'First memory of English: my father orders spaghetti from a waitress. / Foreign flowers blossom in his mouth and I’m spellbound in Urdu. // On Friday afternoons, cars spill across a bleached suburb. / Not far from the mosque, look! Crooked lines of devout Urdu.'
“Poetry can save us,” Martín Espada once wrote. Join us for the fifth edition of Poetry Poetry, featuring Guggenheim Fellow Kimiko Hahn, National Book Award Finalist Monica Youn, Pushcart Prize Winner Sally Wen Mao, and our very own Poetry Editor Emily Yoon!
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Kimiko Hahn has said: “I’ve taken years to imagine an Asian American aesthetic. I think it’s a combination of many elements—a reflection of Asian form, an engagement with content that may have roots in historical identity, together with a problematic, and even psychological, relationship to language.” Kimiko Hahn is the author of ten collections of poetry, including The Narrow Road to the Interior (W.W. Norton, 2006); The Artist’s Daughter (2002); Mosquito and Ant (1999); Volatile (1998); The Unbearable Heart (1995), which received an American Book Award; and Toxic Flora (2010), which won AAWW’s Asian American Literary Award. She has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, NYFA, as well as a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, and an Association of Asian American Studies Literature Award. She is a Distinguished Professor in the English department at Queens College/CUNY and lives in New York. Read Kimiko Hahn’s poems in AAWW’s The Margins, including “Dream of Shoji” and “Phototactic Tactics.”
Sally Wen Mao is the author of Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014), the winner of the 2012 Kinereth Gensler Award, a Poets & Writers Top Ten Debut of 2014, and a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Anticipated Pick of Fall 2014. Her second book, Oculus, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2019. The winner of a 2017 Pushcart Prize, she has received fellowships from Kundiman, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Jerome Foundation, Hedgebrook, Vermont Studio Center, and Saltonstall Foundation, She was the 2015-2016 Singapore Creative Writing Residency Writer-in-Residence at National University of Singapore, and is currently a 2016-2017 Cullman Center Fellow at the New York Public Library. Check out Sally’s poems in AAWW’s The Margins: “Lavender Town” and “Apiology, with Stigma.”
Born in Busan, Republic of Korea, Emily Jungmin Yoon serves as the Poetry Editor for The Margins, the literary magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and is a PhD student studying Korean literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. She received her MFA in Creative Writing at New York University, where she served as an Award Editor for the Washington Square Review and as a Starworks Fellow. Her work is forthcoming in The New Yorker and Poetry. Read some of Emily Yoon’s poems on AAWW’s The Margins, as well as her interview about hysterical translation with poet Don Mee Choi.
Monica Youn’s most recent book Blackacre (Graywolf Press, 2016) was longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award in Poetry and short-listed for the PEN Open Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other books include Barter (Graywolf Press, 2003); and Ignatz (Four Way Books, 2010), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the New York Times Magazine, and she has been awarded fellowships from the Library of Congress and Stanford University. A former attorney, she now teaches poetry at Princeton University and serves as a Board of Director for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Read Monica Youn’s poignant response to the Yi-Fen Chou controversy in AAWW’s The Margins...
Is your family history a little complicated? Novelists Sonya Chung and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and poet Annie Kim read new work about family trauma crossing generations, countries, and racial identity. In these authors’ works, often multigenerational and multiracial, the personal history of the immigrant family intersects with the broader sweep of history. They’ll talk with AAWW Managing Editor Jyothi Natarajan. Rowan retained her literary agent and acquired a book deal during her AAWW Margins Fellowship and we’re delighted to fete her and her debut novel in New York!
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How does a mother desert her son? Set across New York, Connecticut, and Berlin, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Harmless Like You (Norton 2017) follows aspiring artist Yuki Oyama and her son Jay who must confront his Yuki’s abandonment of him when he was only two years old. “Both characters look for ways to reconcile themselves with their histories, though in vastly different and sometimes opposing ways. Yuki left her parents voluntarily; but Jay, a toddler when Yuki leaves, is half-orphaned through no choice of his own,” writes The Guardian. A wry and knowing book about desire, the city, and the transnational family, Harmless Like You is--in the words of As Alexander Chee--“The kind of novel our century deserves―a brilliantly conceived, beautifully written transnational novel about multiracial identity, motherhood, the struggle to be an artist, and the struggle to belong to your family. This marks the debut of an important new voice in fiction.” An author of British, Japanese, Chinese, and American descent, Rowan is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of East Anglia. You can read both Rowan’s writing and comics, Red Squiggle and Flowers of Yarn, in AAWW’s The Margins.
In Sonya Chung’s The Loved Ones (Relegation Books, 2016) explores the tensions between a biracial (black/white) family and their Korean nanny. Charles Frederick Douglass Lee and Alice are raising two kids when they hire Hannah Lee, the 13-year-old daughter of Korean immigrants to look after their children. When Hannah and Charles, who had been stationed in Korea during the war, discover a strangely intimate connection, tragedy strikes. A compassionate, vital book that bridges Asian American coming-of-age narratives and world literature, The Loved Ones spans Washington DC to Paris to Korea, where we learn the story of Hannah’s parents’ fraught courtship and family life. Comparing the book to Elena Ferrante and Clarice Lispector, Nayomi Munaweera writes that The Loved Ones “tells the story of love against the twin inheritances of shame and grief. This book is a complication of the immigrant narrative in a way that is long overdue and necessary.” The Loved Ones was acclaimed in The Millions, Buzzfeed, Library Journal, Kirkus, Refinery 29, Publishers Weekly, Bustle, and Nylon. You can read her interview in AAWW’s The Margins.
“Incompletion means I’ll live,” says one character in Annie Kim’s debut poetry collection, Into the Cyclorama (Southern Indiana Review Press 2016). In the book, fathers and brothers vanish. A bronze helmet traverses the centuries from Olympia to Berlin to Seoul. Fish bones in your mouth turn into thorns. Speaking of her book, which won the 2015 Michael Waters Poetry Prize, Annie writes, “History—both collective and personal—plays a big role in the manuscript from which these poems come. Imagine a wide, fraying square of silk, the traces of a figure or a landscape stitched across it. Only the stitches don't always meet and the pictures they suggest remain, in a way, always incomplete.” Previously published in Kenyon Review, Asian American Literary Review, and Crab Orchard Review, Annie is the recipient of fellowships from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Hambidge Center. She serves as an editor for DMQ Review and works at the University of Virginia School of Law. As Rick Barot writes, “At the heart of Annie Kim’s work are questions of vision and scale. How is the personal refracted through the historical? How is the present substantiated by the past? [This is a] powerful debut collection."
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As the country faces a xenophobic resurgence, we present novelists, filmmakers, and activists who’re narrating how our immigration system threatens families, mothers, and children. Shanthi Sekaran’s new novel Lucky Boy follows an undocumented eighteen-year-old Chicano mother who winds up in immigration detention--causing her son to be adopted by an upper class Desi foster mother. To write the book, Shanthi relied partly on the “Shattered Families” report produced by Race Forward; the organization’s Executive Director, Rinku Sen, will discuss how immigration enforcement splits apart children from their families. The struggles of a tough migrant mother fighting for her child also feature in Paola Mendoza’s novel Ones Who Don’t Stay and her feature film Entre Nos. Mendoza recently served as the Artistic Director of the Women’s March, whose migrant justice framework she summed up to Univision: “We believe migration is a human right and that no human being is illegal.” Moderated by writer and Race Forward staff Kavita Das.
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In Shanthi Sekaran’s Lucky Boy (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2017), eighteen year old Solimar Castro-Valdez leaves her Mexican village and arrives in Berkeley, California, heartbroken, pregnant, and undocumented. When Solimar lands in immigration detention, her son Ignacio is adopted by Kavya Reddy, an upper class Desi. That both mothers love Ignacio forms the central conflict in this “fiercely compassionate story about the bonds and the bounds of motherhood and of love” (Cristina Henríquez). As The New York Times called the book an “exceptional novel” and wrote that “in pitting two very different kinds of immigrants against each other—one comfortably assimilated, the other helpless in every sense—Sekaran offers a brilliantly agonizing setup.
Paola Mendoza's semi-autobiographical novel Ones Who Don’t Stay (Rola Productions 2013) starts in early 1970s Colombia, where Mariana, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy family, falls in love with Antonio, a fisherman’s son. Leaving behind their families and the war, the couple migrates with their two small children to Los Angeles where Mariana must fight to save her daughter. Mendoza wrote this novel of strong immigrant women after publishing executives saw her Tribeca-lauded feature film about a Colombian immigrant family migrating to Queens, Entre Nos (2009). Mendoza co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in the film, which won an honorable mention at the Tribeca Film Festival. One of Filmmaker Magazine 25 New Faces of Independent Film, the Bogotá-born actress also appeared in On the Outs (2004) and Sangre de mi sangre (2007).
Rinku Sen is the Executive Director of Race Forward and the publisher of Colorlines.com. Race Forward’s “Shattered Families” report showed that there are at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care who are prevented from uniting with their detained or deported parents. Rinku co-authored The Accidental American: Immigration and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization (Berrett-Koehler 2008), the story of a Moroccan-born waiter who had worked at the World Trade Center during 9/11 and found himself the victim of hate crimes in the post-9/11 era. As Barbara Ehrenreich writes, “Sen and Mamdouh show how, in a few weeks in 2001, the restaurant's immigrant workers went from being victims of terrorism to being targets of American anti-immigrant fervor.”
Kavita Das has served as Marketing and Communications Director for Race Forward, where she helped support the Shattered Families report. Her work has appeared in Guernica, The Rumpus, The Atlantic, The Aerogram, and AAWW’s The Margins, where she rebutted Derrick Hudson’s yellowface and wrote about what it meant for Asian Americans to be cool.
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