals I perform to interact with my Korean heritage. Before the pandemic visiting Korea at least once every other year and making sure to keep in touch with my aunt was very important and I can't wait to be able to visit again someday soon.
Are you going to write another book?
I would love to, but no plans or thoughts or deadlines just yet. I'm trying to just enjoy the release of this one for once.
What's going on with Japanese Breakfast?
We have a new record coming out June 4th called Jubilee. We are preparing the new songs for live shows soon, planning rehearsals for a US tour in the late summer/fall. I am adding new members to bring larger arrangements to life.
How was writing this book different from writing music?
It gave me the space to dive in a little deeper on a story, more room to investigate events and people. I find music to be much more intuitive and writing prose to be a much more heady, structural process. A lot of the work in writing occurs in revision.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.