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Lowell Talks Continue With Susan Choi

For The Heights

Published: Monday, December 3, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

On Thursday night, author Susan Choi gave a preview of her newest book, which will be published next summer. The event was sponsored by the Lowell Humanities Lecture Series, and gave students and the general community the chance to hear an esteemed author discuss her latest work and the process of writing.

Susan Choi is the author of The Foreign Student, which won the Asian-American Literary award for fiction, and American Woman, a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. She has also published works of nonfiction in Vogue, Tin House, Allure, O, and The New York Times.

Choi read two passages from her book, entitled My Education. The story is about a graduate student named Regina, who goes to university in the early ’90s full of idealism. She finds that everything that happens to her there is unexpected. Regina develops a strong relationship with her charismatic professor and holds a deep admiration for him. Her life takes a dramatically unexpected turn when she begins an affair with her professor’s wife, Martha, who is a sophisticated woman that recently had a baby. Choi read a scene describing the social interactions of Regina with Martha and her other friends, as well as the judgments that characters place on her.

The second reading Choi chose was from the second part of the book, a jump into the present times. “When she’s much, much older and her life has entirely changed, she runs into Martha’s now ex-husband in New York City,” Choi said. “She and her old professor are happy to see each other, and he tells her about what happened to Martha since.” The reading focused on the couple’s young son and his experiences at school, particularly describing his experience during the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Members of the audience were given the opportunity to ask questions of Choi, and she discussed some of the writing process for My Education and her first novel, The Foreign Student. One of the topics included the process of creating the characters of Martha and Regina.

“In the two years I spent writing it, I lost track of who she [Martha] was,” Choi said. “I had to really pull her back to the person I had meant her to be in the first place.” Choi found a similar experience with the character of Regina, noting that others’ reactions to the character were not what she had originally expected. “There was another revision devoted to her,” Choi said.                                              
Choi also discussed some of her more personal experiences with writing, especially focusing on her first novel, The Foreign Student. This novel was largely focused on the experiences of her father, who was from Korea. According to Choi, her father’s experiences were largely unknown to her before she wrote the novel.

“It became a gnawing problem for me. I felt like I couldn’t understand him,” Choi said. Choi described how she has a personal interest in each of the topics in her own stories, which also include the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. Choi describes how this event had a large impact on her as a young child. For Choi, the connection with the story is vital.

“It takes me a long time to read books,” Choi said. “I need to be motivated by a question.”
Choi also discussed the process of finding the best way to tell a story, and the way she also reworks things to make sure she is telling it the best way.

“With books, I feel as though they exist somewhere else and I have to excavate them,” Choi said.

The final event of the Lowell Humanities Lecture Series for the Fall 2012 semester will be held on Dec. 5 and will feature another author, Laurent Dubois.

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