Interview with Don Lee, author of “The Collective”

In 1988, Eric Cho, an aspiring writer, arrives at Macalester College. On his first day he meets a beautiful fledgling painter, Jessica Tsai, and another would-be novelist, the larger-than-life Joshua Yoon. Brilliant, bawdy, generous, and manipulative, Joshua alters the course of their lives, rallying them together when they face an adolescent act of racism. As adults in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the three friends reunite as the 3AC, the Asian American Artists Collective together negotiating the demands of art, love, commerce, and idealism until another racially tinged controversy hits the headlines, this time with far greater consequences. Long after the 3AC has disbanded, Eric reflects on these events as he tries to make sense of Joshua ‘s recent suicide. With wit, humor, and compassion, The Collective explores the dream of becoming an artist, and questions whether the reality is worth the sacrifice.

“Heartbreaking, sexy, and frequently funny.”
—Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly

Don Lee is the author most recently of the novel The Collective. He is also the author of the novel Wrack and Ruin, which was a finalist for the Thurber Prize; the novel Country of Origin, which won an American Book Award, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and a Mixed Media Watch Image Award for Outstanding Fiction; and the story collection Yellow, which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Members Choice Award from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. All of his books have been published by W. W. Norton.

He is a third-generation Korean American. The son of a career State Department officer, he spent the majority of his childhood in Tokyo and Seoul. In Tokyo, he attended ASIJ—the American School in Japan. He received his B.A. in English literature from UCLA and his M.F.A. in creative writing and literature from Emerson College. After graduating, he taught fiction writing workshops at Emerson for four years as an adjunct instructor, then began working full-time at Ploughshares. He was an occasional writer-in-residence in Emerson’s M.F.A. program and a visiting writer at other colleges and universities.

Listen to Sam’s interview with Don on Podomatic or you can download the podcast on iTunes.