Womxn Writers on Motherhood with Tina Chang, T Kira Madden, and Jen Hyde



so our MCS tonight our picture and Fung in Gen Bleu both of whom are margins fellows with aaww each one Fung is a writer and artist born in Hong Kong raisin fan Vancouver and currently living in New York City her writing has appeared in the margins rice paper magazine and Omega she's also the founder of elastic magazine gen Lu is a nonfiction writer and a graduate of the MFA program in memoir at Hunter College she's the recipient of fellowships and residents used from kundiman Jerome foundation and Anderson Center at Power View among others and all right thank you guys all for coming out tonight I'm Jenn Liu I'm picture and phone tonight's event is called mother and it's the culminating event of the women writers at Wow series their very first reading was called favorite daughters so we thought that this would be a kind of nice you know match to that we have an amazing line-up of readers for everyone tonight so we have Sahar Marathi Shakira madame and Tina Chang who will all be reading and discussing topics of mothers and motherhood in all its forms and variations so we'll be introducing each one of us will be introducing one of the readers they'll come up to read and then there's going to be a short Q&A afterwards with audience partition participation invited yeah we just also want to take a moment to thank um Yuki Alicia and Mae here as well as Jackie and yes me that asian-american Writers Workshop [Applause] all right so our first reader tonight is Sahar Marathi Sahar is a writer performer and educator based in New York City she's the author of the chapbook gates from Black Lawrence Press and the co-author of a ritual and X movements she's the co-editor of one story 30 stories an anthology of contemporary Afghan American literature and the co-founder of the Afghan American artists and writers association she has recipient of the 2016 Stacy Doris Memorial Prize and two-time recipient of the him and Braun creative writing award in poetry she is a Coon diamond poetry fellow which is how I know her and an a aaww open city fellow so hard works in the poetry and education programs at City lore so join me in thanking hi everyone thank you so much thanks to the workshop to Jen and fiction and to the Wow project and to Wing on low for hosting and is such a beautiful collaboration I feel truly honored to be part of it I was reading about the history of the store and I myself also grew up in a family business I was telling they so it kind of hits home and it also hits home because my mom is in the audience motherhood is as always I mean right now um so just thank you and thank you all for being here I'm gonna read three short pieces the first is from a chapbook or chaplet with belladonna the feminist press and it's called a garden beyond my hand and it I was pregnant last year and I have a nine month old now so the chaplet is really focused on being sort of grappling with mental-health issues while being pregnant living in the world being you know sort of watching what's happening locally and globally and knowing that you're bringing person into this world when things feel like on fire all the time so I just want to read a short there journal entries so I'll start with that and you might remember this day June 19th the child crying for her mother her father the children the agent says we have quote an orchestra but we're missing the conductor only we know the conductor the orchestrator to peel her off to unbind to forcibly detach do not pick her up instructs the agent no touch to break touch breaks down to touch this one forming still through her canopy and to hear the wail of that one robbed of her mother's touch to it once know that I bring forth into the architects den and to bring forth still to bend the word threat as an open jaw whose fangs elude the one family and swallow the other to sense this one kick freely in the pool to govern the direction of that one's legs to hear the cry at not collapse to fortify one's ideology I touch this roof and think the difference between it and roofless is chance a hair this delicate skin between us I have not been writing as much as I hope to be writing so this is like the one poem I've written since so men's birth that's not true but maybe one semi-complete poem but you know also just thinking about sort of risk maybe responding to the Cavanaugh trial or the hearing and I wish it was on trial but I'm sorry so again just sort of thinking about birthing a daughter at this moment in time the great green field for soma here is the great green field where at last I can remove the high heel of language let the body supple in its meaning her mouth my guide it's the mouth I live for that lives for me hurshe her wail that shatters wild small heart beasting out of cage my animal wonder every day and if she purpled awake not from my legs but from the medicated sheet of men and if my mouth sealed with each breaking each violent crashing of the news and if the year was marked by the believers and the disbelievers and if I believe will no one believe in the name of God he thrust into me and if in her boot o tender hands I hang shame on language that meets me pulverizes me in public revels in the Republic for whom I was not natural so naturalized me makes of her miracle a mockery life before life after which islands better eaten by the sea say I see you dare daughter here you against all belief brave this thin earth devolving into jaws dream you perfectly person'd embody embodied least secret to yourself the most sacred you scared them all free I'm gonna get some water so I heard from a from a former mentor teacher um that when she had when she had her child she's a writer and when she had her child it was really difficult to find time to write but what worked for her was writing three words a day which she eventually turned into a book of poems it's quite beautiful Lisa Jarno so I sort of took that as inspiration and I of course was like super ambitious and said I'm gonna do three lines a day so I and my child is nursing quite a lot in the evenings and late early mornings so like in the bleary-eyed I'm nursing her I'm not not religiously not nightly but when so moved I write a few lines and so and these are not edited so I'm not sure if they make any sense but the one thing that I've I take away from it is I'm in love with this child I am in love with her and there's something really almost erotic about this meeting in the middle of the night you know like two bodies two needs yeah two lovers really so I'm kind of calling it tryst for now okay so there are three lines I'll just pause swing asleep at the wheel how to usher home tiger on a tightrope my balloons pound bombs past three a beggar for her cry the night you showed up early howling whose panic chased back and history in its new outfit rubberband arms and other pithy epithets I eat them all you push and pull at once learn your lesson early the heartbreak of desire your arrows rise and fall and ecstasy pleasures twinned like licking leafy the lesson of no dependence but your own body's hard desire you cross the river in tears nothing stops our trysts my body at war still waits for your knock my general I go to you fire in my throat but my virus does not go hallo upon your mouth the whiplash of your wheeze cracks my midnight face wakes open my every wrong no shame in demanding yanking squeezing your urgency will soon disappear you'll forget how badly you wanted to live you are clocking in again almost on the hour each time my white flag bruised we have to break it off habit has corrupted need rescue devoured response my air has gone out of me muscles dragging to your cage my hair Fanning limp in the sea are we complicit in the quiet outside this prayer we are not each others alone we are not alone we leave the room to lengthen your appetite hear the cutlery of your cries we gnaw on our hesitation I think that refers to sleep training my wrist sweep gray gloves to lift you no one to lift me the night before work before – I am thinned beyond one I want to lead for a change my wants multiplied or simply resurfaced months fattening quietly a new diamond in the room I marvel at your starfish growing the pinch the press I know nothing this is getting rude the hourly doorbell my love can't buy time it's Ramadan and I fast from the illusion of control my prayers double demands for an unbroken field my birthday comes and goes I should be different already I wonder can you taste my wars the good daughter bad daughter schism my own mother resurrects often I get caught and leap past you me any measure of wise turn it over a friend advises but the soil has no more sides what will you eat if I can't hold it down now I drag the office to our moment or the paper legs of my self-esteem please God keep you in the dream thank you so much thanks thank you so much the heart that was beautiful I'm delighted to introduce teacher Madan Chi Akira Madan is a lesbian a Pai a writer photographer and amateur magician living in New York City she is the author of the memoir long-lived the tribe of fatherless girls which was published this March by Bloomsbury she holds an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in design and literature from Parsons School of Design and Eugene Lang College she is the founding editor in chief of no tokens a magazine of literature and art and is a 2017 NY SCA NYFA artist fellow in nonfiction literature she has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony hedge Brook tin house and yato where she was selected for the 2017 Linda Collins and doubt residency award she facilitates writing workshops for homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals and currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence College please welcome to paramedics thank you so much thank you each and every one of you helping organize tonight this space is so beautiful I'm so honored to be in the presence of these readers thank you and thank you all for coming it means so much and for those who don't know this is not a microphone so it's recording us but I don't want anyone feeling frustrated like we're not using it we're not supposed to I am going to read from my newest book long live the tribe of fatherless girls it's a memoir came out this spring and my mom is also here in the audience so it's the night of moms and this book is largely about her and how much I love her so I'm gonna read a piece called bugs bugs I discovered them in a Cracker Barrell bathroom the bugs that is Ruthie Mitchell's mom took us to a Cracker Barrel off the Sawgrass expressway for a real life experience for a change of scenery and we like this the triangle peg game the slop and grits the rocking chairs Dolly Parton singing through a tinny speaker we could be other people in this place adults on a highway in the cool brews of night taking shifts to drive a million miles north to find Jesus or husbands or any other world outside our middle school but in the bathroom light in the mirror I see it something moving on my head just a Fleck really no fatter than a poppy seed I leaned in closer to the mirror dolly is singing about her coat of many colors and I move both palms to either side of the part in my hair I pushed down with my hands to flatten the hair like a sponge and I see them bugs skittering away from the light away from my part running down to my ears sorry if you start itching I every time I read this I don't mention my bugs to Ruthie Mitchell or her mother for the rest of dinner I don't want to ruin our adventure I don't want to be a bad guest instead I eat my chicken fried steak and I nod to everything they both say and I am quiet very quiet in the car ride home to Ruthie Mitchell's house situated right on a cemetery I wait until we turn on airplane until the two Girl Scouts beat each other to heaven swinging each other by the pigtails and then I say your house Ruthie do you think it's haunted seeing that people are buried in your yard maybe she says I mean probably I think my head is haunted by some critters I say mrs. Mitchell calls my mother immediately she checks roofie in the guest bathroom their bodies bent over the sink bug she says everywhere who has more bugs I ask why should it matter you've both got them I think Ruthie must have given them to me I say because I don't live dirty like that really I'd have I'd had a feeling about the bugs for months I'd never seen them but one day in art class Gleb and qari screamed lice pointing right at my head I scratched at the scabs already hardening on my scalp and started crying lucky for me I could tell our art teacher our already hated Gleb who always drew cartoon tits and ass it's art and gave him a Saturday detention for harassing me the shy girl with a chronic itching problem we'll call you alligator girl my father once nicknamed me like a superhero name or a freak show star I got the head-to-toe eczema from him when my mother arrives at the Michels house Ruthie warms a baby bottle in her microwave she curls up in a beanbag chair in the living room sucking milk from her bottle she's worked up Ruthie Mitchell my 13 year old friend she barely wants to say hello Ruth he's got bugs too I say and she's pretty upset mrs. mrs. Mitchell tells my mother I've got a pretty bad case the worst she's ever seen you didn't notice until now I don't live up my daughters asked my mother says in the car how would I notice my mother shakes her head has she noticed that her daughter sucks on a goddamn bottle day one my mother brings home a Publix bag of stinky chemicals from the drugstore she sits on a lawn chair in our backyard and has me sit on a towel between her legs she uses a nitpick to ease out the bugs and eggs the worst occasion for Chinese hair she says we should be done with you by Christmas she soaks the comb in a bowl of rubbing alcohol she kisses me on the shoulder I've got you she says if I see one more all Newcomb day – she buys a box of neon shower caps wear these around the house she says and when you sleep I can't stop crying when I see myself looking like a Mario Cart mushroom in the mirror I feel like a dumb kid like someone filthy your dad and I will wear them too she says so you won't be the only one looking like a stupid she snaps a yellow cap on her head the elastic digs a red line into her forehead and I feel like I have never loved anyone more day 3 my mother tries to suffocate the bugs with mayonnaise she spoons it out with her hands piles it onto my head she twists the black and white mound until it looks like ice cream and snaps a new cap over it i gag into the kitchen sink drive dry heaving dramatically so there's a nymph in it and allow she says on day 4 we need to kill everyone she's been reading about it highlighting pages she's printed from the library she tells me to sit in her bathtub and I wear a ruffled bathing suit that fits too tight she pours vinegar vegetable oil apple cider then Listerine my eyes prickle she smothers my head in Vaseline before snapping on a new cap day five we scald them I sit in the bathtub again knees to my chest to my bathing suit warm just out of the dryer my mother's cap is green today she holds the shower head right to my scalp turns the knob bite me if you have to day6 a straightening iron to every separated strip of hair we listen to the bug sizzle pop inside the clamp each morning my mother takes me back into the yard I sit on my towel I yank off my cap she combs through every section of hair picking it movement she tells me for the first time stories about growing up in Hawaii the old banyan trees in her backyard the feeling of the Pali winds on her shoulders the places where she still misses her father her Ohana makuu Akane here and here and here she says touching every corner of her body honey girl there are so many people I have never quit missing each night my mother boils the combs and tools and pots of water she tumbles my clothes and blankets on high she places my stuffed animals in the freezer she drops my jewelry into tiny plastic bags seals them tight she stays at my bedside kissing every knuckle of my hands and I fall asleep they chose you because you're the sweetest she says when I wake in the middle of the night it's not because my mother and father are throwing ashtrays and glasses at each other there are no crashing sounds no cries no smells of burning plastic or voices belonging to people who are neither my mother nor my father instead for this week I wake to the hum of my mother's vacuum she is covering every inch of the house checking cleaning protecting every pillow as if by the simple act of cleaning she's making the promise of a new life for me a life in which two parents take care of a child a life as simple as that by the following week the bugs are gone my mother checks the tender spots behind my ears the warm places behind my neck nothing she says all good to go are you sure I asked I still it you're good she says nothing she tears off her cap kisses me on the forehead I'm sure you're thrilled to go back to school she winks later that night in the bathroom mirror I moved my palms back to my part I pressed down on the hair again again I wait this time I don't see anything I don't see anything moving at all my hair is just my hair my scabs have peeled there's nothing alive on any inch of my head no nymphs no nits no lice but they were right here I say thank you [Applause] thank you so much it's so beautiful to see all the mothers here I have to say all right so our final reader tonight is Tina Chang Tina Chang is the poet laureate of Brooklyn yes and she's the first woman to be named to this position and was raised in New York City she's the author of the poetry collection hybrido now out from WW Norton as well as the collections half-lit houses and of God's and strangers she is co-editor of the anthology language for a new century contemporary poetry from the Middle East Asia and beyond her poems have appeared in American poet McSweeney's plowshares and the New York Times among others she has received awards from the Academy of American poets the Barbra Deming Memorial Fund the Ludwig vogelstein Foundation the New York Foundation for the Arts poets and writers and the Van Leer foundation she currently teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence College thank you so much so thank you thank you to the Wow project and the organizers tonight Jen and picturin and geo the–who I feel like you know we've known each other for such a long time way back when I was a version of the margins fellow it changed over time and the name changed over time but it really getting the fellowship I think I don't know I can't even count maybe over 15 years ago or something really helped to just give me confidence as a writer when I started out as a writer I had never had an example for myself of an asian-american writer so if you can imagine I went through college and not one of my teachers ever exposed me to an asian-american writer so I didn't really know what I was missing until I stumbled upon the Asian writers workshop and then an entire world just opened up to me so I cannot think that a aw more because I think through them it just gave me I don't know a life to be a writer and the permission to be a writer so I'm so grateful I thought I would do a combination by the way your story of life I'm very familiar with my I was very proud of myself as a mom because my children are ages eight and ten and up until this year I was very proud that they never and kind of snobby but they never got lice and then this year they got lice every time and it so was so familiar because everything that you're saying from the mayonnaise to the vinegar to just literally pouring minty mouthwash on top of their heads with a swim cap I went through so many times thank you for that reminder so I thought I I thought I would read a little bit of prose and a little bit of poetry do a combination of both so I have a new book out called hybrid uh and it's talking about my son and my daughter of mixed race and right before the book was going to come out my polar said you know you might want to write some pros because people don't read as much poetry I'm like thank you for having so much confidence in me but so they thought it was a good idea if I wrote maybe a prose piece for The Times to just I don't give this book some background so this does give it some just some good sort of information for this book so when this piece came out about I don't know about a month or two ago I did not tell my mother and so my uncle who reads everything called up my mother and said Tina has a piece in in New York Times she calls me up she says I heard you have a piece in The New York Times she said why didn't you tell me and she I said because I I thought you would disapprove and she said well I said so did you read it she said I did she could I said how do you feel about it she said I really disapproved so I said you see she says I'm driving over right now so we could talk about it so it didn't didn't go very well the conversation you know but I mean I think that's the thing with mothers and daughters and Families is that you eventually work through it because you only have one family so we talked about it and I think that this piece kind of kind of tries to detail some of that and if you find yourself disapproving at some point just know my family feels the same exact way okay so this is called no more hiding my son or my love which I also did not prove of this title but the times had had had named it so no choice so my son my son's name is Roman by the way so my son Roman turned to me from his book and said mom can you throw me a blanket this is my favorite part in the book and I don't want to stop when I look at my son I see myself the inability to tolerate pain even from the smallest of physical hurts the deep fear of the dark of the deserted street of that strange insect on the ceiling of reading most of all I see myself in his face the eyes like mine left slightly larger than the right especially when he's tired and the toothy smile that breaks through the most serious of situations all of it me yet when he and I walk along the street so many people feel the need to tell me how much he isn't like me how incredibly unalike we appear how he looks just like his father they say it with such authority my son is biracial his father is Haitian American and I am of Chinese descent often I have to work to prove that my son is mine on our daily subway commute to school at least one person will look at me and then at him and then back again I'm forced to see what they see his skin is darker and his hair is wavy while I'm fair with hair that won't hold a curl if their eyes happen to meet mine they'll catch me glaring holding them accountable for what I deemed too be their silent judgment perhaps unto hard-on these strangers who wonder about the people before them a mother and a child reflected in a train window one holding the other's hand but my own judgment has roots too and each time I face a stranger's gaze I'm forced to confront them anew 10 years ago I stood alone at a Chinese banquet after my stepfather's funeral deciding where to sit I was seven months pregnant with my son and hadn't told my family but I knew that my expanding waistline would elicit questions after contemplating which relatives would be least likely to grill me I wound up sitting with my mother who offered me her silence I was unmarried and close to giving birth the worst outcome in Chinese tradition I knew my mother was disappointed but I felt elated I had dreamed of my son for years envisioned the joy his existence would offer at the banquet I ate soup without tasting it swirling bits of scallion in the broth My partner Claude was waiting at home cleaning the apartment in preparation for the months ahead he offered to accompany me to the funeral but I told him I wanted to go on my own to avoid questions about us though I didn't explain what that meant his parents who had emigrated from Haiti taught him to rise above conflict with enviable grace when I met Claude the prospect of being an interracial marriage with mixed-race children wasn't something that we had discussed I lived as I wanted and dated who I wanted and I followed my heart I didn't however assume that my heart would lead me to question the depths of race and my own biases or to ask how whiteness shaped my upbringing and how that seeped into a struggle over who I was or who I chose to start a life with before I left for the services Claude asked me one last time if he should come sheepishly shook my head on the way to the subway I thought about the man we were to bury growing up we called my stepfather Archie Bunker the 1970s sitcom patriarch who spewed racist views but was at his core soft hearted Archie was a prime example of white audacity a posture embraced by my stepfather who emigrated from Hong Kong knowing little English his bigotry seemed to spring from self-doubt about his own place in a country that prided itself on diversity even if the imbalance of nearly every power dynamic suggested otherwise my stepfather lived by stereotypes and assumptions and made his views known about classes or races that weren't his own at dinner he and I would go head-to-head as I questioned his intolerance until my mother told him to hush I gave in because Asian tradition to obey my elders I was sorry I gave in because it was Asian tradition to bake obey my elders no matter the personal cost at the funeral I bowed my head weary with the memory of him I didn't bring my partner some odd way of honoring a man who had soiled my ideas of love although his racism didn't permeate my thinking had caused me to act in a way that countered the love that I felt growing inside me I could imagine that the disapproval he would have shown for my future husband and my son simply because they are black determined not to be dead a deceased man's ideas control my life I decided I would gather my immediate family to be open with them about my love and my pregnancy a week later we all came together for a picnic my belly heavy my partner and family exchanging awkward greetings under blooming red maple trees i watch as my brother threw a football to Claude and they tossed him back and forth not like siblings but ones who maybe one day each small gesture was magnified I touched my belly assuring my son that I would defend his presence and I was sorry for ever having hidden him from my family his life then and now prompts me to answer the question what do you believe nearly ten years later leaning next to him so he could read his book I realize he's large enough to hold me lately his obsession with books has paved the way to writing his favored as science fiction graphic novels that contemplate the World's End filled with five horn demons and Dragons that drop from the sky and one of his Illustrated frames is a lone dark figure standing in a throng of white ones below it has written Who am I his word stopped me was a speaking for a fictional character in one of his apocalyptic scenarios or for his present self what do you mean by this line I asked he shrugged it's a story of a boy who goes into a room peels off his skin comes out into the world and he wants you to guess who he is I carried Romans words with me for days wondering if I had done enough to help him to understand his selfhood my thoughts move beyond my stepfather to my ancestors who I believe took part in building a world that could have possibly rejected the person that I loved the most I challenged many of the traditions I was born into I reject the races on my perceive growing up and yet within my family aspects of love and how it is revealed and accepted have changed as I watch Roman grow his questions become my questions as he claims his identity I feel bound to claim mine as well when his teacher scolds him too harshly I ask myself if it's because it because of the color of his skin if he is left out of a play date I wonder if it's because he is black every thought and every action I now count and plate with an interior dialogue about race I am his mirror he is mine it's a human process with answers not definitive but ongoing each day he grows stronger more able to face the world racing toward him perhaps I can say the same for myself we grow together loving within the struggle of our bond in the moments before my birth Claude sat with me stroking my arm he told me everything would be okay and I felt a spand I fell asleep during labor believing him for once I was completely relaxed Roman would be here soon how I waited for him I wrestled with my ancestors to let me claim ahold of my life as if I were a character in one of his sci-fi stories I dove into the muck in the minutes before his birth it seemed as if there were serpents an ocean and a terribly gray sky that held me under water with its furious hand begging them to let me return to the real world again I fought to be with my son I could almost see him now all the colours of my longing inside him the universe sweating to move him from an idea to being the both of us born from the urgency of belief he arrived as a boy a very real boy placed right there beside me alive and I just thought I'd read I read one poem and that's it thank you so much it's just ahead of time for for listening okay and this is called fury so as I was writing this book it changed a lot so when I first started writing it I think it was really lame I feel like I was writing this book that was based on fairy tales but I didn't really know what I was saying and just like a lot of people who give birth I didn't really have a lot of time I was just nursing all the time and trying to just find the minutes that I could write so it took me actually about 10 years to write this book but I believe if you write a word even a word a day if you write a word a day you eventually get somewhere so that's what I did I sort of wrote a few lines here and there and eventually got to complete a book but it did take me almost a decade to do so so I'm just going to read this last poem for you and this is called fury and it was written after the Michael Brown and Eric garner verdicts and if you remember they sort of came like right after the other and they were right on the heels of each other my son rubs his skin and names at Brown his expression gleeful as I wipe a damp cloth over his face this morning last night there were reports that Panthers were charging through the streets I watched from my seat in front of the television a safe fist I see the Savannah sometimes though my son wakes to a kind of nightmare he envisions words on the walls and cannot shake them he tries to scratch them away or runs out of the room but the words follow him none of it makes sense but it's the ghost of his fear that I fear what is a safe distance from the thoughts that pursue us and what if the threat persists despite our howling buildings collapse a woman falls down the stairs and lands on her back with only one eye open half awake to her living damage I think my son senses what's happening on the street his heart fiercely tethered to mine I know the world will find him and tell him the history of his skin harm will come searching for him and pour into him it's scorching mercury its nails it's bitter breath against his boyhood skin still smelling of milk and wonder somewhere the Panthers are running starting fires fueled by a distinct hunger somewhere there was a larger fire a pyre stoked by the fury of all that we've come to understand all that we could have done but did not its flames lick the underside of the earth it propagates needing only a frenzy of air to fan it to inferno I'll call that the forest the deep woods are ahead and if the Panthers could just reach it if I told you that all of this happens at night you wouldn't believe me if I told you that all of this happens in the future always the future you would continue following the scent you could only describe as smoke I'll call that justice but aren't we talking about mercy and it's dark twin isn't that what's pummeling history on the side as I write this isn't it the thorn and the Taser isn't it the chokehold and the gold arm of vengeance I say it from my mouth and when it spills forth it lands on the ground in a pool of light reflecting back at me the one true blasphemy love and love and love and love and love and love and love is crowding the street and needs only air and it lives over there in the distance burning [Applause] so Jenna and I just have a few questions that we prepared and after that we'll open it up to any audience questions so we wanted to know who do you consider to be your literary or artistic mothers well today it's Maya Angelou still I rise just because of everything that's happening now and I feel like I have so many and I've been reflecting I don't have mothers and I have father I have you know I feel like one of the people who gave me permission was Marilyn chin and the poet Marilyn chin I felt like I started reading her work and feeling like wow she's expressing everything that I hope I would like to express one day and I don't know if I'll get there but I felt like she kind of opened up the door away for me and before I had mentioned when I was in college that I wasn't really exposed to that many Asian American writers but there was one visiting professor who came and it's a male and his name was ah gotcha hit Ali and I gotcha had alia was from Kashmir and he was my professor for a short period of time he passed away over 10 years ago but he was probably the first person that gave me an inkling that there were he's an American writers but because before that nobody said that they existed so I just assumed that they didn't exist so he opened up a world to me of not only Asian American writers but also Asian writers writers that were writing and also writers in translation so yeah for me Linda ferry she she does comics and she wrote the incredible novel of cruddy and the good times are killing me and she's an illustrator and writer she's hapa and she just her whole methodology about playfulness of never forgetting playfulness in her work I met her once and she drew a small monkey for me as a reminder to not take things too seriously bird is really messed about like monkey blob and I wanted to get it covered or removed like that's the point it's all happened for a reason so I just love everything she does she also has a fantastic book called syllabus if any of you are teachers or just need some prompts with your writing again always reminding you how to like just bring play into the classroom and into your writing processes I think that the synchronicity is really wild because earlier today I was reading oh gosh I had Ally's book of poetry actually it's the one dedicated to his mother upon her passing so I just love that you invoked him he's someone special for me as well and I'm not saying this because she's in the audience but my answer would be my mother as a literary and artistic mother because she introduced me to poetry I was quite small when we I came at the age of three from Afghanistan and we came with very little but one thing that was the most precious one of the most precious things in our home in Queens and Hearst was this book of poetry 14th century Persian poet named Hafiz and we there's a tradition in Afghanistan and throughout Central Asia South Asia parts of West Asia – you read the poems but you also use the poetry for a kind of horoscope so from a young age you'd be like Oh is there something on your mind come over a little consult Hafiz and I we just like Park next to her and you know it's like eight years old and I just wanted to know like you know am I gonna like I don't know like this is why doesn't so-and-so want to be my friend I use muta far treating me so badly um and then you know you just opened at random the book and then she would read the poem and then she would interpret it for me and I just felt in love with the language I couldn't understand all of it he's a very difficult poet actually that's my I need an intercessor to help me understand this but I think she planted the seed of literature in me and we still have that tradition we still share that and then I would just add that for me finding seeing another Afghan writer it took me until college and I went to a small liberal arts school in western Massachusetts I was the only Afghan in the school which is not uncommon at that time but I came across a young Afghan poet here in New York and we met under odd circumstances at a conference post asked like invasion US invasion of Afghanistan so there was a lot of things happening here and she's like you write poetry are you ready port you write poetry and she was putting together this anthology and so I sort of join her but it was like the moment she's a sister I will say she's my literary sister but at the moment was like you know wow someone else was writing about family identity integration about these things I felt like I was doing you know in a silo and on a farm at the end of Massachusetts like who no one was interested when I was writing but I found someone who I was interested in reading so that was awesome thank you so much for sharing so the next question of the poet Rachel zuker says motherhood is a hybrid form and there aren't a lot of discussions about this so Tina I read in an interview you did a couple years ago that when you heard this you felt she gave voice to something experienced can you talk more about motherhood and hybridity and Sahara and akhira if if you're also thinking about mothers motherhood and hybrid forms in relationship to each other yeah you know when I read that quote by Rachel Tucker it was at Sarah Lawrence College and there was a there was a panel discussion we have something called the Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival every year and she came to discuss hybridity and I remember that they asked me to be the moderator for the event I said no and they said why are you saying no I said well I just I'm so interested in the content that I don't want to distract myself by being the moderator I just really want to be an audience member and I want to hear what they have to say about hi Brady and I think that what she meant about motherhood and it's a is sort of a hybrid language and something else that I also say in the book is that for a lot of mothers I feel that the the language that that we speak among ourselves is a very specific language the language of like staying up at night of Nursing of lice of all this kind of stuff that is not necessarily in literature so thank you so much for putting that well you know these kinds of experiences that could very easily sort of float away but I found that even sort of being in the playground that as soon as I started to speak to mothers there was this kind of language though we fell into that we gave each other that we gave each other certain sense of responsibility for that language and when I would move out of the playground it was sort of like I would consider myself speaking a completely different language where I was trying very hard not to speak about motherhood at all and in terms of hybridity I felt like the reason why the book is called hybrid is because being a mother and especially being a mother of a child of mixed race I really didn't feel that what I was writing was fitting into two traditional forms so when I was studying when I was getting my they I would learn these Western forms like sonnets and Sistina I would learn everything and feel like okay this is what I'm supposed to be learning in school in college and graduate school these are the forms I should be learning if I want to be a poet and then as time went on I realized that especially with this book that my ideas were not fitting into traditional spaces so then I actually started moving into Eastern spaces I started studying this form called a zoo hitsue which was made very popular in the United States by Kimiko Hans book called the narrow road to the interior and it took me a really long time to understand the zoo hitsue to even write a zoo hitsue in the book so the zoo hitsue translates into the idea of running brush so you run your brush across the page and it deals a lot with fragmentation and randomness and this idea was very odd and explosive to me like how could I write in a poetic form that's just dealing with fragmentation collaging and I felt like all of that kind of spoke to what I wanted to do that my ideas were not traditional my life was not traditional nothing that I was doing fit into anything that I learned so it's almost like I didn't erase my education but I really had to shake it up a little bit and in hybrid forms and hybridity and thinking about well how am I going to create my own language with my own ideas my own identity I had to not discard my past but I had to really highly question it and then I had to just like shake get up and move through it and really begin to challenge it that's really beautiful I don't I feel like being offered the moderator position I just want to learn from him think about that that's really beautiful so I'll just say I guess for me hybridity is about occupying multiple spaces and I I love language that sort of you can't pin and I think that's why I am moved to write poetry and and a lot of my prose is poetic and my poetry is prosy and I don't want to be boxed it's something else I wanted to say and I totally forgot [Laughter] yeah maybe you'll come to me later but I said but yeah I think that I'm just drawn to hybrid forms and I think motherhood for me oh yeah that's the motherhood is you are I am occupying multiple identities at the same time I'm a mother I'm a daughter I'm a writer I'm a dot dot dot and what something I found really that spoke to that is I was pregnant I was learning about body and changes and all of that that I was undergoing I remember reading that when when we are in our mother's belly as women we are our ovaries are growing and our eggs are developing in our ovaries right so my when I was in my mother's stomach my baby was already forming so my baby was in my mother's stomach it's like so trippy right and that for me kind of speak so it's like this multiplicity I'm so fascinated by these these ways that we inhabit many spaces at once and are connected to many people and so that's sort of like I guess a short answer is I sort of take that idea into my writing and into my being in the world I had a question prepared but after hearing everyone read I feel like I'm gonna switch it up or maybe I'll ask it after this but um I mean I love the way in which I think in all three pieces there is this sense that connection between mother and child has an almost like illicit quality to it or a desire that's not just desire for mother and child but almost romantic or you know these kinds of boundary crossing ideas I wonder if there are other topics around motherhood that you feel like are not discussed in the same way that that kind of that particular type of intimacy is not really discussed if that makes any sense are there things that you feel like yeah have not been talked about around ideas of motherhood that you wish were or talked about well I mean I think that being a mother is it's just a very strange place to be because most of the time we're really isolated and I think that I wish I saw more pieces that spoke to that kind of isolation it's almost like really at like going through war your body is adjusting to this completely just completely opening up giving birth to this child and after this nobody tells you that you're going to be by yourself for a really long time with this child and so you're expected to have all of this patience and all the life lessons and everything figured out in order to be able to present it to a child there's this really cool book I don't know if anybody's ready yet it's called good talk by Mira Jacob and I'm gonna be doing a talk with her in the fall but it's such a cool book as when we were talking about hybridity – I felt like she's writing prose but she's also a mimic she's a memoirist and then she's also drawing pictures so it's a graphic memoir and my son kind of picked it up he had been he was waiting for the pub date like he was like you'd like one of those kids that reads like waits for a pub day like an adult so we went to independent and dependent a pub day which was like a few months ago and I said pick any book you want so I he was wandering through the children's aisles and then he said oh mom I've been waiting for good talk don't talk so he sat in the car and he read it in one sitting and then I post about it online and about it online and then my friend wrote to me she said are you sure he's supposed to read that because it's actually really appropriate for him she's like I'm like naked parts is like things about sex and there's things about drugs and I went to my son I said did you read like where they are gonna propria parties like know when the ones that were is I just knew that mom would say don't look at it so I ignored them but what I loved that Mara Jacob does in that book is she really talks about how as a mom she doesn't have it figured out I love that she talks about that so sometimes it's like I don't know what it is it hasn't been written yet I just know what it is it has been written that I connect so fully to so in the graphic memoir her son was the exact same age as my son right now they're 10 but as she was writing it he was 8 years old and it was it was just after Trump was elected and the son is asking so many questions like it seems like Trump doesn't like people with brown skin and I have brown skin so does that mean that he doesn't like mean he doesn't want me in this country so as a mother she's really struggling to sort of make herself feel safe enough to be able to answer his questions and I think that I love that kind of movement toward trying to address the sense of unknowing and that I mean how many of us in this room really feel like we haven't figured out I mean I'm just like I kind of feel like I walk around I'm a total wreck now that I'm old enough I love my mom I feel like well I'm the only person whose mom isn't here tonight but I mean my mom as I'm as I'm growing up and growing older and not saying this out of disrespect she's also a mess you know we're both kind of messy and how we handle life and by the way I'm seeing her tomorrow morning so like I didn't want ten hours but um I do I do love the space of admitting things as a mother that we don't know and that even as we were laying those lessons to our children to be able to say to my children I don't have the neat lessons of life I only know how I got here in one piece up until this point I can tell you sort of kind of what I did but uh you know don't take my word for it kind of thing I think for me I'm not a mother but it was important to me in writing this book speaking of multiplicities of truth so that the book would be interested in contradictions and complications and that no one felt like a flat caricature of mother or father and it's called the tribe of fatherless girls but I think like that less and fatherless is really the important part of the title because it can be that desire or or just gap in so many relationships whether their mother relationships parental relationships and I wanted the fatherless and the motherless I wanted mother love and mother lost and fatherless and father lost all of those things to run side-by-side in tandem and I wanted to just dig into the complications of not of being messy of not knowing of the different relationships I have with my mother versus the relationship my mother has to my stepbrothers versus the relationship my mother has to the children she had given up for adoption like those relationships all look really different and they're all really complicated and I don't think any tethers are stronger than others but I'm interested in those nuances and making sense of them and and breaking apart the sense that I feel I have in in hopes that when I'm ready to be a mother I guess I can accept my own messiness as a control freak [Laughter] I guess one topic I'm interested in around motherhood now is I'm also in a racial relationship and raising a child in a home where I'm trying to speak to her in my native language with a very thick American accent and very imperfectly and my partner who South African is speaking to her in English but with some Africans and I feel I didn't grow up practicing Islam true in a traditional way I have you know a relationship with that with my God but I didn't grow up praying for example and I celebrated some holidays but not you know many so my relationship to my heritage and my inherited religion and my language is already sort of diluted or as complicated and I really wanted my you know I want to raise my child with some of the things that I didn't grow up having necessarily but I don't have a relationship strong enough to pass myself so it's I love when my mom visits and I you know she's in North Carolina by love where I'm able to sort of tap her and and have her show my daughter things that she was that she was working too much that I you know like it was a you know I think many of us might relate to having immigrant parents who are working all the time and not available in the ways that maybe we need it or we hoped but I still sort of negotiating what that looks like like the parts of my heritage that are important for me to pass on and to relearn myself and the parts that perhaps don't fit anymore and I think I would like to learn from others who are asking similar questions we wanted to open it up to the audience if anybody has a question yeah go ahead better but like what do you feel you're leaving for like your children the next generation with your writing especially when it or grades like our autobiographical aspects of yourself especially like when you're kids or kids grow up like in the future like like do you consider that as you're writing because like my son and like so we're gonna repeat the question for the recorder for posterity yeah so I think the question and correct me if I'm wrong is about how how our writers think about the legacy that they're leaving to their children or loved ones especially with the fact that many of the works have autobiographical elements to them how our writers negotiate that sort of interplay relationship yeah I thought about that a lot night my son has come to a couple of my readings and I remember a couple of instances I had to actually explain to him what I was speaking about within the book because the it's like I'm writing about my son but the themes are quite mature in the ways that I am describing not necessarily what's happening to him but the environment of of the racism within the United States right now especially now and trying to tame my fear I mean I think that the book is so much about a mother's fear and that our biggest fear is that we will lose the thing that we love the most that is every mother's fear and i'ma even my mom is still she said I never stopped being mother I never stopped worrying about you I said oh my gosh how could you still be worried about me I was late and my life is half done I said how could see your graver until I go to my grave I'm always going to be worried about you and so I haven't quite expressed to my son even though he comes to my readings he hasn't quite figured out what it is that I'm trying to say like for example right before I gave a reading I was going to show of part of the it's part of like this hybrid poem where I'm influenced by social media and YouTube videos and one of the YouTube videos is a is a is a video of a young boy who at the time was seven years old coming out of a car with his arms raised he's a young black boy and he was coming out of the car with his arms raised and look and the police officers were looking for four men in like a Nissan but they stopped a woman with four children and like a white Toyota so I before I showed that to the audience I showed it to my son and he was very afraid he says why are they holding a gun at this little boy can you explain to me and those are the hard things I think for a mom to explain to a child because first I have to go back to the roots of racism right and I have to explain to him well he stopped this car and he thought I was supposed to be Foreman but he was but that's not what happened it's you know from a child's perspective he said that's not what's happening though this is there not for men there are actually for children I said that's the point I said and that's the sort of world that we're living in and so and then no joke with my work I gave my son nightmares because I mean if I really described him the true reality of the world in which we are living it is frightening to a child so then I have to find that balance of leaving a legacy behind and then also finding a safe psychological space for my son to live because in one of the last poem that I read it had talked about he sees words on the wall and he can't shake them so he still to this day has his he has nightmares so any story that I tell him even if it's part of something to keep him safe he makes him very so he's just a sensitive soul so I have to balance what I want to leave and what I want to tell him now so chances are what it is that I'm leaving for him he'll be able to read as an adult and maybe understand more of it maybe when he's an adult and I get to be an older adult we'll have a different conversation and me having a talk with him right now he's 10 years old for me and I think probably so many of us can relate to this my book is largely about generations of trauma and shame my books about addiction and generational trauma my mother Chinese wine and my father Eastern European Jew and I read something recently that was really kind of world-changing to me that it's so simple but so true that said if generational trauma exists and is true generational healing also exists and it's true and that felt so beautiful to me that through this book and through just bringing to light the things that were once considered shameful or secretive I could sort of break that spell around that shame bring it to light bring it forward with all its nuance and contradictions and and talk about and bring humor forth for events that were maybe really tragic and look at the light and I hope that through that my children moving forward and other people in my family can see that these the the events depicted in the book the addiction specifically they're not sources of shame anymore that they can be examined from this different lens a lens of forgiveness and understanding and empathy and yeah that's my hope love that you mentioned shame I think a lot of my writing is motivated by trying to get out of that space or – and yeah I also have long been writing about my family and family stories and I think you know there was a time where my dad would be like why are you interested in talking about the past like what but you know because it wasn't talked about because there were these mysteries and they were I mean I was so hungry to know like Wyatt you know like how did you grow up why did we come here what you know and it felt critical to be sort of like the the archivist of the family like somebody had to preserve this memory so and in terms of the future generation in terms of mine I'm not you know I'm not putting my child and social like I don't you put her pictures on social media or anything like that and I that's a personal choice for me other people do differently but she's her own person and I don't want I don't have her story to tell and even when I was writing about my family I think oftentimes it's like I was writing myself into that story you know like how my relation to my parents or my relation to that history and writing about her now feels I think you know these little tryst poems are about meeting it's like I'm it's not about her and I her story's not mine to tell necessarily but it's not it's not but so I guess the legacy would be just a little bit of that like breaking out of the shame and sort of preserving preserving something about our shared history that I might want her to but she made she may need to know for her own sense of self I guess the rich team and we're just you know if you're writing about things that mothers or others how do you find ways to how do you find ways to write that in like I keep thinking like oh as long as I am doing this out of love and doing this to shed that shade then it's okay that I'm doing and then they believe that but but but technically how do you think that's done because it's like sometimes it's just just putting those things out there other people might still think it's shameful like I'm just wondering if you want have it I also think it you want to repent to the question let's just repeat the question so the question was if you're writing about mothers or if you're writing about topics that mothers or others in your family find shameful how would you go about that in a loving way yeah it's interesting that your question about like how we go about it in a loving way because and I feel like everybody in this audience can speak to that is that I don't know if it always has to be in a loving way because there are so many things that happen in my family that I know there's love there but it's not happening in a loving way and nor is my writing about it happening in a loving way you know in the piece that I had that took me actually like it took a lot out of me to write about the fact that I was pregnant and didn't bother sharing it with my family and when my mom came over and drove her car over to confront me she said why didn't you tell me earlier I said well I didn't tell you earlier because my stepfather was such a racist she goes oh yeah that's true she said he was he was it probably was a good idea you know not to let not necessarily me but not to let him know he would not have approved so then how do I write about that with a sense of love I don't know if there was love there and I think it's oh and it's okay within within the structure of the family household to say maybe at the base of it there is or we expect there to be love but I know that that in many households that I know there might not have been a show of that kind of affection or love and I think that those types of stories of those family bonds are equally as valid to talk about and I think to open up these stories of shame because my deaf my story is definitely one of shame I was very shamed and embarrassed but I was shamed embarrassed of my own of my own actions that's what I was ashamed and embarrassed about and I in order to understand my own shame I had to go back in history to say like where where is this routed and if it's routed somewhere in my family I don't know if I was really writing about it with love but I think in the end it resulted in in love for a son it resulted in some sense of deeper understanding between my family and I but I don't think that the movement of families is often it it depends it depends on each person's family sometimes it's it's fitful and sometimes it's not peaceful and sometimes there's frustration and anger and hopefully at the end of it there can be negotiation and understanding but I don't know if that's always the case I think if you are writing from a place of love which it sounds like you may be I really believe that no matter what you're writing about that is that's there it's on the page and somebody can feel that but I also agree that it doesn't have to be there if you're writing about abusers or people to whom you owe nothing from a technical standpoint with your question I think the writer Joann beard once taught me in a class that she drew a circle on the board and she said what do you see we said a circle a two-dimensional circle and she said in order to make this a three-dimensional figure it needs light and it needs shadow and that's how it pops and then she shaded the whole piece and I think about that that shape and that circle every time I'm writing a character it means the light and it needs the shadow and I always sort of try to check myself on the examples I'm giving within a scene descriptors for the worst of users in my book someone who's actually assaulted me I still thought about the one thing I kept in mind was he loved plants this is the one thing I could think of that made him a human and mind and so there's one sentence about him liking plants because even if he is a villain to me I don't want him to read as a flat villain he still has to be a person with a pulse on the page in order for the page to come to life in any sort of way instead of it just reading as a revenge piece for example so I think always checking your intentions always checking if if what you're asking of other people is a false ask so you're asking for permission can I write about you can I write about this are you asking for that person or are you asking for yourself if that person says no are you going to honor that request and if not why I ask them because that's for you and I'm just fully rendering everybody as completely as you can even if it's one sentence about something they love or something they desire or want yeah that's that's really beautiful I like this I like the questions that you asked um I guess um I think maybe people our loved ones might feel fear of exposure or you know what are we gonna what are we gonna display to the world and when my approach and writing is that the writing actually always takes over I don't ever write I don't write memoir yeah I wrote personal narratives but I'm writing oftentimes poetry and and family and other people appear but the writing for me often takes over so it's not as explicit it doesn't it's I'm not trying to tell like a factual account of something happening so it's sort of go you know I let it go in whatever way it goes but even if I did I guess how many of my clothes in any certain experience there's so many renderings there's so many experiences of that moment so I guess for me sorry I'm like being really convoluted but basically when I write when I wrote about my family in the past about those experiences of growing up they were they were my experiences but they also weren't necessarily true if that makes sense I couldn't rewrite what happened in the past so there was some imagination to it so sometimes I would get upset if my if somebody would ask like wolf boy what are you gonna say about me but it's like I'm not really talking about you I'm talking around you or I'm talking you know I don't know if that makes any sense but you probably got better answers anymore maybe we'll take one or two more questions anymore is there a question that you guys would like to ask each other based on the readings that you heard well I mean I think there are just a lot of similarities of things that I heard one of the things that I just wanted to bring up just based on something that you were mentioning is that and also having to do with the last question is that what I notice is that with family and writing about family it is true that for example why did my mother get upset or why has she gone up stat just with my body my entire body of work really when you think about it like across a few books like she was never really fully happy she was proud of me that I was a writer but then every time she read the material she would get really upset and bothered and she I had to we had to really sit down and talk about you know why you upset why you bothered and I think what I realized in talking to her and I don't really even know if she really had the words for it and so we never really fully talked about it by stepping away from our conversations I thought that she very consistently wanted to be painted in a in a very beautiful light you know she said oh you know I came to this country you were born here I really tried very hard to give you a good life like she tried to paint this narrative that was her narrative and I said all of those things are really true I said you did come to this country you did work hard you did give me a beautiful life I was like and yet my life kind of moves on without you and I also have my own imagination as well and a lot of those things in my imagination didn't necessary meet up with your story so I think part of she and I growing up together and growing older together is that to realize like she has her story and I have mine like right now she's a she's obsessed with her own death so she's planning her funeral right now and I'm trying to help her plan her funeral so she really wants me to tell her life story like the right way you know when you get those pamphlets and we get the rating when you get somebody's funeral like she wants to make sure that I write it very well like not money like not from my perspective she really wants to paint it from her perspective which is a very interesting exercise for me to almost kind of like be her ghostwriter because I'm like okay none of these things are true mom but okay but whatever you say I was like let's just stick with the facts and the best thing there is no really true fact right there's just her sense of looking at her life and there's my sense of looking at her life and each of us are trying to own up to those stories and hopefully we can me happy we just have to look at each other love each other and accept it for what it is so I love what you're saying about like these different versions of stories and like how people see themselves because everybody really wants to see themselves I think everybody every human would like to see themselves in a positive light for example I really wonder now like does a racist really see themselves as a racist like what a race has come out and just say I'm a full-on full-on racist I am and I just I in the same way is that I mean not to compare my mother to the races I just think that she wants to be painted in a glow in a glow in a beautiful golden glow and I feel like at this point in her life and she says also do not ponder the past I said mom if I don't ponder the past I wouldn't have a job Jesus don't ponder the past let go be happy now be happy she's every story that you tell so sad throw everything this is like the difference – between different generations I wouldn't have stories to tell if I didn't tell these different versions of the story and she'd rather she'd really live literally rather sit next to each other in silence and not relay those stories and she has every right at this age to do so thank you so much [Applause]

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