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Creating the Ripple Effect
in the asian-american community
by ji hyun lee

SEVERAL YEARS AGO I was writing major in college with idealistic dreams of making it in the entertainment business. I aspired to bring my community forward in the media with my work because in my youth, I had only the Silkience girl and MASH to remind me of me. During these formidable years of my education, I was the only Asian student in the writing program. There were a few film students and the three of us formed a group knowing in the back of our minds something had to be done about the lack Asian representation in Hollywood. Still I longed talk with another writer wondering if they shared and bore similar burdens of the world upon their shoulders as I did.

Information
on the
WRITER   

Ji Hyun Lee

This New-York based writer was educated at Columbia and New York Universities while receiving degrees in Playwriting and Dramatic Writing.

Work Background

  • Guideposts Magazine
  • Homeroom.com
  • The Princeton Review
  • Women's Project Productions
  • Net Ad Consulting
  • Levhar Entertainment and
  • Stolen Cars Productions.

    COMPETITION AWARDS

  • Pacific Rim Prize (1999 & 2000)
  • Presidential Fellowship

    COMPETITION FINALIST

  • Van Lier Fellowship
  • National Playwriting (Wichita)

    COMPETITION SEMI-FINALST

  • New Play Competition (EWP)
  • Playwriting Fellowship (NY Theater)
  • Chesterfield's Writers Film Project
  • Writer's Network Screenplay & Fiction Writing Competition
  • ONE DAY a professor said to me, "Have you ever read R.A.W by Diana Son? The writer is also Korean-American. You should look her up." I was amazed and inspired. There was another Asian woman doing what I was doing. This was just the encouragement I needed and in the back of my mind, I formed a million questions that I would ask on a chance encounter with her. Years rolled on and I found myself still perfecting my craft in graduate school. My playwriting professor at the time joined my classmates and me for drinks. She told me I should meet this friend of hers, a great Asian-American playwright who would soon be joining us. An hour later, an Asian woman came over to our table. Kelly immediately introduced us. "This is Diana Son. Ji Hyun is a talented playwright whom I've been teaching here at Columbia."

    NO SOONER had the introduction been complete when Diana's face turned dark. She barely acknowledged me before sitting down for drinks, turning her chair with the back against me. She never said one word to me for the rest of the night. All my million questions were never asked because she had turned her back against me-literally. What was it like being a Korean-American playwright? Are the theaters receptive to ethnic material? What was the inspiration for R.A.W? Do you have any advice for me?

    IT TOOK ME a long time to get over this. Would it be like this with all Asian artists?

    I INTERNEDat a theater company in New York and my boss, the literary manager introduced me to the artistic associate who also happened to be an Asian playwright. After that first initial introduction, the woman never spoke to me again. For the entire summer months I worked there, she never even glanced my way. My million questions still hadn't been answered.

    SEVERAL MONTHS LATER, I went to a reading by a former professor. Lenora said to me, "Oh, there's someone I think you should meet. You should send her your play. She is a great connection for you." The woman she was referring to turn out to be the same artistic associate from my old internship. Lenora called her friend over to try to introduce us but the woman, upon seeing me said, "I'm too busy to meet anyone," and quickly walked away from us.

    AFTER FINISHING GRADUATE SCHOOL, my friend Stephen suggested I contact A Magazine for possible writing jobs. He even gave me the name of a friend of his, a senior editor at the publication. I left three messages with this man before I realized he would never return my phone calls.

    BY THIS TIME, I was getting all too familiar with being turned away by other Asians in the business. I had to figure out the answers to my million questions on my own.

    IT'S EASYto brush off these incidents as competitiveness. The truth is, this is something much, much deeper than simple artistic jealousy. Everyone who is reading this knows exactly what I'm talking about because you have either been turned away by one of your peers or have turned someone away. You have either harshly criticized someone of your own cultural background or have been criticized yourself.

    I WAS DISCOURAGED, depressed and frustrated that I received almost no support from the people I was trying to unite and represent. But my stubborn will allowed me the strength to persevere. In my still idealistic heart, I thought attitudes would change if I started making a name for myself in the creative world. So I continued to spend months creating something from my heart, then spent a few more months sending out material and waiting for the results. Then on a good day, a respectable theater company called to say, "We like your style. Let's do your play." So then the invites go out, and before I know it, the room is crowded with Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Philippinos, Indians, whites, blacks and all other groups anxious to hear the next possible Asian literary phenom. The review is seemingly good, maybe even great. The audience laughs, cries, gasps, shakes heads in disbelief and ultimately, applauds.




    Click HERE to go to Part 2




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