Author and Grammy-Nominated Musician Michelle Zauner ’11 Returns to Bryn Mawr

December 2, 2021
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Michelle Zauner ’11

Fresh off Grammy nominations for “Best New Artist’ and “Best Alternative Album,” musician and author Michelle Zauner ’11 returned to Bryn Mawr College on Wednesday, Dec. 1, as part of the College's Reading Series. The reading took place in a near-capacity Goodhart Hall, where students and other audience members lined up more than an hour before the 7:30 p.m. start time.

Zauner spent time earlier in the day meeting with students in the main lecture hall of English House and at both events talked about her time at Bryn Mawr, her best-selling memoir Crying in H-Mart, the art of writing, and fielded questions from students on a range of topics.

"I learned how to write at Bryn Mawr, truly,” she told students in the afternoon and echoed again in the evening. “Daniel Torday and the Creating Writing Department completely changed the way I read and write and taught me everything I know and carried with me into writing this book. It changed me tremendously." 

In addition to Torday, Zauner, who created an independent major in creative production, also called out History of Art Professor Homay King’s influence on her intellectual growth.

“For a time, all I wanted to do was be Homay King,” she told the audience at the evening reading.

Crying in H-Mart focuses on Zauner’s experience and grief in dealing with the death of her mother, Chongmi, at the age of 56 from cancer. At the evening event, Zauner read from the second chapter of Crying in H-Mart, in which she writes about growing up in Eugene, Ore., and her relationship with her mother as a child and adolescent.

“Hers was tougher than tough love,” read Zauner. “It was brutal, industrial-strength. A sinewy love that never gave way to an inch of weakness. It as a love that saw what was best for you 10 steps ahead, and didn’t care it if hurt like hell in the meantime.”

After she read, Zauner sat down with Torday, who asked a few questions before turning things over to the audience.

In addition to questions about her time at Bryn Mawr, students asked many questions about the craft of writing.

Replying to a question about experiences or stories that she wasn’t able to include in the book, Zauner told a riotous story about a feud between her mother and one of her mom’s former friends that stemmed from an accusation that Zauner’s mother’s dog had helped the friend’s dog escape from the yard.

“[The friend] was a very bizarre woman who owned a German shepherd named Athena and she had dyed hair that was very German shepherd-like...It was really bizarre that they were friends because my mom was very composed and this woman was kind of, not…She essentially blamed our dog for helping her dog to escape and her dog got injured. My mom was an empty-nester at this time, and she got very upset that she would dare accuse our dear Julia of leading this campaign…This woman was her best friend for like 10 years, they had lunch together twice a week at the Olive Garden. She just cut her off and it was crazy. On her deathbed she was like, 'don’t let Young Soon come to the funeral.'"

Another student asked Zauner whether there were any myths or misconceptions about the writing process.

"Everything you don't want to believe about the writing process is pretty true. There's just no skipping steps. I've always been a pretty fast worker and I thought that I was definitely going to be able to skip some steps and it was a sad realization that I was not able to do that. There's no rushing it if it's going to be good…It's a lot of just writing and walking away and returning…So much of the real work happens after you walk away and when you come back to it."

Zauner is currently working on a screenplay for the film adaptation of Crying in H-Mart. Her band, Japanese Breakfast, has plans for a spring 2022 tour in Europe.

Creative Writing