New Year, New Goals, Reviewing, Readings

Reading at The Library of Congress, July 29, 2017

Reading at The Library of Congress, July 29, 2017 (photo credit: Kundiman)

For the last few years, I’ve written annual goals, reflecting on the previous year, and it’s extremely helpful. I used the Writer’s Workbook 2019 by Annette Gendler, and also used her workbook last year. You can download her workbook for free by going to her website and signing up for her newsletter, which comes rarely and has good information in it.

In reviewing 2018 and 2017, I made note of two milestones I want to remember. They are both readings, and they were both videoed.

  1. In 2017, I read from one of my essays at The Library of Congress, as part of the Smithsonian Asian American Literature Festival. It was a tremendous experience, and the readings were recorded. Mine begins at around 1:18. You’ll hear a bit of poet and Executive Director of Kundiman, Cathy Linh Che, introducing me. It’s the largest audience before which I’ve read.
  2. In 2018, R. gave his first reading: before an audience of 700. Here’s the link. He’d never done anything like that before. He was in a show called Listen to Your Mother, and he had to write something original and audition to earn a spot in the cast. R’s piece was very moving, and I’m proud of him for venturing so far outside of his comfort zone. The reading is much shorter than mine. Feel free to comment—I’ll pass along any words to him.

 

Late Fall 2018

IMG_1356

Our front yard (backyard has the yellow, front has the red-orange)

So many of the leaves in our backyard are yellow. It’s early November now. I have been cutting the rosebushes back, but not the rest of the flowering plants in our yard: geraniums, hydrangeas, and these delicate pink flowers I don’t know the name of.

I haven’t posted for months (it was a rough first half of the year, then recovering), and now where to begin? I’ll begin with news.

In June, I learned I was the recipient of a 2018 New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) / New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA) Fellowship in Fiction. This was a huge event in my life for a couple of reasons. I’ve applied for it before and not gotten it. That’s the way it works and I wasn’t expecting to get it this year either. It reminded me to persist. Two, the news came at an important time, when I was feeling discouraged about not being further along in my writing life.

The NYFA website quoted me in a recent post, and I’ll also include my words below:

If your stories are like mine, they might be described as non-traditional, experimental, and poetic. You might start to doubt that what you do has relevance, that it is understood, and worth reading. It doesn’t fit neatly into a category. The news about the NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship came after I had received a few rejections in a row for other things. I mentioned this string of rejections to a friend, and she said whenever that happens to her, it means there’s a big yes around the corner.

I’m also quoted in an earlier post about what getting the NYFA meant to me.

IMG_1261

Screenshot from the Literary Hub article about 15 Asian-American writers to know about.

In early October, an article in Literary Hub surprised me. Here’s the link:  “The Newest Wave of Asian-American Writers You Should Know.” It’s a list of 15 Kundiman writers. And I am on that list. I love both Kundiman and Literary Hub. Thank you, Tamiko Beyer, for this article.

I spent most of September in Oaxaca City, Mexico, staying with my friend Wendy, who is teaching there this semester. It was terrific to get that much time with Wendy and to work on our writing projects together. While there, I completed an essay on invisible disability I’ve been working on since July. Wendy’s edits made the difference, as did my deadline. My essay will be published in Jan/Feb 2019 in the Kenyon Review Online and I’m very happy about that.

In mid-October I began teaching a new class out of my home—advanced creative nonfiction—part study (we are reading and discussing an excellent anthology of essays by women called Waveform—I recommend it), writing exercises (imitations) and writing workshop. I’ve been working with the same writers for a couple of years now and it’s a pleasure and privilege to do so. I learn from them, too. There’s room for a couple of more writers to join for the next session—which will be in winter/spring 2019. IMG_1333

Exactly one week ago, I organized the first  Kundiman Northeast reading in western New York (Rochester). The Spirit Room (fierce poets and owners Rachel McKibbens and Jacob Rakovan) generously hosted us: our readers were poet Albert Abonado, activist, filmmaker, and writer Mara Ahmed, and Kundiman Fellow, poet, and essayist Chen Chen. It was a wonderful evening—a chance to hear Asian American voices through the work of three very different writers. Though organizing anything is a lot of work, this event was worth it. And poet and Kundiman Fellow Nghiem Tran drove over from Syracuse and one of my favorite local writers, Ravi Mangla, came, too.

IMG_1329

Mara Ahmed, Sejal Shah, Albert Abonado, and Ravi Mangla

Poet and essayist Chen Chen reads at The Spirit Room

A couple of days ago I had tea with my friend Irene, whom I hadn’t seen in a year. She’s also a writer and we were talking about writing and time—we are both working on books. She reminded me of a poem I had sent to her once. I needed to hear it again and she recited it and then sent me a link to it later. Naomi Shihab Nye’s “The Art of Disappearing.” I’ve mentioned it in my blog before—two years ago. I’ll post it here though the line breaks might not be right.

I miss seeing my friends all the time. And I also know I can’t be out and about too much right now—I need to scale back, draw back, stay home to do this work. And it’s fall when we gather ourselves, and for me that gathering is inside. (It’s western New York after all.) I’ll leave you with Nye’s important poem.

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

 

 

2017 Summer Roundup

2017 Summer Roundup

This summer careened by, dizzy from travel (Ohio three times; Mexico; Washington, D.C.; Rhode Island; Pittsburgh) and some enormous changes. My beloved grandmother passed on July 31. Her absence is palpable. I am still trying to adjust to the fact that I can’t eat dinner next to her or braid her hair for her (as she used to do for me when I was young); or bring her a jasmine flower from my plant (she loved the fragrance and would lift the tiny blossom to her face, close her eyes, breathe in, and smile); or just sit with her and talk and laugh. I used to see her most days. My parents’ house feels empty now.

IMG_9291I wrote a poem about her when I was sixteen, first published in my high school literary magazine, then in Hanging Loose magazine, and finally reprinted in the Hanging Loose Press anthology, Bullseye: Outstanding High School Writers. R. posted this photo of my poem on Instagram.

Now, R and I are packing up to move from our first apartment to our first home. We bought a house—I’ll finally have room (I hope) for all of my books.

In between house hunting and later-stage hospice, I taught a seven-week creative nonfiction class, which included reading and writing in response to Eula Biss’ Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays. It feels important to be writing about race, place, responsibility, privilege, ambivalence, what we love, what we struggle with, what we hope will change about our country, and how we are part of all of it. If you haven’t read this book yet, please do.

Next on my list to read, re-read, and teach: essays by James Baldwin and Audre Lorde. What are you reading to help you get through this particular time? Please comment and let me know.

Here’s my writing-related news update—

Conjunctions.jpg

Writing:

My story-essay, “Skeleton, Rock, Shell,” will be published in Conjunctions 69: Being Bodies (Fall / Nov 2017). R took the screenshot of the table of contents (in-progress) above. Yes—that’s Rick Moody and Anne Waldman in the same issue (!!!). I love Conjunctions, and have been published by them online, but this will be my first time in their print journal.

My story collection, How to Make Your Mother Cry, was selected by Paul Yoon as a finalist for the 2017 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction from Sarabande Books. Sarabande will publish the winner of the prize, Tiny Heroes, Tiny Villains, by Robert Yune.

My essay collection, Things People Say, was named a finalist for the 2017 Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s Essay Collection Competition, selected by Renee Gladman. More info in the link.

Readings, Festivals, & NYFA:

IMG_3157

Some of the audience saying hey. Those are the other fellows smiling at me in the first row.

In June, I was a Peter Taylor Fellow at the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshops. Here’s a photo from the fellows’ reading, where I shared my essay about a former teacher, the poet Agha Shahid Ali. When I remember to, I like to take photos of the audience. This was a great one.

Reading at The Library of Congress, July 29, 2017

Reading at The Library of Congress, July 29, 2017 (photo credit: Kundiman)


July: I also read the essay (published this past April in Mad Heart Be Brave: Essays on the Poetry of Agha Shahid Ali, edited by Kazim Ali, University of Michigan Press) at the Library of Congress, for the Smithsonian Asian American Literature Festival, with Karen Tei Yamashita and Kundiman Fellows Vt Hung and Mark Keats.

It felt significant to read in our nation’s capital at the Library of Congress, as an Asian American writer myself in front of an audience of mostly other Asian American writers, scholars, poets, and readers. Several people came up to me afterward or emailed me to say that they were moved by the essay and reading. I felt that way about the events I attended, too.

To buy a copy (and/or ask your library to buy a copy) of Mad Heart Be Brave, head over here.

IMG_3812In August, I took part in the NYFA (the New York Foundation for the Arts)  2017 Artist-as-Entrepreneur Bootcamp. Lots to learn about as I gear up to begin offering private writing workshops and mentoring in 2018. If you are a writer or artist in New York State, I recommend applying to this program, which is offered several times a year around the state—the next one is in Albany.

Thanks to Brooklyn-based writer Roohi Choudhri, who told me about the bootcamp. She teaches privately and has a terrific set of in-person and online offerings for writers. Check out her website here.

Other Nice Stuff:

Every once in a while I Google my name to see what the internet rolls back at me. I found this mention on a website library discussion board called LibraryThing. Here is what one user posted about writers of South Asian origin:

6 cindydavid4: Though I’m a big reader of Indian-American writers (or, more broadly, American writers of South Asian origin), and I’ve read some [Chitra Banerjee] Divakaruni, I’m not a fan of her work. I can’t pinpoint why exactly because I haven’t spent enough time thinking it through. I only know that, after forcing myself to get to the end of her collection of stories Arranged Marriage: Stories, I have not picked up another of her books.

These days, the most interesting writing by Indian-American (or writers of South Asian origin) women writers I am liking are: Nina McConigleyTanwi Nandini IslamTahmima AnamMira JacobSejal ShahTania JamesJade Sharma, and more.

With male writers of South Asian origin, these are most interesting to me these days: Amitava GhoshAkhil SharmaVikram Chandra — whose Sacred Games is going to be a Netflix series, Kanishk TharoorKaran MahajanAnuk ArudpragasamSunil Yapa, et al.

I’m flattered to be in such company. The other folks have books. I’m working on it.

 

 

 

Temporary Talismans

BruceLeePostcardMy penultimate essay for the Kenyon Review blog continues the theme I’ve been exploring of late—what we hold onto, what we keep. In this mini-essay I explore postcards and epistolary friendships with writers Holly Wren Spaulding, Wendy Call, and Michael Martone. I’ve never lived near any of them and our friendships grew in part out of writing to each other. I have a lot more to say about postcards, and can imagine expanding this mini essay into something larger.

Though I didn’t write about the above image for the KR blog, Kundiman, an organization for Asian American poets and writers, has a postcard exchange for its fellows every April. The Bruce Lee postcard is one I picked up at the Kundiman table at AWP. Actually, I picked up several and have sent some to friends, one to my brother, and kept one for myself to remind me of this about writing and life. The importance of being fearless. I see the postcard I gave to my brother when I visit;  he’s kept it pinned to a bulletin board in his office (he’s a Bruce Lee fan).

Postcards also make great writing prompts—I used this in the creative writing workshop I taught this week for teens (I read my essay at the instructor reading, too).

From my Kenyon Review essay:

A postcard arises from a quiet place, before picking up the pen—I think it’s about attention and intention, though there can be something breezy or even rushed, offhand about a postcard….Postcards are incomplete, imperfect, and often say something about one’s travel or daily life—they free us from the sense of having to write something extraordinary or profound. They are a first and only draft. For me, as a writer, that’s such a relief.…Read more here.