- I've always been compelled by the notions of context and individuality. This interest has been expressed in different ways across my books, but I think I've been consistently fascinated the question of persons who find themselves in a context that either fits too well or doesn't fit at all, by persons who feel they exist simultaneously inside and outside of a cultural or political space. It’s no surprise that as an immigrant I've always been extra conscious of this interplay.
- On how his immigrant upbringing informs his writing in “On Writing and Identity: An Interview with Author and Professor Chang-rae Lee” (Stanford University; 2017 Oct 19)
- Even though I went to Exeter and Yale, and I enjoyed all the trappings of those places, I think at the same time – and maybe it's because I'm an immigrant kid and not white – there was always this other consciousness; that is, I was conscious of everything that was going on. And I was observing. Some people just ARE, because the temperature of the water is exactly the temperature of their body…But my temperature is always off, a little bit. And I have to note it. And I always did, from a very young age. I don't know if that's my character or upbringing or both.
- On how he felt like an outsider despite attending prestigious institutions in “Chang-rae Lee: 'When people asked, I'd say, "I'm writing a very strange book." I thought no one was going to get it'” in The Guardian (2014 Jan 18)
- Almost all of western literature is about talk…There's this great line in Beckett: keep talking, you're winning. And somehow I wanted to subvert that; the need to constantly express and put your verbal and psychological stamp on everything…You don't always have to talk.
- On how he perceives Western literature in “Chang-rae Lee: 'When people asked, I'd say, "I'm writing a very strange book." I thought no one was going to get it'” in The Guardian (2014 Jan 18)
- One of the things that's so frustrating about it is that people who are Asian-American and who are non Asian-American assume that sometimes. And I think sometimes the implication is that “Oh, you really didn't have to create that, that was just something that you recounted.” You know, that recounted stories are much more easy and simple to write than stuff that's completely made up. And I think that's one of the things that sometimes, particularly ethnic American writers face because they write about people who look like them and then people automatically assume that it's people who are them or someone in their family…
- On how ethnic American writers are judged sometimes in “Interview with Chang-rae Lee” (UCLA Asia Pacific Center; 2004 Apr 12)
- Well the voices, for me especially in first person story-telling, the voice is of primary importance. And the voice reflects and articulates that particular character and what that particular character is interested in and troubled by, and so the voices are different because the people are different. It seems to be an obvious thing to say but it has to be said…
- On how he makes his characters distinct in “Interview with Chang-rae Lee” (UCLA Asia Pacific Center; 2004 Apr 12)
- I grew up in an Asian American family on the East Coast. I have a whole network of friends there. But the West Coast is definitely more Asian American-inflected. Personally, culturally, artistically, there’s a draw here that’s different than on the East Coast. There’s a whole new added layer here that I enjoy.
- I think back to particular librarians when I was in elementary and middle school. My parents were immigrants, and my mother didn’t really speak English. Basically, I was raised in the library. Those librarians and a few teachers in high school and college and even graduate school gave me not just knowledge but also encouragement and, sometimes, a reality check.
- On the idea of mentorship and how that figures in his book My Year Abroad in "BookPage: Interview with Chang-rae Lee" in BookPage (February 2021)