Monday, February 25, 2008

[Interview] Ching-In Chen, Chinese American poet

Ching-In Chen is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and a Kundiman Asian American Poet Fellow. A community organizer, she helped to plan the 3rd national Asian Pacific American Spoken Word and Poetry Summit in Boston.

Ching-In is currently working on a poetry collection about the travails, heartbreak and adventures of a Chinese-American girl called xiaomei, The Heart's Traffic which was selected for publication by Eloise Klein Healy and will be published through the Arktoi imprint of Red Hen Press (slated for 2009).

She entered the MFA program at University of California Riverside in Fall 2007.

I met her in Summer 2007 as she was passing through Minnesota for the popular Split Rock Program. Ching-In's style is quite distinctive and The Heart's Traffic is likely to be an early contender for the Asian American Literary Awards in 2010. Here's an interview we recently did:

What are you working on these days, artistically?
Ching-In Chen: I just finished a completed draft towards the end of last year of a novel in verse about the adventures of a girl named Xiaomei. So I'm in the beginning phase (mostly research) of a few projects -- a poetic project on the global history of coolies and a historical novel of a Chinese-American family in the turbulent 1800s. I'm also in a playwriting class and am hoping to write a play about four friends who are students who get involved in the I-hotel struggle.

What's been the biggest challenge for you, as a writer?
CIC: My writing in poetry has changed a lot, especially in the last two years as I've moved more from a performance/spoken word feel to my work to work that plays more with the white space on the page. Recently, I've started to work a lot with fragmentation, multiple voices, and found text. I think that the more you write and push yourself towards your boundaries, the higher the bar gets set. And then there's also the consideration of both wanting to do work that's exciting for you (for me, right now, it is experimenting), but then wanting at the same time to keep it community-based. It's both exhilarating and terrifying, and it feels like we don't have that many models of people who've done it before us. Or maybe it's that, the paths or the models or the approaches HAVE to keep changing because the world and the community (and ultimately) our writing has to keep changing.

How did you first get into writing?
CIC: I had a very isolating childhood where I didn't fit in with a lot of my peer group. I think discovering other worlds through writing helped me survive those years and I've been hooked on words ever since.

What are some of your favorite themes and ideas to work with?
CIC: When I first started writing, I wrote about my family and my own experiences a lot. Themes like race, immigration, marginal spaces, inhabiting multiple worlds. I still work with those ideas, but I think that I've sludged through some of the surface stuff and am more interested in what's beneath. It's always been about reflecting the realities of my life and the lives of those I care about around me.

Who's on your reading list these days?
CIC: In 2007, the books that were most important to my work were Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee, Cathy Park Hong's Dance Dance Revolution, sharon bridgfoth's Love/Conjure Blues, Kimiko Hahn's Narrow Road to the Interior, Li Young Lee's The Winged Seed, Lynda Barry's 100 Demons, and, always, since I was 16 years old, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior. The book that's wowed me in 2008 has been Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I've become really interested recently in speculative fiction so my personal goal is to read all of Octavia Butler's work by the end of the year.

Do you have any advice for emerging writers?
CIC:Make an appointment with yourself and show up at the page consistently. For me, viewing it as writing practice (similar to meditation practice) and always striving to practice my craft is helpful.

Thanks for asking & making me think about my writing practice!

No comments: