Kyoko Mori has written several short stories, poems and novels about Asian-American women who have tried to retrace their heritage.
"Mori has a unique perspective because she is both an Asian American and a woman," said Tin Nguyen, senior co-president of the UNC Asian-American Center for Development. "She can see the subtle differences between the two cultures."
Mori said a quality education was the reason behind her success as a writer but that her schooling sometimes left her with unanswered questions about where her culture and gender fit in.
"The one thing that was missing from my education was being able to read from people like me," she said. "In school, we were always taught novels that had been written by dead white men. When I finally got to read women writers, like Austen and the Bronte sisters, they taught me so much because they were really like me."
Mori said she knew she wanted to be a writer from the beginning of her life but that the idea of discussing her Asian heritage did not occur to her until later.
"In my second year of graduate school, I realized that I should write about (my ethnic origin)," she said. "It's an empowering thing to write about the people that I grew up with."
When asked if it was hard to explain cultural differences between Asians and Americans, Mori responded that she can only give her readers a starting point, leaving the rest up to them.
"Writing is a translation of your experiences into common language that everyone can understand," she said. "I do the best to explain what is really unexplainable, and then I let it be. I've learned that I can't control my readers' responses."
Mori also cautioned that it is dangerous when people try to use literature as a source of information about a different lifestyle. "Multiculturalism is great, and I really applaud the efforts to read literature from different ethnic groups," she said. "But at the same time, people should be reading books because they enjoy beautiful language and human nature in general. They should read to enjoy and not as a guidebook for another culture."