Sueyeun Juliette Lee


Sueyeun Juliette Lee




Pittsburgh, PA


writer, editor, critic, scholar, professor, rabbit wrangler

Own Words

I grew up three miles from the CIA, mostly embedded in a quasi-Catholic community of Korean medical doctors' families. I used to feel guilty about having grown up in relative affluence (cello lessons, big house with a big yard, computer games, etc.), but now I don't. My parents worked very hard to give me the opportunities and privileges that they did, so I strive to honor their sacrifices by doing what I love as best I can, which means being an "experimental poet." And as a rule I also try to not be a douchebag.

Right now, I teach poetry classes at the University of Pittsburgh and am trying to figure out how to finish my dissertation on Asian American poetry and visual art. Maybe you can help motivate me or put more hours in the day or keep me from looking at cats on youtube when I should be sleeping.

My grandmother took me to Korea for a "short" visit at the age of three and kept me there past my fourth birthday. We have cassette recordings of me singing "Arirang" in a tiny, twirly girl's voice. I am not bilingual and lost my ability to speak Korean when I returned "home." My sister says that I cried and didn't recognize anyone, not even my parents.

I really love to watch K-Dramas even though I completely disagree with their politics and the norms they perpetuate. I’m disappointed with what Hyun Bin has done to his face. He had such cute dimples.

My dearest mentor is also Korean American--Miliann Kang, who is a feminist sociologist at UMass Amherst, where I finished an MFA in poetry. We share the same birthday and are both snakes. Go figure.

The first "famous" poet I met was an a**hole when I once asked him a question about his work after an event, so I promised myself to love and be kind to anyone who ever showed interest in what I do.

My husband is Korean-American also: he immigrated here when he was 14. I used to think I could never date a Korean because I never saw any in the communities I move in. He won me over when he told me his favorite writer was Lyn Hejinian. It didn’t hurt that he’s quite handsome.

I lost my virginity to a die-hard Christian Korean American classmate. I learned firsthand how shame, fervor, and sex are the actual trinity ruling many people’s lives.

For a long time, I wanted to create an installation of kites that represented the ways we try to create connections back to "the motherland." The project fell apart, but some of the texts I wrote ended up in my second book, Underground National, and I cried when I wrote them.

My hand was on my grandmother's chest when her heart finally stopped beating. I’ve never experienced such intense emotional suffering. May we never have to hear our mother's wail.

I love poetry because I feel it can help us transform our imaginations. I don't like poetry that affirms what we think we know about the world, flattens things in a way that is intended to make them seem understandable, or tries to pass off intellectual laziness as "complexity."

BTW: I worry I might be trying to pass of intellectual laziness as "complexity" in my poetry.

I used to think I would die when I was 19 years old, and in a way I almost did. That's another story for another space.

When I was in Boston, I was totally infatuated with a coworker but was convinced he'd never be interested in me because I was Asian. And then I found out his ex was Filipina and walked around feeling peculiar about the whole thing for a week. They got back together and have a family now.

I've been teaching myself to play the daegeum, and I think I have a knack for it!

My parents sent me to the Yonsei summer language institute my first year in college. I befriended two Korean Germans (I spoke German fluently back then) and we'd run around Seoul together. One time, though, this shopkeeper looked me up and down dismissively and told me I must be Chinese. I was very tan, didn't wear makeup, and dressed in rave gear. I knew that if I said yes, he wouldn't harass me. I almost said yes, but I didn't. I hate that I nearly disavowed myself to a fellow "countryman." Now, I'm severely allergic to douchebag ahjushis, as we all should be.

When I was in college, I was a born again Christian and used to pray in tongues. I’m not anymore, but I don’t regret that experience.

While I was living in western Massachusetts, I worked at an Indian restaurant for two years, and their food is what I long for when I think of “home.” Especially their black dal.

A lot of times, other Korean American kids would be left at our house to “play” while our parents went out. Once, Annie ran to me in the kitchen and shouted, “you have to look at it!” and pushed me back into the family room. Her brother was laying on the couch, holding his erection in his hand. I didn’t know what it was or that it was even a part of his body.

I was once conducting research in Berkeley and was looking through Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s papers in this basement office. From the corner of my eye, I suddenly saw a woman with long black hair looking at me from the doorway. When I looked up, she was gone. Dazed, I told myself to calm down and quit letting my imagination get the best of me. My eyes happened to rest on this file cabinet that was facing me. The label read “GHOSTS.”

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