Cathy Park Hong Opens Up About Ethical Storytelling And Her “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 sound a bit disparate,” she said, before launching into 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 extreme change in tone 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 work that crosses genres rejects homogeneity. She composes poems with the narrative eye of an essayist and writes essays with the associative touch of a poet. His lyrics and prose embrace all languages, dialects and forms of “bad English”. And as Patrick Phillips, acting director of the creative writing program, said in his introduction to Hong, she has an “ability to hold both rage and hope in mind, both a searing critique of whiteness, colonialism and capitalism and a worldview as something”. different and better than what he is.

It is this quality – his talent for connecting ideas that seem to be 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 traumatic moments in her own life: teacher, l his 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 connections between criticism, history, and memoirs through lucid, astute observations (“A characteristic of racism is that children are treated as adults and adults are treated like children”).

“Unfortunately, I’m not the type of writer who describes everything in advance and then writes it down,” Hong said. “It’s just 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 come together beautifully,” she said. Eventually, “a voice forms, a narrative forms, and then my painful process begins to make some kind of sense.”

But finding consistency isn’t the only obstacle 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 a Korean American writer.

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

For Hong, however, the way forward was not to limit what she could write about. “I don’t believe you should write only about yourself. I don’t even know what that means,” she said. “I mean, our lives overlap with each other’s lives.”

Instead, Hong suggested a new way to frame the problem of writing outside of his experience: rather than dividing the problem into “yes, you’re allowed” and “no, you’re 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’re still writing about other people,” Hong said, also noting that her life story remains susceptible to “white imagination “. Any type of writing therefore requires care, humility and, as Hong puts it, “empathetic inquiry”.

In “Minor Feelings”, Hong chose not to write “on”, but to write “nearby” – an approach coined by Vietnamese filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha which recognizes the gap between the author’s knowledge and those of the community it depicts.

“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 “building a bridge between our experiences and “showing how [they’re] both shared and different.

In the wake of rising anti-Asian racism, Hong has been interviewed by several media publications. But she doesn’t consider herself a public intellectual, although some have begun to call her an intellectual.

“I guess I spoke more because it’s very frustrating how the media gets these anti-Asian hate crimes wrong,” 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 last term, and the first reading he assigned 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 his class, “it really helped expose many of the issues that Asian American writers face today.”

And indeed, although Hong expressed her displeasure with some sectors of the media, she was excited about the advances being made in the literary world, especially the emergence of BIPOC-centric communities.

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

But amid this changing landscape, what’s next for Hong? Currently, she is working on a collection of sonnets. She also leverages her self-proclaimed “woefully undisciplined” research methods for a hybrid book of poetry and prose.

The subject of this book? According to Hong, it’s still at this stage where she doesn’t know how to “pack it into a nice tone.” So, as a clue, she ended her reading with two quotes that came to mind:

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

The second, by 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 threads together, it’s Hong.

Scott R. Banks