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Award-winning author Lisa Ko to come to IU


“The Leavers” by Lisa Ko was released May 2, 2017, and has won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Ko will be delivering a reading Sept. 18 in the Indiana Memorial Union.  Matt Begala Buy Photos

Lisa Ko, an award winning writer, will be presenting a reading of her work at the Indiana Memorial Union on Sept. 18. 

The reading will be at 7:30 p.m., and admission to the event is free.

Ko has written for several publications, such as O. Magazine, the New York Times and BuzzFeed. She is best known for her debut novel, "The Leavers," which received the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction and was a finalist for the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award.

“The Leavers” is both a coming-of-age tale and a story of redemption. It follows a Chinese boy named Deming whose mother leaves for work one morning and never returns home. Deming, who is then adopted by an educated, white suburban family, must navigate adolescence and the United States while carrying the emotional baggage of being abandoned. 

Set in both New York and China, the story hops between a close third-person perspective with Deming and the first-person perspective of his mother. The story explores themes and topics such as loneliness, racism and identity. 

According to her personal website, Ko was the first of her family to be born in the U.S., the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Born in Queens, she was raised in New Jersey, and as one of the only children of color in her community, she says she couldn’t help but stand out. 

In her personal biography, Ko recounts her own experiences as a minority in a U.S. suburb and the solitude and suppression that would ultimately fuel her work later in life. She says she continually attempts to bridge the growing gap between different cultures through fiction and story-telling. She self-describes herself as the “defender of the underdog.”

Samrat Upadhyay is a professor in IU’s creative writing department and has published several novels of his own. Originally from Nepal, Upadhyay also utilizes his diverse culture and experiences in his work. He assigned “The Leavers” as required reading for his students this semester.

“I don’t usually assign full books to undergrads, but this is a complex novel," Upadhyay said. "This is an interesting novel. And she is coming to our university, which is a great opportunity.” 

Upadhyay stressed the importance of diversity in fiction.

“Different cultures mean different perspectives," Upadhyay said. "That’s what we’re always looking for.”

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