Don Lee returns to stories about race in ‘The Partition’

David Wilson for the Boston Globe

The short stories in Don Lee’s second collection, “The Partition,” range widely in time span, but the newest one was written just this past fall, and set during a time of COVID and violence against Asian Americans. “A lot of it had to do with the former administration in the White House and what was happening and the tenor in the country in terms of race relations,” said Lee. “I thought, ‘How can I not address this?’ That kind of urgency really came into play after the Atlanta murders, plus all of the anti-Asian hate, in New York City in particular.”

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For Lee, whose grandparents came to the US from Korea between World War II and the Korean War, identity hasn’t always been front and center in his fiction. “I’ve alternated. One book I write about race and the next book I don’t at all. I get sort of sick of it, and then something happens where I feel compelled to do it again,” he said. “I’m constantly ambivalent about it. I ask these questions about whether as writers of color we always have to write about race. One thing I’ve always tried to do is have characters of color but not go into the stereotypical stories.”

Lee, who teaches at Temple University and has published a previous story collection, “Yellow,” as well as four novels, said he didn’t grow up wanting to write. His initial plan entering college was to major in mechanical engineering and then get a PhD in oceanography, he said, “because I wanted to build and pilot underwater submersibles. I watched a lot of Jacque Cousteau as a kid!” It wasn’t until he’d cycled through a number of other majors (11 in total) that he landed where he was meant to be: “I kept on edging toward the humanities, until finally I let go of the sciences and got an English degree.”

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Don Lee will read at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.

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