Chang-rae Lee’s 1995 New Yorker essay adapted into movie

As Korean American stories like Academy Award-nominated Minari take center stage, an adaptation of a Stanford professor’s own life story is also making waves.

A scene from the film adaptation of Chang-rae Lee’s 1995 essay, “Coming Home Again,” directed by Wayne Wang. (Courtesy Richard Wong)

It’s been more than 25 years since critically acclaimed author CHANG-RAE LEE, who is the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor in English in the School of Humanities and Sciences, published a moving and tender essay about his dying mother in the New Yorker. The 1995 essay, “Coming Home Again,” chronicled Lee’s reflections on taking care of his mother in upstate New York in her final days battling gastric cancer and about the roles we play in our families.

Director Wayne Wang, who is known for the film adaptation of Joy Luck Club and hits like Maid in Manhattan with Jennifer Lopez, transformed Lee’s essay into a film that premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Coming Home Again is available to watch online.

The movie is a fictional depiction of the nonfiction essay. Lee’s character moves from New York to California to care for his ailing mother. Through that experience, he grapples with challenges in his relationship with his immigrant mother and explores his role in the family, which includes his father and sister. Lee’s character cooks his mother a traditional Korean meal for a New Year’s Eve celebration, as food is one of the important ways the two connect and express their cultural heritage.

Lee is the author of six novels, and he often explores topics of race, class and the immigrant experience. He is well-known for his 1995 book Native Speaker, which won the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. His 2010 book The Surrendered was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for fiction.

His latest novel, My Year Abroad, published in February, is about a college student who goes on a trip around the world with a Chinese American businessman, as well as the domestic life the protagonist lives afterward.

Read the full article on the Stanford Today website.