lisa ko

Posted on October 8th, 2020

All rights reserved. GR: The inspiration was a New York Times story? TH: Speaking of going “home” … you went to China when you were researching your book. Need to Know is a production of Creative News Group (CNG) in association with WNET. LK: They're all memorable in different ways. The winner of last year's PEN/Bellwether Prize, which recognizes fiction that explores issues of social justice, The Leavers feels as relevant as ever as the future of immigrants in America hangs in the balance.” —, ”Ko’s debut novel has already won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Award for Socially Engaged Fiction, a prize created and selected by Barbara Kingsolver. TH: I can’t let you go without (impatiently) asking the inevitable: what are you writing now? It’s an award given to a novel in “socially engaged fiction,” a term that interests me because it seems very American to define only some fiction as “socially engaged” (I feel there’s a uniquely American distaste for literature that engages with social/political issues and it says so much about us as Americans …). GR: Did you see the New Order and Sugarcubes show there? Is that something you have?

LK: Did you fill out that "10 concerts you've seen" meme on Facebook?GR: I couldn't bring myself to do it. LK: A He sounds just like Rodney Anonymousperfect Dead Milkman imitator! Further research uncovered comparable stories of children rent from their “unfit” immigrant parents and granted to “fit” American parents, along with heinous conditions at the for-profit detention centers where the undocumented are imprisoned for months, even years. TH: My baby brother has this theory that we are all versions of certain archetypes … that’s what explains these moments of synchronicity where you run into someone you know in, say, Cambridge, and meet them at some total tiny dive bar in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the day after Christmas as you enter at the exact same time … the tiny details of those parallel trajectories give him insight into his own life! LK: Yes, but with the privileges of a U.S. passport and American dollars and English! Do you speak any Chinese dialects? I'd been up for a really long time.

GR: It talks about math rock. I'm like, "Don't touch those tapes, Mom!". Lisa Ko. Adopted by a pair of white academics who transport him to an upstate college town, the boy straddles the fully American future his new parents envision for him and the past that's rapidly receding from view.

I think I read that you didn’t grow up with a particularly culturally Chinese background. For the better part of a decade, all that research, all that heartbreak, and a growing ferocity, coalesced into The Leavers. It was incredible to win the Bellwether. FINALIST FOR THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTIONWinner of the PEN/Bellwether PrizeNamed a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Bustle, and Electric Literature. The real-life stories that first inspired The Leavers involved the children of these immigrant women adopted into mostly white, middle-class American families – and courts were saying that this was a “better fit” for the children, even if their mothers wanted to keep them. LK: That’s been the most amazing part of publication, hearing from readers how they were affected by the book. Author of The Leavers (Algonquin, May 2017). GR: Hendrix's rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" kinda twists what it means to be an American. Have you ever glimpsed yours? In Lisa Ko's The Leavers, Deming Guo is transformed into Daniel Wilkinson. Ko’s book arrives at a time when it is most needed; its success will be measured in its ability to move its readership along the continuum between complacency and advocacy.” —The Los Angeles Review of Books, FICTION NON-FICTIONCHILDREN’SGRAPHIC NOVELS, FACEBOOK INSTAGRAMTWITTERPANDE LECTURE MANAGEMENT. Polly is brash, brave and heartbreaking and her ferocity is marvelous to behold.

That Jiang’s 8-year-old son was caught by immigration officials while entering the U.S. from Canada and later adopted by a Canadian family resonated sharply with Ko. I wish I had some other excuse for how long it’s taken, like raising a family or pursuing an entirely different career, but I’ve mostly just been writing (or procrastinating writing, or trying to write). And CONGRATULATIONS! LK: Yeah, I know, I got some shit for that.

Ghost Month, published by Soho Crime in July 2014, is a Taipei-based mystery, and Incensed, published October 2016, continues that series. GR: I love how it's a very music-oriented book. Although Ko began writing The Leavers in 2009, headlines regarding immigrants have hardly changed: roundups, detention, deportation, separated families proliferate. I have multiple Word documents labeled things like “graveyard” and “cemetery” and things like that where I dump my deleted writing. one of the most engaging, deeply probing, and beautiful books I have read this year.” —Laila Lalami, author of The Moor’s Account, “One of 2017's most anticipated fiction debuts, Lisa Ko's The Leavers tells the story of an 11-year-old boy whose mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to work one morning and never comes home. I kind of always knew that Deming, the kid character, would be a prominent part of the novel. TH: Let’s talk Bellwether Prize. Well, I’ve been writing in the decades between. P.O. Ko’s unforgettable narrative voice is a credit to the moving stories of immigration, loss, recovery, and acceptance that feel particularly suited to our times.” —, ”This timely novel depicts the heart- and spirit-breaking difficulties faced by illegal immigrants with meticulous specificity.” —Kirkus Reviews, ”There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading.” —Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth, ”In focusing on a bewildered young victim, The Leavers follows a convention of the protest novel genre; Ko dramatizes the personal—a family torn apart—in order to draw attention to a structural social problem. I'm interested in music as a language and to associate that language with a certain sounds. When and how did you decide you were going to write THIS book?

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