Best-selling author and musician Michelle Zauner discusses identity, memoir and creative journey

Best-selling author/musician Michelle Zauner talks identity, memoir

The Japanese Breakfast singer and "Crying in H Mart" author speaks for SU's Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Published: April 8, 2022
Michelle Zauner discusses her new book
Michelle Zauner discusses her new book "Crying In H Mart" and her life experience as a Korean American at Huntington Beard Crouse Hall on Thursday.

Syracuse University students gathered in the H.B.C. Gifford Auditorium on Thursday evening to attend the keynote speech from Michelle Zauner for Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The heritage month is usually celebrated nationally in May but is celebrated in April at SU, allowing students to commemorate their culture while still on campus. 

Zauner, the Grammy-nominated lead singer of band Japanese Breakfast as well as an author, read a chapter from her memoir, Crying in H Mart, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 37 weeks. The memoir focuses on Zauner’s relationship with her mother and her identity as a Korean-American woman, with a motif of Korean food as a vessel of celebration and healing.

The reading was from the penultimate chapter of the memoir. It took place two years after her mother’s death as she faced the reality of her father selling her childhood home, which led to the discovery of a collection of family photos inside of an old fridge in which her mother used to store kimchi. Zauner explored the bittersweet feelings of loss and nostalgia that she found within the archives of the photographs. 

Michelle Zauner discusses her new book
Michelle Zauner laughs during the talk on Thursday night.

The AAPI Heritage Month Planning Committee originally reached out to Zauner after selecting Crying in H Mart for their book club. “Her book was really empowering, and I didn’t know she made music until I read the book,” senior Justin Kayaga said.  Kayaga said that the process of reading the book and then having the opportunity to host Zauner as keynote speaker.“As an Asian-American, I definitely can relate to her and these experiences in finding her identity, so it was so great to see her and hear her speak.”

Sophomore Jeanne Kambara also connected with Zauner’s experiences of Asian-American identity and how that specifically connects to loss.

“As someone who’s also mixed-race, Asian and white, I was pretty excited to see what was going to be said,” Kambara said.

“I resonated quite a lot with it also as someone who has experienced loss and has experienced loss while struggling with cultural identity, and seeing those two things come together on one stage was very gratifying.”

Michelle Zauner discusses her new book
Michelle Zauner, of Japanese Breakfast, during her talk on Thursday in Beard Crouse Hall.

A question-and-answer section was held following the reading. Syracuse senior Hyejun Yoon served as the moderator. Yoon applied to interview Zauner because she was already a fan of Japanese Breakfast and wanted the opportunity to speak to Zauner directly. 

“Michelle Zauner is someone I have always looked up to for many years of my life, so being able to meet her and ask her questions, and also hear her answer questions I would have never even thought of, was so insightful and amazing,” Yoon said. 

Yoon wrote a series of her own questions for Zauner, then attendees were able to ask their own questions. Questions focused on Zauner’s advice to young Asian-Americans, her creative process, and the importance of food to identity. 

Zauner, who is an alumni of Bryn Mawr College, encouraged undergraduate students to take full advantage of all the resources that are available on campus. She also explained her creative process and the differentiation of songwriting versus book-writing. Currently, Zauner is working on adapting Crying in H Mart to a screenplay.