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  • Jan 03, 2014


How do you build art and add value out of something you can’t understand on face value?  If you don’t speak a language, can you truly understand it? The American Swedish Institute (ASI) and Coffee House Press open a community conversation around language and context this winter with award winning poet Ed Bok Lee’s serving as Artist-in-Residence at ASI’s Wallenberg Library and Archives.

“Meta-translations: Ed Bok Lee’s Intervention in the ASI Collection” runs January 14-April 27, 2014. Bok Lee’s residency is sponsored by Coffee House Press’ Readers and Writers Library Residency program.

Bok Lee, winner of the Minnesota Book Award, the PEN Award, and American Book Award will spend a month-long residency in January inside the ASI’s  Wallenberg Library and Archives— researching daily journals and poetry entries from often overlooked and lesser known Swedish immigrants whose voices and stories live in their original Swedish language within the Library’s 30,000 piece collection. 

Bok Lee, who does not speak Swedish, will use these original entries as a starting point for new work, drawing mainly on their form and typographic appearance.

“With what I'm calling meta-translations, I'll take diary entries, poems, and letters written by laypeople in Swedish, and create new poems based solely on what I'm picking up from the, to me, unintelligible sounds and visual script,” said Bok Lee.

“The less I know of the original content, the better,” Bok Lee continued. “I might be thinking about my own parents' letters home to Korea, while creating these meta translations, or my own letters or diary entries or poems I wrote while living abroad.”

Artist-in-Residence On Site

Traditional “or conventional” Artist-in-Residence programs highlight the finished work, but ASI offers a “an opportunity to connect directly with the artst during their residency” twist. During Bok Lee’s residency in January,  ASI visitors may encounter the artist working in the collections or the exhibition space


Wednesday,  January 15, 5:45 – 8 pm

Tuesday,  January 21, 9 – 3:30 pm

Wednesday,  January 22, 5:45 – 8 pm

Wednesday,  January  29, 5:45 – 8 pm

Bok Lee recaps a month-long writer's residency amidst the archives of the Wallenberg Library and Archives at the American Swedish Institute with a public presentation on Wednesday, February 19th at 6:30 p.m.

Reading and Discussion with Bok Lee, Writer-in-Residence at the Wallenberg Library and Archives at the American Swedish Institute. 

Wednesday, February 19th at 6:30pm

American Swedish Institute
2600 Park Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55407

The evening includes a conversation between Bok Lee, Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus (ASI’s Librarian and Archivist) and Chris Fischbach (Editor and Publisher of Coffee House Press), as well as selected readings by Bok Lee. Bok Lee's work will be on display in ASI’s Benson Gallery.  Selections will be shared during the presentation.

About Ed Bok Lee: Ed Bok Lee is the author of (Coffee House Press, 2012), winner of a 2012 American Book Award, and a Minnesota Book Award for Poetry, and Real Karaoke People (New Rivers, 2005), winner of a 2006 PEN/Open Book Award, and an Asian American Literary Award (Members' Choice). Lee holds an MFA from Brown University, and has worked as a journalist, phys ed instructor, bartender, and translator, and is currently an associate professor at Metropolitan State University. He has shared his work on public radio and MTV, as well as in journals, anthologies, and on stages across North America, Europe, and Asia. His plays have been seen at major regional and national theaters including the Guthrie Theater, New York Theater Workshop, Joseph Papp Public Theater, Theater Mu, Taipei Theater, Trinity Repertory Company, and the Walker Art Center.

About Coffee House Press: Located in Minneapolis, Coffee House Press is an independent, nonprofit literary publisher of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The mission of Coffee House Press is to publish exciting, vital, and enduring authors of our time; to delight and inspire readers; to contribute to the cultural life of our community; and to enrich our literary heritage. By building on the best traditions of publishing and the book arts, Coffee House produces books that celebrate imagination, innovation in the craft of writing, and the many authentic voices of the American experience. Visit for more information.

Inspired by the Library as Incubator Project, the Writers and Readers Library Residency program places readers and writers in residence at public, school, and specialty libraries to create a body of work that will inspire a broader public to engage with their local libraries in new and meaningful ways, and to encourage artists and the general public to think about libraries as creative spaces.

The Writers and Readers Library Residency program is part of Coffee House Press’s Books in Action initiative and is inspired by the Library as Incubator Project. Bok Lee is the fourth resident, following fellow poets Lightsey Darst, Sarah Fox, and Chris Martin. Future residencies are scheduled for the Midway Contemporary Art Library, Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Hennepin County Public Library. The Writers and Readers Library Residency Program is made possible in part by a grant from the McKnight Foundation.

About the American Swedish Institute: The American Swedish Institute (ASI) is a vibrant arts and cultural organization, museum, and historic home located at 2600 Park Avenue near downtown Minneapolis.  ASI attracts more than 65,000 people each year for tours of the landmark 1908 Turnblad Mansion, exhibits, classes and events that connect the community to contemporary Nordic culture and cultural heritage. Founded in 1929 by Swedish immigrant newspaper publisher Swan J. Turnblad, ASI serves as a gathering place for people to share stories and experiences around universal themes of tradition, migration, craft and the arts, all informed by enduring ties to Sweden.  In 2013, the Wall Street Journal called ASI “[a] model of how a small institution can draw visitors through exciting programming.”

In addition to Bok Lee’s “Intervention” and the partnership with Coffee House Press,  the ASI’s Wallenberg Library and Archives is collaborating with the Minnesota Historical Society and The National Library of Sweden to digitize Svenska Amerikanska Posten the newspaper published by ASI founder Swan J. Turnblad, a Swedish immigrant.  The complete record of Posten isone of the keystones of ASI’s collection and was one of largest Swedish language newspapers outside of Sweden between during its circulation 55 year circulation.

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