Dr. Wayne brings Min Jin Lee to KO as 2020-2021 Symposium author


Since 1983, the senior Symposium class has brought in countless authors who have discussed their literature in depth with the students in the class. These authors, such as Jonathan Safran Foer and Arthur Miller, have been amazing influences on the students, and this year’s author, Min Jin Lee, is just as accredited as the others.

A finalist for the National Book Award with her novel “Pachinko,” Lee has many accolades to her name. 

Though she has only written two long novels, “Pachinko,” and “Free Food for Millionaires,” the rising senior class will read some of her essays, as well as some work by her influences.

The 2020-2021 Symposium class will be taught by English teacher Heather Wayne, who fell in love with Lee after reading “Free Food for Millionaires.”

In her two novels, Lee tells Korean-American stories that nevertheless appeal to many readers. “Pachinko” is the story of a Korean family immigrating to Japan, and “Free Food for Millionaires” is a critique of society and allows readers to look deeply into themselves. 

The process for choosing a Symposium author is never easy, according to Dr. Wayne. “I had to think about a variety of factors,” she said. “First and foremost, I wanted to choose an author who I loved, and who I was excited to teach. I also wanted to choose someone who people would connect to. They’re page-turning novels, and you get attached to the characters…it keeps you invested.”

Having an author who has only written two novels is another challenge, but Dr. Wayne has big plans for the class. “When I read ‘Free Food for Millionaires,’ I felt a lot of Edith Wharton, so I think we’ll probably read something by Edith Wharton,” she said. “I also want to read some contemporary nonfiction to contextualize her projects.”

It was officially announced this year that the Symposium class is determined by an application process. Students do not have to have taken AP English (another change from last year), and need to complete an application as well as a 10-minute interview. The application consists of a short essay about skills that the students believe that they will bring to the class, as well as an analytical essay written for a KO English class. 

The interviews have taken place over three weeks; each student was assigned two teachers in the English department to interview with. Teachers asked why they had chosen the essay they submitted, as well as who they would choose as their own Symposium author and why. 

This application process was controversial: many students liked that there was no prerequisite for the class for the first time ever, while others wish that their hard work in AP English had meant they were almost guaranteed to be in the class.

Junior Caitlin Budzik is excited for the class but didn’t love the application process. “I am interested to learn about this author, especially because she has only written two novels so we can really dive into her writing styles and choices,” she said. “However, I think the process is unnecessary because they are trying to be more inclusive, but it’s just the same students who would be recommended anyway.”

Junior Mary Ellen Carroll sees the Symposium class as a culminating English experience at KO and is disappointed the changes happened. “I think the decision to alter the way of getting into Symposium works at KO, particularly in the middle of the year, was in poor taste,” she said. “I can say for certain that Symposium is both the reason I came to KO, and why I’ve stayed for seven years. With both AP and non-AP students being allowed to apply, it begs the question: is AP work now devalued, or is non-AP work now on the same level as AP work? And why have the differentiation in the first place?”

While lots of students are upset, many are able to see the upside of this new decision but think that it could have been handled better. Junior Drini Puka was able to apply this year when he wouldn’t otherwise be able to. “I appreciate the fact that the class isn’t limited behind the wall,” he said. “If AP English isn’t something that interests us, but you want to take Symposium, you’d have to be stuck in a class you don’t want to be in. The only thing I don’t agree with was changing the prerequisite midyear because many people took AP [English] just for Symposium, and now they aren’t even guaranteed a spot because of it. It’s good for me, a non-AP student because I can still apply, but if I was an AP student I would be frustrated, and rightfully so.”

Drini also believes that the English department should look at which student is in what class when making decisions as to who is in the class. “In an AP, you’re much more accustomed to the rigor that comes with a class like Symposium,” he said. 

Despite the controversies with the application process, the senior class (and the school as a whole) is very excited to see what Min Jin Lee brings to the table next year as 2020’s Warren Baird Symposium author.