36 Finalists Blog: Ed Bok Lee

Each day leading up to the 32nd annual Minnesota Book Awards announcement, we’ll be featuring an exclusive interview with one of our 36 finalists.

Interview with Ed Bok Lee, author of Mitochondrial Night, part of the Poetry category, sponsored by Wellington Management, Inc.

How does it feel to be a Minnesota Book Award finalist?

It’s a great honor. The long history of powerful writers from this state speaks for itself.

Tell us something about your finalist book that you want readers to know.

Mitochondrial Night is an exploration of the refugee and immigrant status of all seeds. . . stars. . . cells. . . ancestors.

Share something about your writing process and preferences. For instance, where is your favorite place to write?

As I’ve noted elsewhere, sometimes, if things aren’t going well, I’ll start reading a book that I both truly admire and, for whatever reasons, can’t get engaged with. After reading for a while, my mind gets pitched into the perfect state for a new creative act. It feels cleansed. I like to think this is connected to my fundamental reverence for books, which at some irrational level I feel are each and every one sacred. Someone was, consciously or unconsciously, having a kind of sacred conversation with themselves. And so, when I’m reading a book I truly admire but that never manages to engage me, the world just feels slightly off. I go into a mode of needing to make what I’m doing on my own page work, to try, try to get things back into alignment.

Minnesota has a reputation a place that values literature and reading. In your experience, what is it about our state that makes it such a welcoming, conducive place for writers and book creators?

A long and deep tradition of (mythic) storytelling, originating in the culture of Native folk. Long winters and full bookshelves.

What is something you are good at that few people know about?

Face reading.

What do you love about libraries?

When I was 17 and on the way to the West Coast from North Dakota, my car broke down in Pueblo, Colorado. While I was saving money to get it fixed, one day I visited a public library and tried to check out The Stranger, by Albert Camus (only because it had a strange, intriguing cover), and learned from the librarian that in order to get a library card, you needed an address, which I lacked. She looked around and then whispered that I could take the book if I promised to bring it back. I wasn’t a very big reader, until that book. Librarians and folks who work in bookstores (especially used bookstores) have since been godsends in terms of finding life-changing books.

Ed Bok Lee is the American Book Award and Minnesota Book Award-winning author of three collections of poetry, including Whorled and Real Karaoke People. He teaches at Metropolitan State University.