Interview with Jee Yoon Lee’s “Writing Like an Asian”

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Most days I feel like a mess, other days I know I’m an educator, a wife, a mom, a hiker, a home cook and gardener, but I love the days when I can call myself a “Writer” and thanks to Melissa Sipin, I got a chance to escape the imposter syndrome and discuss some of my greatest loves and life’s passions. Professor Jee Yoon Lee, who teaches at the Georgetown University Writing Program, has created an incredibly comprehensive website featuring Asian/American writers and artists with “Writing Like An Asian.” The scope is astonishingly wide and the interviews are deep, such as Q&A’s with Sipin, Barbara Jane Reyes, Marianne Villaneuva, David Mura, and the list goes on and on.

Here’s a taste:

Every word I write is summoned by my mixed race heritage, and the hundreds if not thousands of miles my grandparents traveled from the Philippines and from Mexico to make a life for them selves and for our family here in the States. I feel in some sense I am re-telling the same story, the origin of our mixed ancestry. How opposing forces from different parts of the world came together to make new.

Read the entire interview here.

Peep out my interview and please share with lovers of lit to spread the word on “Writing Like An Asian.”

 

Recap on Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference, UK, Part I

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On the outskirts of Imperial College, London and just a block away from Hyde Park and the Royal Albert Hall, in the Huxley Building set on Queens Gate road, Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference took place Saturday 18 June through Sunday 19 June.
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On my way to the conference, a fifteen minute walk from our Kensington Flat where three generations of my family were blessed enough to call our home away from home in London, I got to see a quieter side of the great cosmopolitan city. Streets were virtually empty, and I spied one of the iconic historic blue plaques, alerting me to a former residence of none other than Benny Hill.
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The conference was all about process, valuing process more than the product of writing, which was really a pleasant surprise. Below are some tidbits from the panelists, whose ideas I will definitely be thieving for writing courses and for crafting my creative writing.

Rachel Robertson of Curtin University spoke on “A Mosaic Patterning: Space, time, and the lyric essay” where she illuminates on Bakhtin’s “chronotope,” how time and space are fused and unraveled, in which time knots and unknots itself, and narrative is suspended. Robertson cited the Zen phrase “emptiness is form and form is emptiness.” Form was a continual theme that arose throughout the conference, particularly the shaping of form through the crafting or process of art-making. Robertson compared how music and dance are the only art forms that truly free us from the historical space, embodying the “presentic” space, where time fails to be to be anchored or concretized. She also spoke of the bricolage, which was first introduced to yours truly at Miguel Syjuco’s reading of Ilustrado, when I asked him how he researched for his novel, he said he used a bricolage. Robertson spoke of bricolage as a repetition of imagery, a mosaic.

The second presentation of the panel was one of the most enlightening talks from Karma Waltononen from UC Davis. Her presentation covered “Writing Outside the Lines: From ‘Essay’ to Creative Non-fiction” where she talked about teaching the creative non-fiction essay as breaking away from the required rhetoric and composition. Many students tend to believe an essay means one thing only: a three point thesis with five point paragraphs and no real development for each paragraph.
Waltonen discussed how when she introduces an essay students feel like they’re having the rug pulled out from under them. She takes them back to the root of the word’s origin. ‘Essay’ is simply: to try.
She lets students know that they need to just take a chance and be rewarded for taking a chance.

Waltonen immerses them in the 4th genre and has her students think about the choices they make. She emphasizes that a good essay demonstrates a voice. At the end of the semester, students try to determine different writers’ style by having them guess whose voice is is whose. Another assignment is to have students record a conversation in the cafeteria, so they get a feel for what true conversational writing is.
They cover metaphor and simile, and, most especially, reducing wordiness or tightening prose.

She also goes over what she called ‘breaking rules prudently,’ which is what her grade school teacher taught her. Breaking rules should only be done intentionally for a certain effect, such as run-on sentences. What effect do you want on your reader? Finally, she has her students do a complete revision, and tells them she should only feel a slight deja vu when reading their revision. The changes should be foundational such as change in POV or moving from present to future tense. She does not want to know what happens next. Her challenge to students is letting them know that every word a student uses is a choice, and asking them “Are you being brave with this essay and how?”

Yours truly had a cushy presentation time, not too early and not too late. I was slotted at 11:15am on the first day, which gave me just enough time to see how other presenters presented, get the hang of the logistics, and then dive right into it. Along with the advantageous scheduling, I enjoyed the pleasure of presenting with two savvy professor writers who covered some innovative writing and teaching practices.

Laura Wetherington from Sierra Nevada College presented “Flipping the Creative Writing Classroom: Reading and Writing as Workshop.” In the flipped classroom, students gain exposure to new material. The flipped classroom is the anti-lecture, discussion based or workshop based, turning the workshop on its head. This kind of teaching has been dubbed the “new frontier” of the classroom. Students can reflect on authorial decisions to articulate why they made the choices they did and take creative approaches to reading. The emphasis is on reflective writing for each draft, and she has students revise with specific perameters, giving them a set amount of time to revise. Wetherington really stressed that students be conscious of the decisions they make on what to change with revisions, and she does this by giving them specific revision strategies that they have to choose from. She also quizzes them on technical terms and gives minute papers to guide their questioning with reading. Finally, she talked about the free-reading period where students came up with their own reading lists at the Poetry Center in the Sierra Nevada College. They roamed the library on their own to chose what they wanted to read to inspire their work.

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett from Newman University in Birmingham, UK covered “Trick or Retreat? The Value of Creative Writing Retreats in HE,” explaining how she takes her students to retreats where they learn how to write by deadlines. It’s a challenge to write on spot, on location, and they use the model of flipped classrooms. The marking or assessment is based on informed analytical engagement–a term I may have to borrow for my Craft is Culture class–and the students work on writing prompts first as a group then move onto their own individual work.

Our panel raised some heated debate, which was most welcome since I expect to answer the same questions and address the same reservations from my students and other faculty. For more info on my paper presentation “Craft is Culture: Writing and Reading a Global Imagination” click here and here. A South African writer kicked off the Q&A by asking me why we should force students to write diversely. She understood why reading diversely is important but writing with diversity in mind didn’t see urgent or necessary. Three other presenters answered her immediately, talking about intention, motivation, and the need to expand voice and perspective. Some recommended reading they pointed to me, which I have to look into is Paul Gilroy’s After Empire and Kimberly Crenshaw’s work on Intersectionality.

More on the conference and what I’ll be nicking for my own teaching and writing practices to come soon…

Part II: Recap on “Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference UK

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The view from the Kensington Flat, where I stayed during the conference.

Continuing coverage of “Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference UK,” held at Imperial College, London, there were so many enlightening panels that offered great insight on the process of writing and best practices in teaching. Below is a taste from the hastily scribbled notes I took. Check out Part I here.

Melissa Bender’s “Just Like Us?: The Novelist’s Responsibility to the Historical Record, which she said was more of a meditation, focusing on Gwendolyn Brooks, Year of Wonders, a historical account of Derbyshire, 1666, where the town of Ames was quarantined to prevent the plague. Bender highlighted the idea of fidelity and reflected on how writers make decisions to be or not to be faithful to history, knowing that there are different histories. She focused on our responsibility as writers and readers to history, and how the historical novel transports readers to a different place, which allows readers to empathize with points of view that aren’t their own. The historians’ challenge versus the historical novelists’ challenge covers such questions as (some of the below are from yours truly):

  • What or who is demonised and why?
  • What is fetishized and why?
  • What is exalted and why?
  • Are the specific subjects demonized/fetishized/exalted to reflect our contemporary values or the values of the past?
  • What is the source of all the problems?
  • How do you develop empathy though you have a different set of values?

Bender cited Sarah Vowell, who says “education is empathy” and that we learn about our situations by taking in other’s people’s POV. Its not about policing the details of historical fiction or the duty to historical record. Novelists must use their imagination since we can’t recreate the past. As readers and writers we need to think about the choices we make and the consequences we create through narratives.

Lauren Hayhurst’s research perfectly coincided with mine in her talk “Creative Writers as Cultural Representatives: A critique of the ‘political’ in relation to ‘literature’ and how Creative Writing can help reinvent Multiculturalism.” Hayhurst doesn’t doubt the power of Creative Writing in multiculturalism. She spoke of the difference between process and product, and how the process is hidden. Reviewing the idea of British Multiculturalism, which she explained was met or is viewed as “confusion and ambiguity,” she highlighted how there is no consensus in its definition. Hayhurst pointed to Paul Gilroy’s After the Empire, and how Gilroy claimed that reckoning with history requires active dialogue to create cohesion. Fiction as an engagement with creativity. Writers must take ownership of our responsibility as cultural representatives, especially since we rely and use our products, the novel or text, to engage and understand the world. What biases inform our interpretations? Hayhurst demands a recognition of novels as a source and form of knowledge. She also referenced Jennifer Web and Donna Lee Brian’s idea on “agnostic thinking,” how knowledge is contingent as opposed to “true,” which provides a framework for an active dialogue. Hayhurst urges us to examine our motivations and intentions as writers.

One of the questions her presentation raised for me is how do we maintain the creative journey and intellectual discovery for the writer but also take into account our responsibility as “cultural representatives” or as givers of “knowledge”? How do we balance our discoveries as artists with the discoveries of the reader or what we want them to discover in our work?

Hayhurst wrapped up her presentation focusing on how writing requires developmental, growing consciousness?  Aesthetic values and ethical values are tied up she argues, concluding that our positionality leads to interpretation and therefore representation to the readers. “Its about flexing the imagination, imagining for your own gain or for someone else’s,” she concluded.

I truly hope to reconnect with Hayhurst, so we can collaborate on future work!
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Toward the end of the conference, I had a chance to reconnect with a fellow Hawthornden resident, poet and professor Julian Stannard (photo above), who said that a poem is an accident. He read from his new work What Were You Thinking.

There were two papers that intriguingly covered process, valuing the craft of writing more so than the product. Annabel Banks’ “The Poesis Project: Real Time Capture of Poetic Process” and Rosie Shepherd’s of Goldsmiths College, UK, “Where is the Creative Process? Its right there!” seemed to be speaking directly to one another in terms of the physical process of writing and the process that takes form and eventually turns to content with a poem. Banks talked about how as we edit a text it grows and shrinks. The finished product could in a sense, as Banks explains, be the dead body, the corpse after its life has run its course. “We are networked, part of a knowledge matrix when we go online and work on a computer as opposed to working with the simpler technology of pen and paper” she says. Both Banks and Shepherd seemed to consider the product as secondary to the process and had me thinking how technology assists and enables content, meaning, and therefore interpretation.

Some general thoughts, that came up for yours truly is how do we imagine our imaginations? How is form formed? Craft is part artists’ intuition and other part artist’s extreme rationality. We make countless decisions as artists, and those decisions have to be calculated or based on some knowledge and prior experience or perhaps the artist’s intuition is simply based on gathered knowledge and experience. The product is a time stamp, a time capsule, and part of the continuum of work of the networked matrix. There is lots to ponder as the rains started to flood the streets of London. See the sky view from the Kensington flat below.

One more final installment to come. Stay tuned…

 

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Shadow Writing the Global Imaginary

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Stories map the cosmos of our curiosity, of our lived experiences, and of our hopes and fears. To chart these cosmos is to be comfortable creating amid paradox, to be at ease in a world of contrast, and to not fall back on bias or pre-ordained assumptions and fore-gone conclusions. Inciting a world awareness or a global imagination is a perpetual process of othering or defamiliarizing ourselves from reductive, schismatic, and discriminatory notions about who we are, the world we live in, and our connections to one another.

The above is just a taste of the research paper yours truly is trying to finish and soon present at Great Writing: The International Creative Writing Conference, UK at Imperial College, London, where I’ll be riffing off of Junot Diaz and his “MFA vs. POC.” Writing and researching (see above pic for some of the titles I’ve been diving into) for this topic has inspired a creative writing course, which thankfully got approved to be listed as part of Saint Mary’s College of California’s January 2017 Term described on their website as: “a monthlong session held each January in which every undergraduate explores a single topic in great depth and at an accelerated pace, featuring a unique blend of opportunities on and off campus.”

If yours truly can rouse the necessary enrollment, I’ll be piloting the following course (fingers crossed!):

Craft is Culture: Shadow Writing the Global Imaginary

 

COURSE DESCRIPTION
“In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all…” author Junot Diaz states in his “MFA vs. POC” (New Yorker, 2014) thereby igniting an urgent conversation about diversity in the literary arts. For historically marginalized artists, creative writing begins and ends with perilous tension. As we read novels, short fiction, and poetry from various authors like Louise Erdrich, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Harryette Mullen, Kevin Young, Chris Abani, and Diane Glancy, we will ask how these writers subvert, make new, or de-center literary traditions. How do they make aesthetic and stylistic choices to challenge dominant narratives and to put center stage traditionally marginalized voices, neglected histories, and sub-histories? The aim of this course is to discover how craft is culture and how culture can complicate and challenge the craft of creative writing. In turn, we will also explore our own cultural and regional backgrounds to write our own creative works employing techniques from the authors we read.
Through writing, both creative and analytical, we will consider the different ways in which literary writing helps us understand identity and politics, and, conversely, how we can test notions of identity and politics to enrich and deepen our craft of creative writing. Recognizing that craft is culture and that tension drives all creative writing, this class explores reading and writing practices to incite a global cultural imagination that ultimately pinpoints intersections where truth meets art.

PREREQUISITES:
English 4

POSSIBLE READING LIST
Critical Theory:
selections from Harryette Mullen, The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be,“Imagining the Unimagined Reader: Writing to the Unborn and Including the Excluded”, “Kinky Quatrains: The Making of Muse & Drudge”, “Optic White: Blackness and the Production of Whiteness”
Selections from Kevin Young, The Gray Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, “The Shadow Book”, “How Not to Be a Slave: On the Black Art of Escape”
excerpts from Dorothy Wang, Form, Race, Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry
Diane Glancy, In-between Places, “July: She has some potholders”
John Yau, “Please Wait By the Coatroom”

Fiction:
Chris Abani, The Virgin of Flames
Louise Erdrich, selections from Love Medicine
Dinaw Mengetsu All Our Names

Poetry:
Selections from Barbara Jane Reyes and Dr. Raina León

More to come as the work progresses…

MFA vs. POC cont.

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As the semester winds down, as the grades are slowly being tallied, and, hopefully, soon to be posted, yours truly now has a chance to return to the research for an upcoming conference. I’ll be presenting come mid-June at the 19th Annual UK’s Great Writing International Creative Writing Conference hosted at Imperial College, London, where I’ll continue work on multiculturalism and creative writing. Two years ago, I presented on the global imagination focusing on Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss. That paper has lead me to riff off of Junot Diaz’s “MFA vs. POC” (Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop 2014), inspiring the below paper title and proposal:

Craft is Culture: Writing & Reading A Global Imagination

“In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all…” Junot Diaz states in his “MFA vs. POC” (New Yorker, 2014) thereby igniting an urgent conversation about diversity in the literary arts. For historically marginalized artists, creative writing begins and ends with perilous tension. If we write and read from this premise, we are primed and prepared for the necessary conflict to fuel our art. How do we engage and interrogate craft to help us explore our understandings of identity and politics, and, conversely, how do we test notions of identity and politics to enrich and deepen our craft? Recognizing that craft is culture and that tension drives all creative writing, this presentation explores reading and writing practices to incite a global cultural imagination that ultimately pinpoints intersections where truth meets art.

Some of the core texts (though by no means not all) informing and inspiring this paper are:

Wai Chee Dimock’s Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time (Princeton University Press 2008)

Harryette Mullen’s The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be (University of Alabama Press 2012)

Dorothy Wang’s Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity, in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford University Press 2013)

Fred D’Aguiar’s essay “Have You Been Here Long? Black Poetry in Britain” in New British Poetries: The Scope of the Possible edited by Robert Hampson and Peter Barry (Manchester University Press 1993)

Along with a series of essays in the Boston Review: Race and the Poetic Avant Garde

Other authors I’ve been madly copying notes from are depicted above. From my research and brainstorming for the paper presentation, I’ve also crafted a creative writing class proposal that has been accepted as one of Saint Mary’s College’s 2017 January Term courses. More on this to come!

I’m also hoping to organize for either Fall 2016 or Spring 2017 a panel discussion with writers of color who focus on craft and culture in their work, and I would love to start an anthology series as well as run an annual conference, possibly even a writing retreat on the topic. There is so much to be done. This is only the beginning.

Recapping “Cleave” at Octopus Literary Salon

Yours truly had the great honor of reading for “Cleave: Bay Area Women Writers Series” this Friday 26 February at the beautiful space The Octopus Literary Salon in downtown Oakland, a cozy, light filled bookstore and cafe that I hope to visit soon again. Sharing work with literary luminaries Mary Volmer, Candace Eros Diaz, hosted and organized by Dr. Raina León, who followed up the reading with some challenging questions like Star Trek or Star Wars? And what does your life say about your writing? The reading proved to be an intimate family affair.

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Candace Eros Diaz read a flash fiction piece that left the senses hungry for more as well as an excerpt from a work in progress, which kept us in suspense. I wasn’t kidding when I said I want to be Candace when I grow up. Her work cuts deep to bone.

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Dr. Raina León, who is a sister to me, will be reading her work for the next “Cleave: Bay Area Women Writers” event at Octopus Literary Salon 15 April 7pm along with friend and colleague Tereza Kramer who’s new poetry book is coming out shortly.

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Mary Volmer, a guiding light in my constellation ever since I met her twelve years ago, read an excerpt from her soon to be released novel Reliance, published by Soho Press (May 2015). The story is gripping with characters that kick off the page.

It was a pure honor and absolute pleasure to bask in these writers radiance. Thanks to all those who came out to show support and love. XO!

Three weeks away from Octopus Literary Salon

Friday, February 26, 7pm, yours truly has the honor of reading with literary luminaries Candace Eros Diaz, Mary Volmer, and host of the event, Dr. Raina León at Octopus Literary Salon (2101 Webster St #170, Oakland, CA 94612). Please spread the love and share on your favorite social media. Consider inviting your students and any lovers of lit. Drinks and dinner are served. Hope to see you there!

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BorderSenses Volume 21 (Fall 2015) Has Arrived!

IMG_20160122_120643672Yours truly is honored to have a non-fiction essay “The Body is a Promise” included in the latest issue of BorderSenses Vol. 21. Featuring work both in Spanish and English by great talents such as Leslie Marie Aguilar, Marian Haddad, C.M. Mayo, Lupé Mendez, Maceo Montoya, and Xitlalitl Rodríguez and many more.

Please spread the word with your students and favorite readers and consider adopting one of the pieces for your classes. To get a copy of BorderSenses, please click here.

Happy reading!

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First 2016 Reading Booked @ Octopus Literary Salon

Thanks to the savvy organizing of poet and Professor Raina León, your truly has the pleasure and honor of reading with literary luminaries Candace Eros Diaz and Mary Volmer at Octopus Literary Salon 7-9pm, Friday 26 February, 2016. Please spread the love and share on your favorite social media. Consider inviting your students and any lovers of lit. Drinks and dinner are served. Hope to see you in 2016!

 

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