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The following is part of a series of essays and reflections published on The Margins in remembrance of the life and work of poet and scholar Meena Alexander, who passed away on November 21, 2018.


Meena and I met in 1990 through Kimiko Hahn. Three women writers, three new to being mothers, three traveling together in a scary little airplane to Cornell University in Ithaca for a rather bizarre symposium on “Asian American Identity.” Somehow we managed to get through it and have fun. Our lives were challenging; there was no template for us to follow. We became lifelong friends, artistic cohorts, etc. etc. Fun was essential, and it didn’t matter if we didn’t see each other for months. Even years. We’d just pick up where we left off.

I hold dear the sound of Meena’s laughter (color of silver/sound of silver), her restless intelligence, and her story, Manhattan Music. Set in New York’s downtown art scene, the story was a bit of a departure for Meena and very of the moment. I was delighted to publish it in the original Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology Of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, which came out in 1993. The table of contents listed 48 writers in alphabetical order. And, since Meena’s last name began with an A, she came first. The opening lines of Manhattan Music are, of course, like a poem: “A summer ago I thought I would lose my mind. Riding the subway. Up and down. Down and up…”


Jessica Hagedorn is the author of Toxicology, Dream Jungle, The Gangster of Love, Danger and Beauty, and Dogeaters, which won the American Book Award and was a fiction finalist for the National Book Award. Her work as a playwright includes the stage adaptations of Dogeaters and The Gangster of Love. She is the editor of Manila Noir and Charlie Chan is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction. Upcoming in 2019: the musical Felix Starro, adapted from the short story by Lysley Tenorio.

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