Janice Lee joins the Visiting Writers series

Written for The Argo by Emma Desiderio

Author Janice Lee captivated Stockton students and faculty with her readings at the first Visiting Writers event of the fall semester on Thursday. The event was presented virtually by The School of General Studies, Madeline J. Deininger, and Murphy Writing of Stockton University.

Janice Lee is a self-described “Korean-American writer, editor, teacher, and shamanic healer.”

Lee has written seven books. According to her website, Lee writes about “interspecies communication, plants & personhood, the filmic long take, slowness, the apocalypse, architectural spaces, inherited trauma, and the concept of han in Korean culture, and asks the question, how do we hold space open while maintaining intimacy?”

Writer Janice Lee. Photo courtesy of janicel.com.

During the event, Lee read several excerpts from her most recent book, Imagine a Death. 

“It’s about all of the different traumas and wounds we as humans carry with us,” Lee said before she began reading an excerpt titled “The Squirrels.”

Lee described the character in the next excerpt, titled “The Old Man,” as someone who has experienced “a lot of loss and a lot of privilege, and is reconciling all of those things toward the end of his life.” 

“…no map can show a man his fate, that it his tether to the unknowable and inexplicable that becomes more important even than love, and when one dead man meets a survivor, not even the narrator can tell the difference which is which.” -Janice Lee, The Old Man

Before concluding with her piece, “The Whales,” Lee explained the inspiration behind the story. “The Whales” is dedicated in part to whale J35, also known as Tahlequah, the Southern Resident orca whale who carried her dead calf on her back for 17 days. Lee said that the piece was also inspired by the humpback whales from Star Trek. 

Additionally, the piece was not originally intended for the novel.  Someone asked Lee if she could write a story for him about whales. After Lee presented him with the beautiful but heartbreaking story, he revealed that it was supposed to be a gift for his daughter, but he wasn’t going to give it to her just yet because her mother recently passed away. 

“…but how does one let go of everything? How does one simply allow for such finality when it is a piece of you that must be discarded and dropped into the sea?” -Janice Lee, The Whales

A Q&A session took place following the readings, in which Lee discussed her shamanic practices, her spiritual journey, and her experience during the pandemic. 

“I think I was able to retreat in a way that actually felt productive,” Lee said of her time at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. She revealed that she actually wrote very little in the past two years. “I’m experiencing things and I’m not ready to put it into language to share with others yet.”

Lee revealed that the stories in her book Imagine a Death are inspired by her own life and her experiences with grief. 

“It feels like it took my whole life to write this book and I don’t feel like I could have written it at any other time in my life,” Lee said