Cathy Park Hong on ethical storytelling and its ‘accidental’ writing process

Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong began her Thursday reading, organized by the Creative Writing Program and the English Department, with a warning.

“It’s going to be a little disparate,” she said, before embarking on excerpts from three different works: her collection of poetry, “Engine Empire”; his creative non-fiction book, “Minor Feelings”; and her translation of “Phone Bells Keep Ringing for Me” by South Korean feminist poet Choi Seungja.

“I hope you can put up with me and deal with the change in your extreme here,” she added.

But any non-disparate selection of Hong’s work would do a disservice to the variety and complexity of her writing – for Hong is an author whose transgender work rejects homogeneity. She composes poems with the narrative eye of an essayist, and she writes essays with the associative touch of a poet. His words and prose embrace all languages, dialects and forms of “bad English. And as Acting Creative Writing Program Director Patrick Phillips said in his introduction to Hong, she has’ the ability to keep in mind both rage and hope, both an sharp criticism of whiteness, colonialism and capitalism and a vision of the world as something different and better than what it is.

It is this quality – his talent for linking ideas that seem poles apart – that sets Hong’s writing apart. In her essay “The End of White Innocence” from “Minor Feelings”, she draws on the scholarship of theorists Kathryn Bond Stockton, Robin Bernstein and Charles Mills, as well as on traumatic moments in her own life: retribution by a cruel teacher, her grandmother’s assault at the hands of white children in an otherwise peaceful california cul-de-sac. These scenes may seem ‘disparate’, yet Hong finds the common threads between criticism, history, and memoir through lucid and astute observations. like children ”).

“Unfortunately, I’m not the kind of writer who describes everything in advance and writes it down,” Hong said. “It’s not my process at all. It is often accidental and random.

Hong explained that after conducting research, she writes “patches” of scenes or poetic lines. “Then my writing continues to cannibalize itself until the ideas start to harmonize perfectly,” she said. Eventually, “a voice forms, a narrative forms, then my painful process begins to make sense.”

But finding consistency isn’t the only catch in Hong’s writing process. While working on “Minor Feelings” Hong struggled to capture the Asian American experience – which, as she pointed out, “is not a monolith” – from her own limited perspective. as an American writer of Korean descent.

“There was so much anxiety to write about the Other,” she said.

For Hong, however, the way forward was not to limit what she could write. “I don’t think you should write just about yourself. I don’t even know what that means, ”she said. “I mean, our lives overlap with those of others. “

Instead, Hong suggested a new way to frame the writing problem outside of his experience: rather than dividing the problem into “yes, you are allowed” and “no, you are not allowed”. to tell a particular story, we should consider and question How? ‘Or’ What an author chooses to tell the story.

“It’s an ethical hornet’s nest even to write about your own life because you always write about other people,” Hong said, also noting that his life story remains sensitive to “the white imagination. “. Any type of writing therefore requires caution, humility and, as Hong says, “empathetic inquiry”.

In “Minor Feelings” Hong chose not to write “about”, but to write “nearby” – a approach invented by Vietnamese filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha who recognizes the gap between the author’s knowledge and that of the community she portrays.

“I didn’t feel comfortable, say, making generalizations about South Asians,” Hong said. But writing about the poetry of her friend Prageeta Sharma presented a way of “bridging our experiences and” showing how [they’re] both shared and different.

Following the rise of anti-Asian racism, Hong was interviewed through many media publications. But she doesn’t see herself as a public intellectual, although some have started to label her as such.

“I guess I spoke more because it’s very frustrating to see how the media is wrong about these anti-Asian hate crimes,” she said. “And I feel like maybe I have enough platform.”

Hong is increasingly recognized as a major literary voice. Creative Writing Lecturer Shimon Tanaka, who attended Thursday’s event, taught a class called Asian American Stories in the last quarter, and the first reading he attributed was “Minor Feelings”.

“‘Minor Feelings’ is a book I wish I could have read when I was in college,” Tanaka wrote in a statement to The Daily. And in her class, “it really helped expose a lot of the issues that Asian American writers face today.”

And indeed, although Hong expressed her dissatisfaction with certain sectors of the media, she was enthusiastic about the advancements in the literary world, especially the emergence of BIPOC-centric communities.

“The poets of color that I taught [at Rutgers-Newark University, where Hong is a full professor] … No longer feel this need to translate for whites, ”she said. “They write for others in their community.”

But in the midst of this changing landscape, what’s next for Hong? Currently she is working on a collection of sonnets. She also puts her “terribly unruly” research methods to good use for a hybrid poetry-prose book.

The subject of this book? According to Hong, it’s still at this point where she doesn’t know how to “put it together in a pitch that sounds good.” So, as a clue, she ended her reading with two quotes that were close to her mind:

The first, from Bhanu Kapil’s “Vertical Interrogation of Strangers”: “Who is responsible for your mother’s suffering? “

The second, from Bong Joon-ho: “We all live in the same country now: that of capitalism.

So something about motherhood, beauty, capitalism, pain. If anyone can tie these disparate strands together, it’s Hong.

Scott R. Banks