Poured Over: Michelle Zauner on Crying in H Mart

“But at the end of the day, so many people have lost a loved one. This story is about mothers and daughters. It’s about parents and children. It’s about a different culture and relating to it. It’s about food. It’s about grief. It’s about loss. It’s about family.” Two-time GRAMMY nominee Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast) joins us on the show to talk about her bestselling memoir Crying in H-Mart, one of the finalists for our B&N Book of the Year, as well as her literary influences, what she leaned about her mom (and herself), how rewrites helped her in unexpected ways, and more. Featured books: Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, and Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Produced/hosted by Miwa Messer and engineered by Harry Liang.

Poured Over is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher. New episodes land Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Full transcript for this episode of Poured Over:

B&N: Michelle Zauner thank you so much for joining us on Poured Over. You are now a two-time Grammy nominee as of this morning. I think that’s so great. So Best New Artist, Best Alternative album, your memoir Crying in H Mart is in its 16th printing since April 20. You’ve had quite the 2021.

Michelle Zauner: Yeah, it’s so bonkers. I mean, today was like the real cherry on top of a very charmed year. I’m just like, in complete disbelief, like completely stunned.

B&N:  I’m really super excited. Jubilee is a fantastic album. I was re listening to all three albums while I was rereading your memoir over the weekend. And I have to say, I needed a tiny bit of a break after Psychopomp and Soft Sounds from Another Planet. Both of those albums were written after your mom died. And she’s the subject of your memoir. And I had to take a little break because wow, it was all of the fields in one living room. And it was a lot. It’s totally worth it. But it was a lot. And I had to take a little break and switch to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for a minute because I was really good to get a little overwhelmed. But you’ve created these amazing albums. Jubilee is one that came out in June, Grammy nominated album, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of saying that.

Michelle Zauner: I won’t get tired of hearing it. That’s for sure.

B&N: You’ve written this memoir. It’s really intense. It’s really personal. Your music is intense and personal as well. Even when it’s a little on the poppier side, what’s it like for you having all of your life out in public?

Michelle Zauner: You know, it doesn’t really register with me, I think there’s online in the book, where I mentioned, while I struggled to be good, I excelled at being bold. And I think that that sort of carries over into my art, I’ve always been drawn to art that kind of excavates from a very personal place, it’s always meant more to me when the artist kind of infuses their personal life in this very direct way. For me, you know, I grew up really just adoring Mount Eerie, and his records are very much like that, you know, the stories I enjoy are deeply personal and making music like that has always made sense to me. And then, you know, moving forward with the book, that’s what made the most sense to me as well.

B&N: So this started with an essay that ran in the New Yorker in 2018, which a lot of us saw and a lot of us said, Please let this be a book soon. Luckily, we were rewarded. But how did this book start for you?

Michelle Zauner: I think that the book started for me in 2016. I was working at an advertising company A year after my mom had died. And I found that my grief was surprisingly very quiet and very insular. And it was difficult for me to communicate with my peers and my family, what I was feeling and how to make sense of everything that had happened. And so I started writing this essay about how I was learning how to cook Korean food. And it was this very natural desire that I just followed where I think the second Christmas after my mom had passed, I went to H Mart and was just watching people and found myself returning there over and over again because it made me feel strangely close to her. And I developed this relationship with this woman I never met Maangchi, this Korean YouTube blogger. And her videos were like my Bible, like I just would watch one of every week and plan my meals and go to H Mart and make them and it was my way of I think griefing and it was a ritual for myself, someone who without religion could participate in and felt like I was commemorating my mother and preserving my culture. And so I wrote Love, Loss and Kimchi in 2016. It was published in Glamour magazine, it was their essay of the year and I had shopped it to like all these food blogs and every essay contest without an entry fee. And nine months after I had submitted, I totally forgot I had submitted to Glamour magazine. And when I found out that I won, I thought it was spam. I was just like there’s no way. And around that time, my album psychopomp was starting to take off as well. And so I had this meeting with Brittany Blum, who is my literary agent, and I think she could tell I wasn’t quite ready, that the story was there. But I wasn’t quite ready to commit to it because my music career was starting to take off I was about to go on tour and, you know, it was something that we would revisit. And then two years went by I did a tour in Asia and I stayed in Seoul for six weeks. And I actually started writing what I thought could eventually be a book and it was maybe five or six of the chapters pretty rough. And the first chapter was crying an H Mart, and then I submitted that as a standalone piece to the New Yorker and it just blew up from there. And that’s when I got a book deal with Knopf.

B&N: Okay, and that’s the tour that shows up in Crying in H Mart right, or is that a different tour?

Michelle Zauner: Yeah, you know, to be completely honest, I think I might have collapsed a couple of details from the two Korea tours. I do Remember that photograph that I talked about. And the show where my Aunt saw me for the first time was the first show that we did there.

B&N: We’re going to get back into the details of the book. But one of the things I’ve been dying to ask you about are your literary influences. You study creative writing, and film at Bryn Mawr, and then went off and did some other things, and then came back and started writing music and started writing. What ultimately becomes your first memoir. But can we talk about your literary influences? For a second, please?

Michelle Zauner: Yeah, I think I was kind of a pretty late bloomer, you know, I not to knock public education. But you know, I didn’t read much outside of what was assigned to me in high school and my parents didn’t read much. And I was largely raised by an ESL parent. And so all of my literary taste, I would say, was formed largely by one person, which was Daniel Torde de my creative writing professor who was such a mentor to me and helped me create my independent major. So I could just focus on Creative Writing/Film and introduce me to all of these writers, the writers that really resonated with me with for a long time were these kinds of Kmart realist writers that were very plain spoken like Raymond Carver and Richard Ford, and Philip Roth and John Updike. And these men, these who like wrote these kind of like more working class sort of stories that had beautiful moving moments, but they weren’t the most like flowery, verbose, like complicated narratives. And I think that that felt in the same way that like DIY, or indie felt almost accessible to me as a musician because it felt within my reach. That type of writing felt accessible to me as well. So I was really in love with those writers. I love Joan Didion. I love Marilyn Robinson and Lorrie Moore and George Saunders and pretty much like everything that Daniel Torde was teaching in his course, I just consumed ravenously and informed so much of my literary tastes, I think.

B&N: Do you have time to read now? So who have you been reading lately? And recommending?

Michelle Zauner: Oh, you know, I actually, there’s some classics that I just never got around to reading. And I found this really beautiful vintage copy of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Yeah, I just finished Jane Eyre and I loved it. And her writing is so spectacular. And the Bronte sisters story is just like so absurdly tragic. And I really enjoyed it. I’m trying to read more plays now. Because I’m trying to gear up for writing this screenplay. And it’s been a struggle because I’ve just been touring so much that I haven’t had much time to work on it. And so now I’m kind of pivoting from you know, I read a great novel, it’s time to like shift gears and focus more on the project in hand and read exclusively like plays, so I’m actually reading Steel Magnolias for the first time. I’ve never seen the movie so I’m looking forward to like, reading the play and then watching the movie, but it’s impossible for me to not imagine like Dolly Parton saying everything.

B&N: I totally get it. If you have a chance, though. Have you read Wide Sargasso Sea by January’s? No, it’s a play on Jane Eyre and short but oh, wow.

Michelle Zauner: Wait what’s it called?

B&N:Wide Sargasso Sea. And actually hold on. I think I have a copyright behind me if I do. I can show you the jacket. And of course I can’t find it right now. It’s SAR G A SSO, but it’s basically Rochester his wife telling her story before you meet her in the attic. It’s pretty great.

Michelle Zauner: Oh, Bertha. Okay.

B&N: It’s pretty great. And it’s about the same length as Jane Eyre so you will bomb through it. I took on Middlemarch last year because friends of mine really love it and I had missed it and I am still working Middlemarch.

Michelle Zauner: Totally. I know. I think that weathering I need like a little break from the Bronte but I yeah, I’ve actually never read Wuthering Heights either. And so I’m asking for it for Christmas to stay on my Bronte train.

B&N: You have a break now though, from the tour, right? Like you’re off the road for a little bit. You can sit down so you’re working on the screenplay, then for Crying at H Mart.

Michelle Zauner: I’m supposed to be I’ve had like three days off. I got like really drunk one night and like basically just like laid comatose for two days. But yeah, that’s the plan for the next three months, I think is to work on.

B&N: So you’re going to strip down your memoir?

Michelle Zauner: Yeah, I mean, I thought it was gonna be easier than it’s proved. I think I just like haven’t found my way and just Yeah. Hopefully I’ll find my way.

B&N: And you grew up in a pretty isolated community outside of Eugene, Oregon. And super white. You and your mom basically integrated the town that you lived in.

Michelle Zauner: Yeah, I don’t think I realized like how informative that was for my life until I started reading this book. And some of that really came from my editor. My first editor was actually Robin Desser who also did Wild with Cheryl Strayed and she was telling me when she was I think weirdly, those are books are like kind of very similar women navigating life without their mothers finding comfort. somewhat strange way to grieve. And she told me that what she told to Cheryl was, you know, I just can’t see the trail, I want to be in the trail and, and similarly, she was saying to me, like, I just can’t see Oregon, I want you to describe Oregon, it feels like we need to be more grounded, then. I think especially when you’re writing a memoir, you know, your life is so obvious to you. So you just don’t think much about it. And once I started expressing Oregon, I think I realized, oh my god, like, No wonder my mom and I had the relationship that we did, I was isolated with her, our lives were like, so entwined, not just because she was a stay at home mom, but because she was all I had, you know, I was like a very kind of lonely child in the woods. And I wasn’t a crazy far distance out of town. Like, if you were to take that drive, you’d be like, you’re not like the middle of nowhere, Montana. But I think at that age, it’s such a formative age for you to be able to like bike to your friend’s house, or like walk to convenience or just like, have some small sliver of independence. And like, before I had a car, I was able to, like, take myself anywhere, it was very isolating, to like, have to live alone there and be an only child and be stuck with my mom, like so much.

B&N: Okay, but part of the sort of conflict between you and your mom when you’re younger, it’s the fact that she sees you as very American. And you’re saying I really, really do not want to be Korean. I want to blend into my surroundings. And this is where I’m going to remind everyone you’re in Oregon. In the woods, you want to blend into your surroundings. You are mad about having to go to Korean language school, you are mad about anything that sets you apart from the other kids. And here you are. But you still have food. And I love the way you write about Korean food. Can we walk listeners through how you came to food through your grief?

Michelle Zauner: Yeah, I mean, I think that it was a slow process that also started almost right away. My aunt came to Eugene from my mother’s funeral. And the next day, I realized sort of I was the woman of the house all of a sudden, overnight. And, you know, I was so used to being taken care of by this woman, whenever we went to Seoul that I suddenly felt like, you know, you have to step up and do something for your aunt and my cousin who also came so early in the morning, I just went to the Korean grocery where my mom always used to take me when I was a kid, Eugene doesn’t have an H Mart. So there’s the market called Sunrise market. And I got ingredients for Doenjang-jjigae, which is like this fermented soybean stew. And I don’t know what possessed me to do that. But I was just like, I have to take care of these people, I have to show them, I have to comfort them. And this is what makes sense to me. And it made me feel so great to be able to do that and maybe feel close to my mom. And then after they left, maybe like a week or so later, I was making all these like really decadent meals for my dad like day before your execution type of meals, mashed potatoes and gravy and pot pie. And you know, like just every combination of like potato and cheese and steaks and pork chops and all this crazy stuff. And weirdly, I just wanted this pine nut porridge that my mom was eating a lot of that she used to make when I was sick. It’s called Jatjuk. And it was really like one of the few things that she could really stomach during chemo. And I just I was like I needed to learn how to make this. So I think that there’s a lot of reasons why I think part of it was I had this sense of failure. I think that I wasn’t able to nurture my mother the way that I wanted to rise to the occasion for. I felt like I had failed not knowing what to make for her. And then this woman, Kay her friend came to live with us and kind of took that over. And I think I had a lot of guilt that I never learned and I wasn’t prepared enough. And so I think part of what made me gravitate towards learning how to cook these Korean dishes was this kind of undoing of that sort of guilt that I had. And I think part of it was also just it made me someone who’s not religious, like I was this very like tactile ritual that I could interact with that made me feel closer to my mom, I thought that like my mom would think was funny and made me feel like also, there was this major threat all of a sudden without my Korean parent that I would lose that part of myself if I didn’t actively work to maintain it. So I think there were three main things going on that led me to food in this way.

B&N: And the whole time you’re working through your own grief and your own trauma and like you just said, your own guilt. There’s a moment in the book where your mom goes to Texas for a second opinion. And you really think that you can make amends and I’m paraphrasing you for a second that you can make amends that somehow you can make yourself into the perfect daughter so that she will let you come to Texas when in fact she’s trying to protect you And there are multiple instances in the book and you even say this, you’re like my mother was once again thinking 10 steps ahead of everyone else. She had it figured out, you bump heads a lot. And yet, it’s still really clear that she’s your mom that she loves you that you are the center of her world. And it’s really kind of great. The photos in the kimchi refrigerator, I may have yelled a little bit. I was very pleased that your mom had kept all of those photos. But you’re bumping heads, you’re American, she’s still Korean, even though she’s been in the States for a while, your mom is trying to get you to dress differently, trying to get you to brush your hair, she’s trying to get you to do the skincare routines and all of these things. Your mom, like many women in her generation have a very specific beauty standard, you clearly have your own sense of style.

Michelle Zauner: Literally really rocking a Cheetos shirt. Oversized Cheeto shirt right now.

B&N: And I’m guessing your mom probably had a lot of comments that didn’t make it into the book about what you were wearing and how you were comporting yourself. This is an Asian mom thing. If you have an Asian mom, you know exactly what we’re talking about. If you don’t have an Asian mom, maybe your mom does it too. But it really is a super Asian mom thing. But you like many other Hafeez, we have double eyelids, which is something that people really want all throughout Asia and will in fact have plastic surgery for and here’s your mom, trying to get you to conform, when it is so obvious that you are the last kid on the planet who’s going to be able to present exactly the way she was hoping you would be. But have you picked up any of her habits or made any changes now that you’re a little older, and you don’t have her sort of saying, hey, teenage Michelle, this, that and the other thing?

Michelle Zauner: Oh, for sure. for better for worse, too. I think like even some of her habits that I really didn’t want to pick up are things that I unfortunately, not only have, but I’m glad to have them even though they’re negative, you know, because they remind me of her and I feel like her you know, things I swore I would never do. Like my mom would always just like, reach me every time I spilled something on the floor. And I would always just be like, it’s not like I did it on purpose. Why are you yelling? Like, what good does that do? And now if like, I always throw him under the bus by like, now my husband spills anything, I just go crazy. Like it’s just the same exact feeling like comes through me and I can’t help it. But then instead of being like, Michelle, you really need to work on that don’t grow up to be like your mother. Like a lot of people whose moms are still around probably think I don’t want to grow up to be like my mom. Now that she’s gone. And she’s like, you know, so romanticized, in my mind, I’m like, oh, but it’s okay that I yell at him because it’s reminds me of my mother. But yeah, I do pay more attention. Now. I’m neater now. And I’ve also like, gotten more into like shopping and like higher quality goods. Like I bought like an expensive jacket recently. And it was just like, you know, oh, another thing like, what I love about how my mother raised me was every time I came home from college, she she’d say, we need to update your look. And now like every year, I say that to myself, I’m just like, Okay, you need to update your look. And she like really believed wholeheartedly and this type of self care that’s very widely promoted now before it was kind of in vogue. And I really appreciate that. And I’m a bit more like rushing and messy and sloppy of a person. But I think as I get older, I I realized that I’m becoming more like that. And I understand why she was trying to impart these certain lessons, I still remind myself to like, stand up straight. And like, I remember my mom pushing my back. And I’m grateful that my mom made sure that I never like over plucked my eyebrows. That’s a really big one. I think of her every time I put eyeliner on and just like little things I put sunscreen on now I always think like my mom would be so proud that I apply sunscreen even when it’s like a gray day or I’m not going to get anywhere.

B&N: What’s the best piece of advice your mom ever gave you?

Michelle Zauner: I think famously it has to be save 10%. I was like Is that gonna resonate with anyone that has kind of like a pretty brief part in the book. But it’s it’s a line that’s stuck with a lot of people and was certainly something that my mom really believed in. And I do think that I’m definitely not as stoic or withholding as she had or mysterious as that she had the ability to be but I certainly, for better for worse, have guarded myself and been very protective of myself against other people. And I’ve made some really wise decisions because between the two of my parents, I’m not the most like trusting person. And yeah, I think it saved me from a lot of grief honestly.

B&N: The book’s been out in the world for seven months. It’s crazy 16th printing, which I think is pretty terrific. I’m also guessing you’ve heard a lot from readers online. What have you learned?

Michelle Zauner: You know, it’s it’s tough because like I’ve seen a lot of it and it’s very intense and meaningful, but um, even recently, I did one of the first Few readings I’ve done in person like last week, and to hear what people had to say, someone brought up the the double eyelids. And she was like, I had that same exact moment. But it was me realizing I didn’t have double eyelids. And it was so wild to see that. And in a book, you know, for the first time, I think, I mean, the biggest takeaway is that my story is not a niche story. It’s a story that everyone can relate to, because it’s been so successful. And I’ve had so many people reach out to me about how deeply they felt it and how much they related to it. And I always felt like, I would never be able to write nonfiction or I would never be interested in writing about my life in this way. Because my story would be so niche, and who could relate to me and it would never be popular. And I learned that that’s not true, and that there’s a space for it. And clearly, it’s time for this type of narrative. I also learned, I think that this type of love and relationship is not something that’s been widely represented, I think this particular mother daughter story of a complicated divide between first second generation American and their immigrant parent, and how difficult and complicated and nuanced that relationship can be. That type of love is something that is hasn’t been seen so much before. And I think I learned how to forgive myself for some of the guilt I had of struggling with my mother and being a difficult teenager, because I was able to kind of look back at my life this way and realize, you know, we were up against a lot, we had no representation, I had no peers that I could relate to, to really understand that particular type of friction.

B&N: Your mom didn’t have a lot of community either, where you were, I mean, she took art classes, she had you. She had sort of the other moms at Korean language school, but it doesn’t sound like they were hanging out all that much outside of language schools. So she’s really isolated.

Michelle Zauner: Yeah, my mom is like an incredibly strong, independent woman. And I don’t think I even realize how intense it must have been for her to cut herself off from the already very small Korean community. I think that she was religious. And I think that maybe towards the end, I don’t know if she would have said that she was a Christian, but she felt like the Christian community was very judgmental. And she didn’t really like associating with that. And to cut herself off from that community, even though it’s, you know, a Korean community, I think was really brave of her. You know, I think that she just knew what she wanted. And she didn’t like the exclusivity or the judgments that came with that religion in that community. And she didn’t want to be involved. And so she cut it off. She was like, such a social person. But like, she was very charming. And people really gravitated, she had this like magnetism, but she also was very private and like, and not, you know, she likes go out every once in a while, but she didn’t really enjoy socializing so much. She was great at it when she wanted to be. But I think that she didn’t like to do it so much. I think she was okay with that. But then again, I would never know completely, because she would never share with me, I’m sure if she was feeling lonely.

B&N: What does it mean to you to be Asian American, today?

Michelle Zauner: It means a lot to me. Now, I mean, especially because, you know, I feel like I have this real new relationship with it for two reasons. One, because it’s the way that I connect with my mother and her memory. It’s the part of her that I can see in my face and my actions and desires. And another is I’ve just developed like such a wonderful supportive community of Asian American creatives. And it’s been much easier for us to find each other and support one another and relate to one another than it was when I was younger, and the Internet wasn’t really available. And this type of discourse about representation didn’t really exist. And so I’m very proud to be Asian American has become such a huge part of my life now in a way that I never anticipated.

B&N: I think too, there are times where the internet is helpful. And this would be one of them to have that sense of community. I mean, I grew up on the East Coast, in a community where Yeah, we were the ones who integrated our town. Like, that’s it. My mother, my brother, and I, everyone knew who we were. Yeah, it definitely impacts the way you see the world. But it’s really great when you find your tribe. Are you surprised, though, by how many different kinds of people have embraced this because it’s not just Korean Americans who are embracing this book. I mean, it’s a really universal story in a lot of ways. Difficult moms come in different forms. I mean, I don’t actually like the word difficult so much. I’m riffing off of some other stuff that folks have said, I think your mom is very complicated, and very much around person, but not exactly what people were expecting.

Michelle Zauner: I’m totally blown away. I mean, certainly that was my hope. You know, I think that that was always my hope. And it’s not that I like ever hated being Asian American, I just wanted to be judged based on my own character and merit before anything else. And it felt like I would never have the opportunity to be seen that way. Because I would always be an Asian American artists, Asian American musician, Asian American woman, writer, whatever, I never felt like I could be a neutral body, there would always be like some type of stereotype accompanying me or some type of like, diversity card that would be associated with my, like a claim or whatever, I still feel that way. You know, I’m sure that like with the Grammys, there will be plenty of people who say like, they’re just trying to expand diversity and representation. And that’s like, why we’ve got a spot or whatever, there’s always going to be that kind of like neurosis and anxiety. And I’m sure lots of other people feel that way. And either don’t want to say it out loud, or, you know, will on on private accounts. But at the end of the day, so many people have lost a loved one. This story is about mothers and daughters. It’s about parents and children. It’s about a different culture and relating to it. It’s about food. It’s about grief. It’s about loss. It’s about family. These are all very, very broad, universal things that so many people have gone through. I mean, so many people have dealt with cancer. And it’s such a devastating thing that ravages the home, and I just tried to speak from a very honest place of my experience, it was important for me to show it all I guess, and I hope certainly that people would be able to relate to it, I think, you know, something that has been said to me a lot is, you know, the most personal can be and wind up being the most universal. And I certainly hoped for this kind of reaction that anyone would be able to relate to it beyond Korean American audience. But I had no idea that it would actually happen that we were in a place where anyone was ready for that.

B&N: Has the response been the biggest surprise from the book? Or was there something while you were writing that really surprised you?

Michelle Zauner: I mean, the response has been fairly surprising, to be honest. But yeah, I mean, there was a ton of really surprising stuff that came to me through the book, I learned so much. And, you know, I think that it’s a really beautiful part of memoirs like you, you develop a deeper understanding of everyone that’s involved in your story, I certainly went into this book angry at a lot of people angry at my father angry at K, angry at myself. And I think that having to try to your best to be fair to everyone makes you have a deeper understanding of where everyone’s coming from, and seeing that play out. Because you have to write and leave and come back to it so much that, you know, when I came back to revise, I realized, like, I was so angry at everyone, and it was just screaming off the page. And so I had to go back in and you know, see the other side and kind of temper it a bit. And I think I learned a lot in the process. And I was able to like forgive and understand and have more compassion for everyone that was involved in that and kind of move forward with my life.

B&N: I think people don’t always realize that grief and anger and even grief and rage kind of come in a single package. And especially to there’s a stereotype that goes along with being Asian American and a woman. And part of that is not being angry and just being very serene all the time and having a neutral expression and all of these things.

Michelle Zauner: The geisha.

B&N: The whole package. And then you layer in the model minority stuff that goes on top of it, right. So you’ve got the whole stereotype that goes with being an Asian American woman, and how quiet and docile and hyper feminine all of it, all of it. And then you add this piece where we’re supposed to get great grades we’re supposed to, you know, we’re all supposed to want to be accountants and consultants and doctors and all of these things that I personally have no interest in doing. And here you are just doing your thing. Is that your mom? I mean, was that your mom pushing you in the direction that neither of you even realized that you were being pushed in? I mean, how did you find your way to the thing that you were gonna do?

Michelle Zauner: I think it had to be almost barred from me so much that I needed to constantly prove that it was the only thing that I could do to myself. I think I was always kind of interested in the arts and didn’t really bubble up until 15 or 16 when I saw my first indie shows and DIY Cafe gigs and just begged my mom for a guitar and pretty much as soon as I had learned my first three chords, I was kind of off to the races, writing songs and then it became everything just you know, I talked about this a bit in the book, but it wasn’t just writing the music, even like the self promotion and like the grit of like printing out flyers and walking them around town and like putting in the work. I think that You know, to be fair, my mom was definitely like not into it and did not understand where it was coming from. But I think I owe that kind of ambition. And that sort of labor of love, really, to both of my parents, both of my parents were very much of the opinion that no one owes you anything. And that, you know, you have to, like, kill yourself to make it. And that was kind of how I was raised. And so, you know, I never felt like anyone owed me anything. I had to work it myself from a very young age. And, yeah, I mean, but there was a lot of times where it just didn’t look like it was gonna happen for me and my mom, I was like, you know, it’s fine, you can continue, but you always have to do it on the side until it becomes a thing on its own. And so I think she instilled a very strong work ethic and me to, to do that. That way.

B&N: In the book, you finally sort of reached a point where you are in the process of forgiving yourself. I’m sure you’re at a different point now, because this is a couple years on. But music and food seem to be two of the biggest pieces of you being able to forgive yourself and connect with your mom, which I find slightly fascinating, because music you find out later music is kind of a thing for your mom, you find your first CD in her car, you find out that she had a favorite band. When she was young in Korea. Food was always the obvious. Right? Yeah. What else did you learn about your mom while you were writing this book?

Michelle Zauner: I think that I realized that I was a lot more similar to her. I mean, that was something that was always told to me growing up, that was just impossible for me to believe that my mom was like a tomboy, and that she was kind of rowdy. And, you know, it was also like through spending more time with my aunt and Nami who plays a major role in the book. And I started to learn a lot more about my mom where, you know, I remember very specifically telling her Oh, my mom is such a perfectionist. And she was like, Are you kidding? Me and unmi where the perfectionists. Your mom was like, so sloppy and rowdy. And she couldn’t even like put her shoes on correctly. So like, It’s so wild for me to think about that. But my mom used to say that to me, too. I was more like you when I was younger. And I grew out of it. And I think that it was her way of trying to fix me of that before you know, it got too late. But I think I also realized, you know, my mom had this type of like artistic sensibility or sensitivity, I think like, even the way that she interacted with film or like a news story, or people’s stories, like the way that she would retell something that her friend had experienced, or in a movie that she had seen, I feel like she felt things like very deeply. And I don’t think that I realized that that was not like a normal thing until I was older and understood people a little bit better. You know, I have some friends. The way that they like listen to music is like collecting Pokemon cards, like they have these huge libraries full of every album, and you know, but no real like, discerning tastes, or like real emotional attachment. I feel like my mom like wasn’t an avid reader or like movie buff, or wouldn’t know much about any artist. But I truly believe that she was moved very deeply by ordinary human interactions and situations and like natural observations, and that she would relay these experiences in a somewhat poetic way that if she had more of this kind of like American entitlement or encouragement that I had growing up, if that would have made its way into some kind of creative medium, because my dad is not like that. And so I think as an artist, you’re always naturally wondering where that kind of sensibility comes from that creativity comes from. And I think that I, I began to believe that that’s where it came from.

B&N: Do you have a favorite moment from the book?

Michelle Zauner: Some of my favorite moments are just like remembering what was good, you know, I really ended up loving, describing Oregon and what it look like and specifically this drive that I always took from the center of town, up the hills like winding round up to the woods where my house was beautiful, like little details that just mean a lot to me of just like watching my dad collect BlackBerry Bramble to burn in these piles or dispose of corn husks on the yard. Like where I learned probably what the word biodegradable was. I just think like little human details like that are really beautiful, or this litany of like, my mom’s favorite foods and the way that she ate them. I love just like remembering my mom was like always kind of sticky from like, all these cleansing creams and shit and just little things like that, that like bring me back to a moment that I can’t have anymore. That’s part of my life that’s gone. I’m glad that I preserved it in this way.

B&N: You’ve written songs, you’ve never written a memoir. When you’re writing a memoir, that’s this personal. What does the editorial process feel like? I mean, how do you even rework and you’ve mentioned earlier in this conversation that you had to go back and sort of look at a couple of folks through a different lens. But this is your life. This is everything. And there are some mistakes. There are some memories. There’s a lot here, and you’ve got to go back and edit your life.

Michelle Zauner: Yeah, I mean, I think it just takes a lot of like, returning and leaving and perspective constantly. I was really lucky. I had such wonderful readers. My husband was a wonderful editor and first reader. Both Jordan Pavlin and Robin Desser, my editors and Bradley Bloom, my agent, my professor Daniel Torde read it, I sent it to some friends, like constantly having people read it and give me feedback. And then also, there’s just a built-in process of writing a book where you you know, work on a first draft, I had three or four months away from it before I was able to go back in and just see like, Why was I so precious about this kind of stuff. Why was I so hung up on this specific story. This has nothing to do with this. Why is this here. And I feel like that type of revision is just so essential. But for me, it was really helpful to just like, throw it all at the wall and just like, let it go, and then reread it constantly. Leave, spend a few days or a week or months away from it and then return return return.

B&N: What do you want readers to know about Crying in H Mart?

Michelle Zauner: It’s a love letter to my mother. It’s about a very complicated nuanced type of love between a daughter and a mother and the story of returning to a parent and also a culture.

B&N: And speaking of culture, and parents, do you have sort of an ultimate Korean meal?

Michelle Zauner: Yeah, I would say my ultimate Korean meal is Kimchi-jjigae which is like a kimchi stew and I think that’s like the most like comforting like, bursts through the core of my being just like it literally feels like it’s like heartwarming, literally like hits hits your chest in this very specific way that feels like home to me, is the type of full that I can only have with like that type of stew. Yeah, that’s my favorite. And just like my favorite comfort meal is like Kimchi-jjigae with a really runny egg on rice with sesame oil, sesame seeds and salt and eating those two things together. It’s like my favorite meal of all time.

B&N: Michelle Zauner, thank you so much. Congratulations again on your Grammy nominations we will be rooting for you might actually get us to watch the Grammys. Crying in H Mart is in its 16th printing and thank you so much for joining us on Poured Over.

Michelle Zauner: Thank you so much for having me.