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AAWW Radio: New Asian American Writers & Literature
50 minutes | May 12, 2021
Matthew Salesses Interviewed by May Ngo
We have a special interview with author Matthew Salesses, conducted by writer and anthropologist May Ngo back in February. Together, they dissect Matthew’s book Craft in the Real World, and have deep conversations about making writing workshops more equally accessible and how to think about one’s audience. They question the concept of agency, and how stories of lack of agency can actually feel more grounding, as well as dig into difficult questions of responsibility to our communities as writers of color and people from marginalized communities, and the complexity of wanting to represent a community but also be free from expectation. This is also the last episode produced by AAWW AV Producer Robert Ouyang Rusli.
61 minutes | May 5, 2021
Crying in H Mart ft. Michelle Zauner & Hrishikesh Hirway
AAWW and indie bookstore Books Are Magic partned together to celebrate musician Michelle Zauner’s debut memoir, Crying In H Mart. Best known for her work as the musician Japanese Breakfast, Zauner’s memoir is an astonishing debut: a rich, intimate, and lyrical story about finding yourself, and the enduring power of food and family. Zauner is joined in conversation at this event by Hrishikesh Hirway, musician and host/producer of the podcasts Song Exploder, Home Cooking, and more.
63 minutes | Apr 28, 2021
How Much of These Hills is Gold ft. C Pam Zhang, Karen Chee
AAWW celebrates the paperback launch of C Pam Zhang’s debut novel How Much of These Hills is Gold, which was longlisted for The Booker Prize, among other accolades. Since its publication last spring, this haunting, spare, and achingly beautiful novel has been widely praised for turning its unflinching gaze on the people and legends of the American West, illuminating the voices of those who are often forgotten in the margins of history. Joining Pam in conversation to celebrate her book is writer and comedian Karen Chee.
119 minutes | Apr 14, 2021
Anti-Asian Violence and Black-Asian Solidarity Today
We're featuring audio from our recent event Anti-Asian Violence and Black-Asian Solidarity Today presented by Tamara K. Nopper. This lecture examines the merging of fighting “anti-Asian violence” with the promotion of “Black-Asian solidarity” in the context of COVID-19, and considers the work these narratives are doing and if they challenge or promote carceral logic. What might these narratives reveal or conceal about Asian Americans and racial politics?How does the legacy of the 1992 LA Rebellion influence what's happening today? Tamara's lecture ultimately calls for defunding the police and for abolition. The original livestream was accompanied by images and educational slides, you can view these on our YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/l7MNPXHT0wM
47 minutes | Apr 7, 2021
#WeToo: Journal of Asian American Studies
In time for the Association of Asian American Studies Conference that kicks off this week, we’re reposting an episode from the newly launched Journal of Asian American Studies podcast! We discuss a unique special issue of The Journal of Asian American Studies: #WeToo, a reader of Art, Poetry, Fiction, and Memoir, that seeks to answer the question, “What does sexual violence look like in the lives of those hailed as “model minority?” Intended as a reader for the college classroom, the #WeToo special issue contains works that make academic language and theories of sexual violence relevant and workable for our students’ understanding of their own lives and experiences. This episode is hosted by Chris Patterson and features interviews with the issue editors, erin Khuê Ninh and Shireen Roshanravan, as well as with two contributors, James McMaster, and Mashuq Mushtaq Deen. This special issue of the Journal of Asian American Studies was published in partnership with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and our digital magazine The Margins. Read a selection of pieces from #WeToo online at https://aaww.org/we-too-introduction-ninh-roshanravan/ Forthcoming episodes of the JAAS X New Books Network Podcast can be found here: https://newbooksnetwork.com/erin-khu%C3%AA-ninh-wetoo-reader-jaas-2021
60 minutes | Apr 1, 2021
The City of Good Death ft. Priyanka Champaneri and Marjan Kamali
We're celebrating Priyanka Champaneri’s debut novel, The City of Good Death. Priyanka will be in conversation with special guest Marjan Kamali, author of The Stationery Shop. Winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, The City of Good Death is an immersive family saga exploring death, rebirth, and redemption set in India’s holy city of Banaras.
62 minutes | Mar 24, 2021
Northern Light ft. Kazim Ali and Billy-Ray Belcourt
Acclaimed poet, novelist, and essayist Kazim Ali joins the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and Milkweed Editions to launch his new memoir, Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water. Northern Light, a sensitive and elegantly structured exploration of land and power, is told through Ali’s recollections of his childhood in Manitoba, and the relationships he built with the indigenous Pimicikamak community, his former neighbors and fierce environmental activists. Ali is joined in conversation by poet and scholar Billy-Ray Belcourt.
66 minutes | Mar 17, 2021
My Year Abroad ft. Chang-rae Lee and Bryan Washington
Join the Asian American Writers’ Workshop as we celebrate award-winning writer Chang-rae Lee’s electrifying new novel, My Year Abroad. A surprising, tender, and humorous work, My Year Abroad is a story unique to Chang-rae Lee’s immense talents as a writer, and explores the division between East and West, capitalism, mental health, mentorship, and much more. Chang-rae will be joined in conversation by Bryan Washington, award-winning author of Lot and Memorial.
59 minutes | Mar 10, 2021
Brown Baby ft. Nikesh Shukla & Mira Jacob
AAWW is delighted to celebrate the launch of writer Nikesh Shukla’s new memoir, Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family, and Home. An intimate look at love, grief, and fatherhood, Shukla’s memoir “bears witness to our turbulent times” (Bernardine Evaristo) with humor, honesty, and hope. Shukla is joined in conversation by Mira Jacob, author of Good Talk.
107 minutes | Mar 3, 2021
Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism
In the anthology Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism!, Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman have collected a bold group of emerging writers whose prescient and intimate writing paints an expansive portrait of the experience of being women and femmes of color. The first edition of the anthology became an instant classic in 2002, and this updated 2019 edition was a protest to the political Trump regime in our country. The experiences and intellectual insights in Colonize This! help sharpen our analysis for the struggles ahead, regardless of who is in the White House. This audio is from the launch party of Colonize This!, from August 16, 2019.
106 minutes | Feb 24, 2021
Radical Thinkers ft. Simon Han and Tahseen Shams
Our series Radical Thinkers places radical academics directly in conversation with trailblazing writers, poets, and artists, creating and nurturing two-way dialogues that will interrogate some of the most pressing issues facing Asian and Asian diasporic communities today. Featuring an interdisciplinary lineup of scholars and creatives, these unexpected pairings will center revolutionary discourse and scholarship in an effort to demystify intellectual debates, collapse the divide between the ‘ivory tower’ and the public sphere, and ultimately envision a radical new future. The first installment of this series in 2021 features novelist Simon Han (Nights When Nothing Happened) and scholar Tahseen Shams (Here, There, and Elsewhere) in conversation on their creative and scholarly processes, and immigrant relationships to time and place. Watch the video version on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/QvhON7QvuyY
36 minutes | Feb 17, 2021
Minari ft. Lee Isaac Chung and Min Jin lee
We're celebrating the release of Lee Isaac Chung's critically acclaimed film Minari, a tender portrait of a Korean-American family that moves to an Arkansas farm in search of their own American Dream. Today’s podcast features audio from our pre-release screening talkback with director Lee Isaac Chung and novelist Min Jin Lee.
62 minutes | Feb 10, 2021
Land of Big Numbers ft. Te-Ping Chen and Charles Yu
Join the Asian American Writers’ Workshop for the official launch of Te-Ping Chen’s extraordinary debut short story collection, Land of Big Numbers. Assured and immersive, the stories in Land of Big Numbers move confidently between the United States and China, shifting from realism to magical realism, and forming intimate portraits that draw from Chen’s years of working as a journalist in China. For this launch event, Chen will be joined in conversation by Charles Yu, author of the National Book Award-winning Interior Chinatown.
78 minutes | Feb 4, 2021
Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities
What are the radical possibilities of catalyzing cross-racial feminist solidarities, imaginations, and substantive realities? What revolutions must we create within ourselves to dismantle our prejudices, discrimination, and silences to create the world we want to see? Today’s podcast features audio from our recent event Siblings in Liberation, Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities, which celebrated the editorial collaboration between Black Women Radicals and the Asian American Feminist Collective that found a home in AAWW’s digital magazine The Margins. Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities is an ongoing monthly series of critical essays, conversations, poetry, fiction, and more. The series looks to Black and Asian American feminist histories, practices, and frameworks on care, community, and survival as the tools and strategies to build towards collective liberation. This episode features remarks and discussion with Jaimee Swift of Black Women Radicals and Tiffany Diane Tso, Senti Sojwal, Salonee Bhaman, and Rachel Kuo of the Asian American Feminist Collective; a poetry reading by Cecile Afable and Zuri Gordon; a conversation between sex work activists Kate Zen and SX Noir; and ending reflections with Dr. Margo Okazawa-Rey (aka DJ MOR Love & Joy). Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities was originally live streamed on our YouTube channel last week on Thursday, January 28th. Read more about the collaboration on The Margins.
72 minutes | Jan 27, 2021
Imagining Identity Across the Pond ft. Romalyn Ante, Will Harris, and April Yee
AAWW and London-based writer April Yee present a reading with two of the UK’s leading poets: Will Harris (RENDANG) and Romalyn Ante (Antiemetic for Homesickness). Following their reading, Will and Romalyn examine how Asian identity is constructed outside of the United States and discuss the ways British colonialism and capitalism continue to shape ideas of what and who belongs. Moderated by April Yee.
63 minutes | Jan 20, 2021
The Past is Not for Living In ft. Gish Jen and Meng Jin
Join the Asian American Writers’ Workshop for our first event of the new year: a joint paperback launch of Gish Jen’s The Resisters and Meng Jin’s Little Gods. These two novels, released in early 2020, sketch out a dystopian near future that takes aim at several current catastrophes, and examine history, absence, and the passage of time as filtered through the individual immigrant experience. Together, these works break new ground for the dystopian and immigrant novels, and we hope you will join us as Gish and Meng discuss their work and craft. Live Transcript: Hi, everyone. Happy new year and thank you for joining us online for this conversation with Meng Jin and Gish Jen. My name is Lily Philpott. It is my pleasure to welcome you to our virtual space. For those that are new we are a nonprofit organization dedicated to uplifting Asian literature and story telling. You can visit aaw.org and follow us on twitter, I object Saturday gram and YouTube. The recording of this event will be posted. During the event we ask that all audience members practice nonviolence in the chat. Comments will be flagged and the person will be removed from this event. We will have time for audience Q&A at the end of the night. You can ask questions by the Q &A function at the bottom of your screen. Books are for sale. You can find a link to purchase in the chat. You can support our authorize and independent book stores in doing so. I am going briefly introduce Meng and Gish. Gish Jen is the author of 4 previous novels. Her honors cloud the literary award for fiction and the American academy of arts and sciences. She delivered the William E Macy lecture at Harvard universitity. She teaches from time to time in China and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Harvard and hunter college. "Little Gods" is her first novel. We are delighted to celebrate " Little Gods" and "The Resisters" back in paper back. Pick up those books, support our authorize and enjoy the evening. Welcome Meng Jin to read. » Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. Thank you Lily for that lovely introduction. Thank to AAWW for inviting Meng Jin to do this event. I couldn't think of a more wonderful way to celebrate the paper back launch of those books. I am so honored to be here with Gish Jen who many of you might know was one of the first Chinese American authorize that I read when I started thinking about becoming a writer. Yeah, it's just kind of mind blowing that we get to be here tonight together. I am actually going to read from a photo essay that is published in the end section of the paper back. I thought about reading this because I took these photographs in 2016 in the summer of 2016 when actually I saw Gish in person for the first time. I don't know if we actually met. But Gish was doing an event with some local writers and a friend of mine invited me. So yeah, here are the -- here is the photo essay . I am going to share my screen. Images of Shanghai I spent 6 weeks in my birth city Shanghai. I was there to finish my novel "Little Gods". I left when I was a child. My memories of the city are the memories of a child fleeting, flashes of sensory knowledge, closer to the knowledge of a dream than that of a photograph. Inside these memories were images so intense and vivid I felt I could reach out and touch them. But when I did reach for them they disintegrated immediately. I hope to stabilize my memory with images of the real city outside my window the Shanghai of post cards was laid before me sharp and glittering. This was a Shanghai that had been built after my departure when the sky line was farmland . Time changed me too. We faced each other as strangers. Some days the city felt dense. It awed me with its layers of complexity. Each time you peeled one another, you found another just as teaming. The inner most layer was the one I sought between the cracks of the buildings crowding the feet of the sky line. We'ved weaved through the sit. I knew I would never find the exact Shanghai I was looking for. My childhood had been demolished. On previous visits I had searched for its remnants in vein. The closest I had gotten was confirmation of its non-existence. In a translated directory I found the name of my neighborhood with a single asterisk beside it. According to the note note it meant has been obliterated. Still I walk the streets where it should have been searching for glimmers glimmers that might bring my childhood home back to me in one unbroken piece. Some remain. In thosalies you can these allies you can see the disruption of empire, technology and nature. The architecture was pleasantly modeled colonel history the narrow allies are made narrower by frequent stacks of junk. Not a centimeter of space goes unused. Everywhere life is spilling out of the doors. Most of the time, however , the impossibility of my search was reflected back at me. Since 2005 the Shanghai municipal government has been modernizing the city through the demolition of the neighborhoods. Select areas have been preserved for historic value or rebuilt as tourist destinations. But most are marked with. Sometimes instead of Ti, I found buildings meaning they were empty. A paradox in a city that is continually over filling. I found myself photographing tis. I did not actively search. It is not photo again I can or beautiful. I continued to photograph with a vague imperative of duty to whom or what I didn't know. I still don't understand what good these images are for. They can't preserve anything. Not really . And besides most of the residents would prefer to collect their relocation checks and go. They certainly can't bring back anybody's lost home. But there is something about looking at a site you know will soon disappear that compels to you keep looking. One day I unearthed a lost photograph of my town taken in 2008 during the last visit to the neighborhood before its demolition. I noticed an unusual looking building in the background. Using street view I was able to locate the exact spot where my town would have been if it still stood. I went there. I saw that the unusual building still stood. What's being built here I asked some construction workers. A shopping mall they replied cheerfully. Now when I imagine Shanghai I long for no fixed image. Instead I see a city racing to an unknown future at near light speed in whose wake I can only blink. Thank you. » Hi. Am I on screen now? First let me say Meng that was beautiful. Just hearing your voice and images I can't even tell you how much they meant to me. My family is also from Shanghai an I also spent a lot of time looking for remnants of the past. It's so interesting that even throw my new book is very much concerned with the future, just listen to go you and that Shanghai, I am aware how much even this book is a loss. We'll be talking about that. Let me just read a few minutes from my book. My book as you know is called "The Resisters". It is a post automation state baseball testimony enist dystopia. I am going to read to you 2 sections. One is longer than the other. And then we' ll talk. So this is from the beginning of the bosk. The book is narrated by the father in this family named grant. He is talking about his daughter a gifted picture for a daughter daughter. As her parents should have known earlier, but Gwen was a preemie. That meant oxygen at first and special checkups and her early months were bumpy. She had jaun cidie. A heart murmur things that distracted us. We were focused on her health to the exclusion of all else. For us surplus the limit was one pregnancy per couple and Eleanor was just out of jail. Outside of the house she had a drone tracking her every move. The message was clear she was not getting away with anything . And we loved Gwen would never have wanted to replace her. She was delicate that she might not consume the way she needed to the way we all needed to. Charges of under consumption couldn't be fought in the courts. This was auto America after all for all the changes brought by AI and automation now rolled up with the internet into the eye burrito we called aunt Netty we still did have a constitution. If anyone could defend what was left of our rights it was Eleanor even the goose patrolled the neighborhood. The pit bulls one might say were afraid. But as Eleanor's incarceration brought home these battles had a price. In the meanwhile worrying an weighing the options distracted us from realizing other things things we might have noticed earlier had Gwen had a sibling. It is so hard for a new parent to imagine a child any different from the one he or she has. Children do have their own gravity. They are their own normal. And so it is only now we can see that there are signs. All children take what 's in their crib and throw it for example. It is universal. But Gwen through her stuffed animal straight through her bedroom doorway. They shot out never grazing the door frame and they always hit the wall or staircase at a certain spot with a force they need today bounce forward and drop clean down to the bottom of the stairwell. Was she 2 when she did this? Not even. She was already a southpaw and she seemed to have unusually long arms and long fingers or so I remember remarking one day not that he will nor and I had so many babies on which to base our comparison. Ours was just an impression. But it was a strong impression. Her fingers were long. I remember too having to round up own the landing before starting up the stairs. The stuffed hippo and tiger the stuffed turtle. I gathered them all into my arm like the story book zoo Cooper of some kingdom. It was as if I too by all rights be made plush. Of course our house was automated as all surplus houses were required to be by law. The animals could easily have been clear floated. All I had to do is say the wall they would immerse from the closet. Clear float now, aren't those animals in your way and we can roll an clear if you prefer. You have a choice. You always have a choice. The choice the new feature of the program. To balance its more cyber intimidation. If you shift it will be your own fault. Do note that your choice is on the record. Nothing is being hidden from you. Your choice is on the record. Meaning that I was losing living points every time. Living points being something like what we used to call brownie points growing up. They are more critical than money from goating a loan to getting Gwen into net u should we dream of doing that a goal that involved tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of points. But I picked the animals up myself any way as did Eleanor when it was she who came upon them her silver hair and black eyes shining all because we wanted to dump the animals into the crib and hear her laughter as she set about hurling them. Everything was a game to her a most wonderful loving endless game. Her spy eyes let up with mischief. Her cheeks the pink on the under clouds. She laughed so hard she fell grabbing the crib rails as she scam peopled back up that the whole crib shook. Was this delicate newborn we delicately tended. She wore a soft yellow blanket sleeper with hand knit extra version of a suit Eleanor remembered from her own childhood. None of the baby over Gwen's Crib. She learned to blow on her hands if she was cold and cuddle for us if she needed warmth. We all wore sweaters to avoid turning on the zone heat for which we were house scowled. Don't you find it chilly? Why not turn on the zone heat you will be more comfortable Eleanor especially. Don't you find it a bit chilly? We ignored it. This is how the auto house started with thermostats that sent to aunt Netty and videos then drone deliverers and fruit stockers and global sitters. Elder helpers and yard bots all of which report today ought netty as any spy network recording our steps, our pictures, you are relationships and when surplus had them. She in turn took what she knew and applied it prover ago long the way so will is and advice. Indeed in the earlyize day automation I myself brought up ask aunt Netty and can still remember her voice as she volunteered I 'm here and insisted I want to hear everything and reassured me of course you feel that way , how could you not. You are only human. I did laugh at you are only human. Now I am going to read a short section from later on the book. Gwen has gone on and now she and her teammates are getting ready to play in the olympics against the Russia team. The Russia team is terrifying partly because they have all been bio engineered. That mean we are all switch hitters. Perhaps all of this was fear pure and simple on the part of Gwen's teammate feeding their obsession was the sense that baseball was more than a sport. That it was a crown jewel. There were people that said it wasn't even invented in America. There were people who pointed out it was mentioned by Jane Austin long before it was ever mentioned here. But if baseball took on a hallowed meaning, it took on that meaning in our American dreams. For was this not the level playing field we envisioned, the field on which people could show what they were made of? And didn't we Americans believe above all that everyone should have a real chance at bat? Didn't we believe with the good of the team at heart something in us might just hit a ball off our shoe tops? If Gwen's teammates were playing Russia for something it was for this, for a chance to show my mother would have said that even if we all returned to the dirt and the wind and the rain like the plants and the animals, we had a bigness in us, something beyond algorithm and beyond upgrades. Something we were proud to call human or so it seemed to me. Thank you. Did I say thank you loud enough? Meng, great. So Meng, it is really a great, great pleasure to share the event of you. I was a big fan as you could tell by my review. It was a stunning debut. I am hoping that a year later the joy is still with you. How does it feel now that you have done it in hard cover but the paper back? It is quite a moment for you. Are you still aglow? » Well, it's been quite a year in between. Yeah, I think I have got a little bit of distance and perspective this year because of how nuts the world has been. I was reflecting on when the hard cover came out in January of last year and the president was getting impeached and it was very -- it was apparent because one of my interviews was -- one of my radio interviews was canceled because they were covering impeachment all day. Oh, gray great. It is almost like no time and all of the time in the year. » I have had friends come out and publish books on 9/11. » Yeah. » You will soon discover something is almost always happening in a funny kind of way it matters so much to you but the rest of the world barely notices. Since this is the writers workshop and people are so interested in process we should talk about our books. I think we should maybe -- maybe you could talk about your journey. I think a lot of people in the audience would like to be you. They are working on their first book and they are working on their first book and they have roots maybe in Asia as you and I do. Not everybody is from Shanghai, of course. But they have all made -- as you know, they are making 2 journeys. Often they are making one journey which is just from wow , I have a blank page to like wow, how do these books get written that is really long. In the beginning people go on to write like 7 books? It seems to I am probable. That is one journey which is just -- I bearly know what point of view is to a finished book. For people like you and me we have another journey. We have roots in another culture where the whole narrative thing, the whole novel tradition is not native. And we frequently -- there are probably 3 journeys. The journey often we have parents who often do not get this thing at all. Who really see this whole enterprise as May more individualistic than anything they would happen to them and their family. So this kind of has 3 things going on. Your journey was my journey at one point. I think interestingly I don't know how many years out my first book came out in '91. I have been at this for quite a while. I sat down to write in 1986 when Asian American novel did not exist. I can still remember my agent saying it is about people coming to America. It' s about -- the term immigrant novelist did not hope to mind. I wrote that book at a time when people believed Asian Americans could not write novels. Max even had meant the warrior to be a novel and forced to force it as a memoir . Asian Americans did not write novels. I wrote it at the bunting institute at Radcliff. I was asked every day aren't you writing immigrant auto biography. This was by educated people. Every day I had to say no, actually I am writing a novel. Actually I'm producing not artifact. It was another -- all of these things today happily people presumably don't say those things to you anymore. Today presumably people can accept that you are writing a novel. If you can talk about what it is like to enter this tradition or getting up the nerve to tell your parents that you were going to be a novelist, where you got this idea. We both went to Harvard, am I right? » I guess so, yes. I was actually her fighted of the English department at Harvard. It was in the most intimidating building with all of these deer heads on the wall. I don't know if you remember that. And I took like 2 English classes that were in the requirements. I studied basically everything else. I studied social studies and I did pre--med because I told my parents I have my plan B don't worry. I can always go back on my pre-med requirements » You will not be surprised to hear that I was also pre-med and pre-law. I dropped out of Stanford business school. This is very familiar too. This is part of the story. 3 of us from Harvard we were all about '77, '78. The 3 of us stood there and it was like a trifecta. I had dropped out of business school. the other one dropped out of law school and the other one dropped out of med school. And there we were. But anyway, this is a very familiar part of the story. Please say about what did it mean at the time that you were doing it. We're like the old school. » No, I think honestly everything I have said sounds familiar to me. I remember because I didn't really have a big humanities education or background I wasn't really encouraged to read when I was a kid, I remember when I decided after college I am really going to try to do this and went abou methodically making reading lists for myself Asian American reading lists. I remember discovering your work and the best short stories of the century and reading it and being like oh, my God this is not just like we are Chinese people drinking tea or we have so much tender immigrant feelings. It's funny. It's ambitious. It looks outside of just the Chinese American experience or the experience of immigration. You were really one of the writers that made me feel like okay, I don't necessarily have to, you know, produce the kind of work that people are expecting me to produce. I think I teach a little bit now . It feels like my students are not going through as much just as I am not going through as much of the you might be writing your own story. Surely you can only be expressing yourself not creating art. Surely you must be like creating testimony and not a work of art. I feel, yeah, when I started writing I felt like I did get a lot of feedback. It took me a long time in my writing workshops to get over the fact that all of my professors and most of my peers were white and that they were -- the parts of my writing that they liked were the more exotic Chinese parts. I literally had a teacher, I literally had a teacher who gave me feedback that was like do more of the Chinese stuff. It took me a while to understand how to sort of push back against that and to ignore it and to come to my own sense of what I wanted my writing to be. Because I think especially someone that doesn't come from a literary background, please, tell me what is good. A lot of writing, this book was learning to ignore what other people thought and learning to really listen to what it was inside me that wanted to create and wanted to write. » It is so interesting, I of course have the letter from the Paris review that literally the rejection letter says we prefer more exotic work. » Oh, wow. » It is right out there. Today they might hesitate to say that. But I think what you are describing and many people in the audience can also relate. I think they can see that there is a kind of salable commodity that everybody sees in you and you have to really resist. For me a lot of that meant I defined myself early as an American writer. Everybody wanted to be right about China China. I didn't want to -- I didn't want to become abdomen ambassador. There were a couple of roles for you. One is exotic. Being an ambassador of some sort. Another as things got more political and being a professional victim. I don't want to be a professional victim. I actually want to be a writer. And it is kind of this mine field when you are negotiating , negotiating. The very happy situation with you is that you made it through. I think that maybe one of the things that people might be interested to hear sounds like look you could hear I also heard myself in the end. I ignored all of those things just like you. I literally had a little ritual that I would enact before I started working where I would make a little icon of various people and various opinions in my mind a little icon. I would literally pick it up and put it in the trash. Or out in the hall. But I would basically -- there were a lot of these. They weren't all -- in other words some people who wrote opinions were not bad people. I removed the people with good opinions. John Updyke had a good opinion of me. No sooner did I realize what a good opinion he had of me did I have to put him in the hall. It was a happy thing but I am not here to write for John Updyke. I write for myself. If you are from an Asian background the business of writing for yourself this is a radical act . It doesn't come naturally to us for many, many reasons that we can discuss. As you know I have written a lot about that. It doesn't come naturally to us. So it is a fight the whole way. I have had this little ritual. I am wondering whether you had anything like that that you would be able to share with the audience? How did you find your way? This book is very striking. Very unlike any other Asian American novel. It doesn't feel like oh, she has been reading a lot Maxine Hunt Kingston. You kill the writers ahead of you. She said I heard that you wanted to kill me. Maxine is so sweet. But at some level what I really -- what really was I had to put her out in the hall. I am sure you had to put me out in the hall. You have to put everybody out in the hall.. I wonder how you did that whether you had rituals that you used, how you cleared the space for yourself so you could hear yourself so you could write this very singular book that is on one level very identifiablely Asian American around another way unlike any other Asian American or American novel. Where did you find that? How did you do that? >> I love what you said earlier. I loved hearing about you talking about you identified yourself as an American writer. I think I had a similar sorts of things that I would insist upon. One thing was always that if anyone ever said that I was writing about identity I would correct them and say I am writing about " the self". Because I felt that identity was something superficial that society imposed upon you and it is the self's way of responding to others view of us. I wanted - - I think I wanted from the start when I started writing I knew that I wanted to be able to write with the sort of freedom that I saw white guys writing with where I wasn't sort of bound to write about anything basically except for the things I wanted to write about. And I didn't -- I love your ritual. I wish I had something as cute to share. But I think mostly I just -- at a certain point my work I think started really growing and becoming itself when I realized that I hadn't read a book like the one I wanted to write and that was a good thing. And that I should be writing the book I wanted to read. So in my head I sort of -- I think there was a point in which I shifted my imaginary audience from whatever you imagine American readers or the general readership to be. I shifted that and I started writing for myself when I was younger basically. I started writing for the person who was reading and reading and trying to find the book that I craved to read and then realizing that that book didn't exist yet and I had to write it. So I think that was one of the sort of Montras that I had that you are writing the book that you want to read. That a version of yourself who basically has had the same experiences and has the same - - is interested in the same things, is delighted by the same things. Is moved by the same things, hasn't had the exact same ideas you have had. That really changed -- I think that really helped me and changed my work because I was no longer explaining myself as much as I was in my earlier work. » It's interesting. Another thing I don't know that will resonate with you. There are also books that talk about the freedom of the white male writer. There are books that are still in territory that is not out. That is not only because we are Asian America but also because we are women. So this business first of all my first book is called " typical American". How can those people be typical American. How can you be claiming to be the great American novel. How can you be doing that. Even now so many books in there is still territory that is not okay. In in case the baseball novel. Coincidentally I am not the only women. Emily did it at the same time. It is interesting. What you can sort of see is a journey I have been on, whatever, a generation and a half later you will go on the same journey. People will fill the same box. Why can't women write about baseball? With baseball being extremely important because it is the American sport. When women can't write about baseball you are there is a whole portion of America that is fenced off in some ways that is not yours. So it was kind of interesting that Emily Neamans felt this kind of restriction and also chose to write against it. Also did it as I did with the sense that boy territory and we knew -- we both had the sense you cannot get one detail wrong. It is dangerous. You understand that the audience is looking -- they are looking to find fault. They are looking to question your authority. This is a question for you. I don' t know if there is a point at which you realize that you have kind of -- there was something in the -- there was something out there that we need to get you. You realize they didn't get me. I know for me it was when I passed muster of any number of baseball biographers. When I passed muster with Jane Nolan and James Levy. They wrote and also with baseball fans. I put my book through the biggest baseball fans I could find. I know the moment -- and I passed. It almost didn' t matter what the reviews said . I knew that I had gotten in there and I actually don't know that much about baseball. I knew -- I learned a lot obviously. I did a lot of studying. I did a lot of research. Nobody said to me that's not how pictures feel or that is not how pitchers -- that's not how they act or that's not how the game goes, any of those things, nobody said any of that. Everybody said you must be a pitcher. I can't throw a ball from here across the room. » Neither can I. But I found all of the baseball so delightful. I learned so much about it. I was curious. I thought that surely you must have a deep love for baseball and that's why you wanted to write a baseball novel. But was there another reason? » I do have a -- funny, I don' t play baseball myself. I don 't know it. Neither of my children. Is Gwen your daughter? Neither of my children can catch or hit or any of those things. They don't throw. They read philosophy. They don't do any of those things. But it is true that my mother was an avid, avid Yankee fan as many immigrants are. When she first came to America this was one of the first ways she performed to be an American and learned what America was. This whole idea of the level playing field being from Shan ghai that is not an idea you grow up on. She became such an avid fan. She did die of COVID this spring. I know. » I'm so sorry. we did bury her with a Yankee's cap. She was really a fan. My brother could really pitch. Most of my siblings don't. But my brother could really throw. It was something he would not have discovered he could do. My father found a boy's club for him and turned out he had quite a little childhood formed by baseball. So I had some familiarity with it. Really it was more it was something I wanted to write about, about what I thought was happening to America as I was trying to think about how to drama ties dramatise what we could be losing and the danger to democracy and conveying that dramatically. I said of course baseball. So I have an emotional feeling about it but truly I hadn't thought about baseball in many, many years. My family are still Yankee fans. From Boston we are definitely not Yankee fans. I don't have the patience to watch all of those games and they are watching that every pitch. You know what I mean. I don't have the patience for any of that. So it really was -- » I am more interested in baseball now than when I started my book. Now that I know a little bit it it is really interesting. » You could really feel the tenderness in the way that you wrote about it. I was especially drawn to how you described the relationship between the catcher and the pitcher which I had no idea because I have not watched baseball. I am not really a baseball fan and how you use that in this brilliant character dynamic between 2 best friends. It was one of those things that made me think that you must know the sport deeply. It also made me realize that Andey was as exciting a character as Gwen » It is a little bit like the relationship between Ju wun. She is like the person that -- they are kind of related because each one is the person that wun hoped she could be. The other is the person she fears she could be. We could probably go on. I warned you, Lily, that we had a lot to talk about. We can go on very easily. We haven't scratched the surface. I can see you are here and it is time to take questions from the audience. I think the fact that -- I think honestly for somebody out there that is looking for a little paper to write there is a paper there. » Another thing that I noticed was reading your book that felt like a symbolotic relationship it is narrated from the perspective of a par parent about the child. I can 't think of another book that' s told from that point of view. That point of vow is just unbearable for me to read. Unbearably heartbreaking. I think a lot of times like my book obviously has a child looking at a parent. That's a more typical sort of gaze especially when we are talking about immigrants and the child looking backwards looking at the past and I guess it makes sense that your November Dystopian novel is looking into the future. The way a parent must feel growing up in a horrible world and want ing that child to have a bright future and wanting them to have freedom and wanting to protect them. » Well you got it. Lily is here and she is here to tell us to take questions. I will say that here you are. Your first book obviously many things -- many things to pioneer and very exciting and many new things to write. I will say that of course just the same way you write against things I write against the older writer. There is a sense you must be done because you wrote about the story being young growing up. Actually there are many, many other stories to be written. I feel so privileged to be an older writer who still has a few things to say and a few of view that is different. A point of view on the same experience. It is so familiar but oddly enough from where I sit it looks different. Anyway, Lily, I warned you we would have a lot to say. » I know. I feel like we could go on forever. I am so grateful. There is lot in the chat. I am grateful for the conversation. It is so vibrant and I am so glad to hear you speak. I think we have time for a few audience questions which I will read. If you have any questions you can put them in the Q&A box in Zoom and we will do our best. The first is from Rachel who writes Shanghai is an ever changing city. In what ways does it still feel like home? » It's funny, I think one point in your book it is all so Chinese. University like Meng I was born in America. I evenly knew about Shanghai from my mother. It really did feel like home. The things that people are pre-occupied with. I could really sense the difference between Shanghai and Beijing. Meng you have much more to say. There is a whole Shanghai way of thinking. » There definitely is. » Including what they think of other Chinese. » My family isn't old school Shanghai where my parents are migrated to Shanghai from the provinces. So Shanghai is not in our blood but maybe that means I can see it a little more. I have definitely been on the hardened of that Shanghai before on the receiving end. I haven't been back -- I haven 't been back in a really long time. I do think that there is just -- whenever I go back to Shanghai or any part of China that my family lives in, it just opens up a part of me that, you know, perhaps lives in my memory and doesn't really exhibit itself in American context. It makes me remember the language the smiles, everything that's coming in from the environment of a place that's just irreplaceable. It reminds me of a part of something that has made me. I think that's so much why I write, too, is just to capture those intangible and sort of inexpressible feelings that I always feel like I am on the verge of losing because a place is changing so quickly or because I am changing or because I am running away from it or going to a new place. Sny but Shanghai I will say that one small antidote. Back in the days in the very early days of development, many places in China if they took your credit card or they had just gotten credit card. They lanted your credit card always handed your credit card back with 2 hand. Shanghai, they were like here is your card. The shanghai attitude is back. » We're Shanghai. That's true. » They are not going to bow to you because you are an American. Excuse me. » In an apologetic way they look and appraise. Don't look I am looking at your entire outfit and I see you and I have judged you. » What is the matter with Americans ? Why do you dress like that? I mean they can't believe how we dress. If you have ever showed up in Birkenstocks in a Shanghai hotel you will know how broken we have from a fashion point of view. » Thank you both. I have a couple more questions. The next one it is which books do you consider the grandparents of your books? In other words what are the two or 3 books without which your books would not exist? » » Do you want to go first? » That is such a hard question. For me it is not 2 or 3 books. I want to say it does not have a narrative tradition that I'm sure that I would not be able to master the novel without Shakespeare. King Lear, 5 acts was foundational. I think Meng was talking about this freedom to say whatever it is you want to say. I have to say that I think I was very , very influenced by the Jewish writers and I will say that would include all of them . But especially maybe grace Paley. I think in terms of work that was both actually art but actually engaged. For me she was the mold. You could actually write stuff that was about society, very engaged and yet it ain't journalism. That is leaving out 100,000 books. » I love that. Yeah, if we had more time I would ask you about your humor and that sort of answers it a little bit. I love that and I love grace Paley too. For "Little Gods" in particular I would say there are I think 3ish books that really come to mind that very directly helped me. One of them was the neopolitan novel. I was very thrilled when you mentioned her in your review. Thank you, Gish. The way that she writes about social mobility and I think really there is not another writer who can see the nuisances of people who leave with more -- with more aquity. There is a book called "in the height of what we know" which is modeled. It is about a mathematician. Road ing that book gave me permission to 1, write in long paragraphs. And 2, write about science in a way that felt -- it gave me a model how to write about science in a way that felt beautiful not just sort of sort Bill Nye the science guy , science. The last book that influenced me was "a gesture life". The narrator in that book has such a circular way of thinking and such a sort of deflective way of thinking that I really used when I was writing the section in this book. » Thank you. I love those book recommendations. We have time for only one more unfortunately. There are so many good questions. We do need to wrap up in a moment. One last question from M who writes I would love to hear about what you are both working on next. Meng does " write the book you want to read" hold for your second book and does what you want to read change as you grow as a writer and reader? » Sure. Since there is a direct question for me I will go first. I think so. Yes, definitely what I want to read changes as I grow as a writer and a reader. I feel like I got out a lot out of my system with "Little Gods". I also feel that I put a lot into " Little Gods". Sort of what we were talking about earlier, Gish. There wasn't the expectation that I would be able to do it again. I sort of felt like it was my one shot and now I feel like it has -- because I have gotten this out of my system, I feel like I can play, I can have more fun. I am really interested in playing now more with style and with humor and with provication, with writing that is a little more out there stylisically and yeah. The next -- I'm working on a novel called "mothers and girls" which I am calling a fake memoir sort of as a tongue in cheek nod to our dear Maxine and her fake memoir and it's a book that is about building methodologies and tearing them down. » Sounds wonderful. I can't wait. So I just placed a new book so it will be out next year just about this time next February. I haven't talked about it very much. Now that is in editorial I can talk about it. It is a collection of linked stories. I am out having a great time. It is a little bit of a return. So this is a story -- it is linked as a collection of linked stories through which you can see the 50 years since the opening of China refacted through the various stories and various characters. It is called " thank you Mr. Nixon". Next February. » That's so exciting will. I hope we can celebrate both of these books. Gish, I hope we can celebrate that book in person next year. I want to thank you both for taking the time for joining us this evening.
67 minutes | Jan 13, 2021
AGGIE ft. Mahogany L. Browne, Adnan Khan, Tanya Selvaratnam and Rachel Kuo
In November 2020 we co-hosted a screening with Film Forum of the documentary AGGIE, on the life of philanthropist Agnes Gund, founder of the Art For Justice Fund. Following the screening, we co-hosted a talkback with activists and Art For Justice grantees Adnan Khan and Mahogany Browne, and producer Tanya Selvaratnam, moderated by Rachel Kuo. Today, we're thrilled to share audio of that conversation with you. This recording was originally shared on Film Forum's podcast 'Film Forum Presents' at https://filmforum.org/podcast.
56 minutes | Jan 6, 2021
The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar ft. Kavita Das, Jafreen Uddin
Author Kavita Das joins Jafreen Uddin, Executive Director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in conversation about her book, Poignant Song: The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar. Shankar, who was Grammy-nominated, was the most prominent Indian female musician in the movement that brought Indian music to the West in the late 1960’s. This event, co-presented by Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the South Asia Institute in Chicago, explores Shankar’s musical evolution and more-than-seventy-year career creating within both South and North Indian musical traditions, as well as pop and fusion, and celebrate her life, legacy, and impact on South Asian diasporic communities.
29 minutes | Dec 23, 2020
Fireside Chat: R.O. Kwon with AAWW E.D. Jafreen Uddin
We're launching a new virtual event series at AAWW. Presented quarterly, these virtual “fireside chats” will feature a renowned Asian diasporic author in conversation with our Executive Director Jafreen Uddin, sharing updates from AAWW, and discussing AAWW from a writer’s perspective. This series will kick off with a conversation led by R. O. Kwon, activist, NEA Fellow, and bestselling author of The Incendiaries.
76 minutes | Dec 9, 2020
Racing the Essay with Cathy Park Hong, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Sejal Shah, and Piyali Bhattacharya
This fall, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop is celebrating the art of the essay. Featuring longtime poets and fiction writers with debut essay collections out this year, this conversation will take an intersectional look at Asian American identity, genre, gender, race, publishing, and the way the essay form allows writers to dance, dodge, spar, and move through time and nature to tell important stories. Featuring Cathy Park Hong, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Sejal Shah, and moderated by Piyali Bhattacharya. Buy the writers' books via our local independent bookstore partner Books Are Magic: https://booksaremagic.net/racing
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