Students laid their jackets and backpacks across chairs in Cahn Auditorium on Wednesday, saving seats for friends in anticipation for Crying in H Mart author Michelle Zauner’s One Book One Northwestern keynote.
Zauner, a Korean American author, is also the lead vocalist of Grammy-nominated alternative pop band Japanese Breakfast.
History and Asian American Studies professor Ji-Yeon Yuh facilitated the conversation, which attracted hundreds of audience members.
This is the first time One Book has featured work by an Asian American author in its 11 year history. Featured authors have previously included Margot Lee Shetterly of Hidden Figures and Hope Jahren of The Story of More.
Crying in H Mart is a collection of Zauner’s experiences facing grief over the loss of her mother, and the discovery of joy from reconnecting with her Korean roots through cooking and writing.
The event fell on the nine-year anniversary of her mother’s passing. Zauner said her grief was at first difficult to handle, but she has since embraced it.
“The grief is mine, and it’s very beautiful,” she said. “It’s beautiful that every memory of her still brings me to tears; it’s beautiful that I loved her that much.”
Penning the novel and recording the accompanying audiobook was a “restorative and healing” process for Zauner, one she said allowed her to revive memories she had of her mother before her mother got sick. Putting her childhood into words gave Zauner the opportunity to archive her memories and properly honor her mother’s legacy.
One childhood memory that resurfaced was when Zauner climbed a tree and fell, crying in pain. She expected her mother to run to her and scoop her up into her arms — but instead, she sharply reprimanded Zauner.
Like many other Asian mothers, Zauner’s mother did not display her love with outward affection. Instead, she showed it through simple acts of service. Before gifting cowboy boots to Zauner, her mother wore them around the house for days, breaking them down so they would not be painful on Zauner’s feet.
“Her tough love took me a while to understand,” Zauner said.
Zauner said she thinks of her mother all the time, feeling her mother’s presence in the ordinary acts of applying sunscreen and steaming wrinkles out of clothes — both practices her mother instilled in her.
It took Zauner five years and multiple revisions to pen the memoir. At times, she said the process became exhausting, but she finds comfort in readers resonating with her stories.
Zauner already has plans for a second book where she'll include stories of her mother from Nami, her aunt, and chronicle her time in Korea where she'll spend a year there starting this December. Unlike Crying in H Mart, Zauner's second book will be more grounded in the present rather than an in-depth exploration of her upbringing.
In anticipation of the book-signing that followed, many members of the audience, including retired Northwestern Secretary in Development Rita Mosebich, brought their copies of the memoir.
Mosebich was gifted Crying in H Mart by her granddaughter. As an avid cook, she loved the connection the novel drew between food and heritage. Mosebich, inspired by Zauner, has dedicated herself to penning her favorite recipes for her granddaughter.
“I enjoyed the book so much, and I felt a very personal connection with the book,” Mosebich said. “It's so great to see the diversity in the audience.”