Tag Archives: literature

What I read– 2017 edition

  1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  2. The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  4. The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  5. My Wicked Wicked Ways by Sandra Cisneros
  6. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  7. Haikus by Richard Wright (working through it still…)
  8. Blood Dazzler, Poems by Patricia Smith
  9. The Pearl by John Steinbeck
  10. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  11. Seam by Tarfia Faizullah
  12. January Children by Safia Elhillo
  13. all about love by bell hooks
  14. I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men and What I Had On by Khadijah Queen
  15. Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral
  16. Ode to Walt Whitman by Frederico Garcia Lorca
  17. [insert] boy by Danez Smith
  18. Whereas by Layli Long Soldier
  19. Afterland by Mai Ver Dang
  20. Eat a Bowl of Tea by Louis Chu
  21. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
  22. Palm Frond with its Throat Cut by Vickie Vertiz
  23. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
  24. Look by Solmaz Sharif
  25. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  26. Odalisque in Pieces by Carmen Giménez Smith

Oddly, while I am in graduate school, this list isn’t as long as I thought it’d be, but I’ve read longer sections of books, mostly poetry collections this year. I’ve also jumped around a lot online, reading Ruth Ellen Kocher, Douglas Kearney, Julie Carr, Kevah Akbar, Ruth Madievsky, more Safia Elhillo, and others. I’ve poked my head into poems by Li-Young Lee and Sun Yung Shin. Also, I’m currently reading these two poetry books: Beast/Meridian by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine. Almost done with the novel Swing Time by Zadie Smith (I don’t know y’all. I guess I’m a hater, but from the sentence level to the story, I think it’s not as good as other novels. This one could be shortened and improved. Let Carmen Maria Machado head that project, Zadie.) Non-fiction: I’m in the first sections of We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes of Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang and Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination by Avery Gordon.

The nice thing about these posts is that they are self-explanatory. For the record, I keep and share these lists for my review and accountability, not for some other motive, but if you like them, then cool!

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Thank you from an almost thirty-year-old

When I was 16 going on 17, I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved. When I was 16 going on 17, I tried to read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. That year in AP English, my teacher’s comment requesting that he keep my homework musings on home kept the tender embers of desire to be a writer alive. Thank goodness.

4 years later, I re-read Beloved in a Black Studies and literature course. The other young women and I marveled at our brilliant professor, especially as she was young, black, female, and did I say brilliant. That year I was applying for a teaching program and ripping down Teach 4 America posters on campus. My mentor and advisor stopped our meeting to make copies of bell hooks’ Teaching to Trangress. I didn’t know it then, but he was handing me yet another mentor. Thank goodness.

About 9 years later, I was teaching and learning about excerpts of Pedagogy of the Oppressed with middle schoolers. I had them playing with Morrison’s language to learn about poetic line breaks. These writers and thinkers paved the ground I walked on, and I kept their work alive, while stoking the fires in my young charges. They taught me how to break open my heart and let them in. They flood me to this day, and I have cried more than ever. Thank goodness.

About 13 years later, I am teaching undergraduates, and today I tacked up a collage of Kendrick Lamar reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes at my desk. Morrison was a poet, who became a professor, who wrote novels, who changed us. I ponder now about my work, my writing, and what’s next for me.

Age is a funny thing. While I am so ready to be 30, I am still 16 going on 17. Still eager, still social introvert, still reader, still laughter, still nervous and moving. But also, I am so not 16 going on 17. Not pining after some baseball player, not wishing to fit in with the right clothes, not wondering about college, not crying under the sheets, not anguishing about my thighs, not writing poems in a secret notebook. Nope. Now I talk too much sometimes. Now I risk not fitting in more. Now I cry in public—all the time. Now I love my body more than ever. Now I don’t wait for no man. Now I write poems in journals and journals and journals. Even read them aloud. Might even call myself an artist or something, sometimes.

***

Age in a funny thing. When my mother was 3 years older than me, she gave birth to my brother. About a year later, she gave birth to me. When I am 33, I may give birth to a book. About a year later, another. In her thirties, Toni Morrison raised two boys and wrote her first novel.

***

Age is a funny thing. Sandra Cisneros might call age an onion, layers on layers that you feel at times. I think it’s more like leaves on a tree, shimmering all at once in the wind. And as these leaves flutter and I stare—mesmerized in the sun—I am full of wonder, joy, appreciation. Disbelief.

When I was a toddler, I would cry when given gifts. I would overwhelm myself. I don’t know exactly why I cried at 3. Now at 30, I know I cry because I feel so much. I am full of all those who made me me, as I am becoming me. I am full of immense gratitude that my body cannot hold without release. So I cry. I cry because I am 3, I am 16 going on 17, I am 30. I cry because—thank you.

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Update: Write. Right? Right!

Hola mi gente. It’s been a minute, and I have news and reflections to share. First off, I’m going to graduate school! *Insert celebration here.* Not much to say about it except that it’s been a long time coming. As I turn 30 this year, there is nothing greater I could have done for myself except this radical act of self-acceptance.

Second piece of news– I wrote almost everyday in April for National Poetry Month. It was amazing how much came out of me. I didn’t like all of it, but much of it I did like. It even became overwhelming at some points to edit and transfer my writing onto the computer because there was so much to do. The good news is that I am writing, and it’s not stopping. The bad news is that I will probably always be playing catch-up with journals that need to be typed, poems that need to be edited, and collections of writing that want finalizing.

Third– I am committing myself to finishing a poetry collection in July before I leave the Bay Area for school. It will give me something to focus on this summer– as if preparing for an interstate move wasn’t enough to fill my time. It will also mean closing out a period of writing between my chapbook in 2012 and now. Just like graduate school, it is time, and I have more than enough material to shape.

So about this… I have at least two books worth of poems, at least. I also know that some poems are not worth publishing– whatever that means. How does one make peace with this? Decide that some part of you is worth more than another. What do you think? There is the organized and anxious part of me that wants to make sure nothing falls through the cracks and that I have consciously decided every word and not “lose” anything. Impossible. I suppose selecting poems is an exercise in humility, an acceptance that some things are not shaped in a way that is ready to share with the world. Or it’s an act of marketing, selecting the things one knows will sell or connect with readers? Or this agony is a part of art-making, the process in which one crafts a unit and deems it beautiful?

Either way, I am happy to have gleaned clarity and acceptance that I have been writing about two central subjects. I write about home, family, and being Vietnamese. I write about love and sex– think Sandra Cisneros’s Loose Woman. (I guess that’s five subject, oh well.) All of this, I imbue with ethnicity, race, gender, politics– obviously, memory, the body, place. 

It makes me envision what else I want to write. There are so many stories about Vietnamese or Vietnamese Americans connecting to a sense of two homelands and– of course– the Viet Nam War. I see this even more clearly now with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s books. I see the value in the topic, and I have read and will continue reading these writings. But where are the stories about second or even third generation Vietnamese Americans? What if the duality of two cultures no longer exists or at least isn’t felt consciously? I want to change our place in relation to immigration, not because the connection isn’t there, but because some of us are heavily “American.” And this means our language, our culture, the people are diverse. Where is the hip-hop in our stories, the activists marching with Bayan, the girls dating Mexicans? (Quick side note, I’ve been thinking too about Asian American “protest literature.” I don’t know what that looks like or if it already exists. Some may not consider it art, but it’ll be important to envision, both for writing it and escaping it.)

Okay, wrapping up. I am grateful to be where I am. I am excited. I am nervous too. At the end of the day, I am writing, and I am thinking about writing, all the time. I mark that as a win. It makes sense that entering an MFA program has allowed myself to claim my writer/creative identity even further (even if I held my breath last night when a friend introduced me as a writer). I am entering graduate school with a sense of what I write, what I want to write/read, and a deepened connection to writing. Awesome, right?

 

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Reading List Review 2016

This list is shorter than I hoped, and there are two books on it I still need to finish. However, as this Gregorian calendar ends, I think of what I have done instead—not including wasting time on T.V. or browsing blogs. I have:

  • continued a messy, non-linear process of healing
  • practiced invaluable skills for texting and interpreting emojis
  • applied to too many graduate schools
  • submitted writing to a variety of journals and magazines (and gotten published)
  • purged things and limited how much I bring into my life
  • been a pretty darn good teacher.

In this listing, I won’t include the books I’ve not finished from years past. I only promise that I’ll finish them… one day! So here’s what I’ve read this year:

  1. Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat (because a friend reminded me about our work and position as migrants.)
  2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (because #BlackLivesMatter.)
  3. The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates (because he made me fall in love with his mind the first time. This one just confirmed it. Really enjoyed the playfulness.)
  4. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (because work. And the canon…)
  5. The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyanne Chin (trigger-warning: sexual abuse, child neglect, verbal abuse.)
  6. Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day by Nikki Giovanni (because classic poetry.)
  7. New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (one of the most painful non-fiction reads I have ever read.)
  8. Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones (OOF! get ready to feel poems in your gut.)
  9. Renaissance by Ruth Forman (because she was literally one of my teachers.)
  10. Ceremony by Leslie Silko (because a friend gifted it and someone compared it to Morrison.)
  11. In the Name of Salomé by Julia Alvarez (poetic prose, mother-daughter story, and one of my favorite novel structures.)
  12. Black Movie (chapbook) by Danez Smith (because I can hear his twang in my ear and imagine new poem forms.)
  13. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness in the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison (dear U.S., we need to talk.)
  14. The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee-Boggs (because our lives depend on it.)
  15. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (because I challenged myself to challenge the kids.)
  16. Dated Emcees by Chinaka Hodge (because it’s poetry by one of Oakland’s best poets, playwrights, rappers, black girls.)
  17. Night Sky Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (because. Poetry. Family.)
  18. Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie (because it’s Sherman, and #StandingRock, and we are feeling blue.)
  19. Bloodchild by Octavia Butler (because prophesies are needed!)
  20. I’m hopeful about fitting in another novel here.

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Reading List

When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else. -Zadie Smith. “Rules” for Writers

Reading List Fall 2011

Recently read:

Octavia Butler- Kindred

Toni Morrison- Sula

Tina Fey- Bossypants

 

Currently reading/stalling at:

Alice Walker- In Search of our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose

Audre Lorde- Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Chandra Talpade Mohanty- Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity

trinh t. minh-ha- woman native other

Michael Ondaatje- Running in the Family

bell hooks- Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood


To read (in no particular order):

James Baldwin- Notes of a Native Son

Diane Fujino- Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama

Jonathan Neale- A People’s History of the Vietnam War

ee cummings- 100 poems

Zadie Smith- White Teeth

Roland Barthes- A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments

Khăc Viện Nguyễn- Vietnam: A Long History

Jamaica Kincaid- A Small Place

Junot Díaz- Drown; Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Cherrie Moraga- Loving in the War Years

Sylvia Plath- The Bell Jar

Monique Truong- Bitter in the Mouth

Bao Phi- Sông I Sing

Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’O- A Grain of Wheat

Pierre Clitandre- Cathedral of the August Heat: A Novel of Haiti

Anton Chekhov- Ward No. 6 and other stories (collection of short stories)

Octavia Butler- (EVERYTHING)

David Foster Wallace-

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