Staff Picks: Asian American Writers’ Workshop

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By Emily Yoon

In my wallet is a lucky two-dollar bill that a taxi driver gave me as change on February 20, 2014. It was a rainy evening, and I was attending my first Asian American Writers’ Workshop event: a question-and-answer with Chang-rae Lee, moderated by Catherine Chung. Chang-rae Lee had just published On Such A Full Sea. After the Q & A, I bought a hard copy of the new book and quivered my way to him.

“I’ve been reading you since I was eleven,” I said, feeling sweaty and gross. “You were the first Korean writer I read.”

He said thanks and signed my book: To verse forever. 

“I’ll see you at AWP!” I squeezed out.

Then at AWP, I actually did meet him again. He was with his writer-friends including David Mura, Daniel Chacón, Sharline Chiang and Christine Hyung-Oak Lee. They were all so warm and genuine that I felt encouraged enough to send them all friend requests on Facebook afterwards (which they accepted).

Later that year, I applied for a summer internship at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. AAWW is “a national not-for-profit arts organization devoted to the creating, publishing, developing and disseminating of creative writing by Asian Americans.” (from aaww.org) AAWW also promotes and supports works by non-Asian artists of color as well (recent example is the Undocupoets reading held at the Workshop, in which NYU alum Javier Zamora and current NYU student poet Christopher Soto a.k.a. Loma were involved in). Fortunately, I got the internship that summer and served as an author events intern, mostly helping plan and execute various events. I met many writers and learned a lot about office duties and event management, but the most valuable gain was an expanded community of people of color. I am extremely lucky to have friendships with people of color in New York; I am always learning from my poets of color friends at NYU and the past interns and staff at AAWW. I think about all the conversations and events about social justice, politics, and race that I participated in, and don’t know how I would have survived without these friends.

Before working at AAWW, I had no idea how much I could involve myself with the organization. I quickly learned that the staff there doesn’t have a steel wall around them but rather that they are really looking to give the interns many opportunities. They were always open for event or article pitches and organized luncheons with editors and artists for interns to meet. In fall 2014, I was offered the position of Poetry Editor for The Margins, AAWW’s literary magazine. Ken Chen, the executive director of AAWW, and Jyothi Natarajan, the Managing Editor of The Margins, are not only interested in publishing poems by established writers but are also very much looking forward to publishing more emerging writers. Recently, The Margins has featured poems by NYU student Monica Sok and 2015 Margins Fellow Wo Chan. Poems by NYU student Marco Yan are also forthcoming.

Needless to say, AAWW has had a big influence in my life. I grew a lot working for the AAWW, both as a writer and as a person of color inhabiting New York City and the literary world. It provided a safe space for me to question and learn about my own existence, and gave me the nourishment and affirmation I needed.

To volunteer, join the listserv, find out more about opportunities, or submit to The Margins, email me at jungminy@outlook.com (though The Margins will have Submittable set up soon). Check the website at aaww.org to read recent publications and look at the upcoming events.

Staff Picks: Pitch Perfect 2

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by Michael Sarinsky

Cinephiles gearing up for the release of “Pitch Perfect 2″ may be unaware that the original movie (which, no jokes, makes my desert-island top five) is based off a non-fiction book by Elle magazine writer Mickey Rapkin. Published in 2008, Pitch Perfect documents Rapkin’s yearlong foray into the delightfully raucous worlds of three college a cappella troupes: the University of Virginia Hullabahoos, the Tufts Beelzebubs, and Divisi of the University of Oregon. (Fans of the form will recognize those groups as topnotch mainstays of the undergraduate music scene. Newcomers should take a quick diversion to YouTube, right now.)

Campus novels rarely succeed. Or at least, credit where it’s due to Nabokov and McCarthy, they rarely succeed any longer. But Rapkin captures something essential about the college experience that, for instance, Eugenides and Harbach missed with their recent attempts at fictionalizing campus life. Any worthwhile portrait of higher education has to foreground a sense of diffused responsibility, of evolving talent obscured by lingering adolescence. And Rapkin’s bumblebee-in-the-punch-bowl journalistic style perfectly captures that tone. Notice how he adjusts the lens when discussing the genre-founding Beelzebubs:

The sale was contingent on the new owner leasing the house to the Bubs for the 2005-2006 school year… Until, that is, Sean Zinsmeister ’06 decided to have a barbeque. (“I’m not talking about this,” Zinsmeister says.) Details are scarce. What we do know is that sometime around two in the morning a gust of wind knocked over the barbeque, spilling hot coals and ash onto the wood deck… No one was hurt, though all were shaken as they watched their beloved Bubs house burn to the ground.

Those hoping only for lighthearted immaturity and youthful braggadocio, though, will be disappointed, because the book also movingly portrays the sentimentality that accompanies finally growing up. When Marissa, a Divisi senior, replays her family’s home movies as part of her thesis project, the entire group attends and shares a moment of tenderness. “Santa looks like [her grandfather,] Papou!” Marissa’s younger sister says in the video, taped at Christmastime. “Why does Santa look like Papou?”

Marissa grabs her sister by the ponytail and yanks hard. “Leave him alone!” she says. “It’s Santa! It’s Santa!”

Marissa stops the video and turns to the audience. When she looks back on that moment, she’s still not sure where it came from. But Marissa turned to her little sister, pulling on her ponytail even as the little girl repeated, again, “Why does Santa look like Papou!”

“Because Santa looks like the people you love,” Marissa said.

I was a senior in college while Rapkin was collecting the book’s anecdotes, during the 2006-2007 school year, and now it reads to me as a summation of my college experience. Though I can’t hold a note, I see myself reflected in the personalities that Rapkin tracks. It’s a mirror to a certain age group, the internet-boom into Iraq-war generation that learned about sex from Monica Lewinsky and now gets nostalgic for slow news days. Rapkin’s subjects included future lawyers, bankers, doctors, consultants, and actors. But they weren’t citizens yet. Nor was I. We sang because, for four years, we were under the protective college bubble that gave us the unfortunate liberty not to care.

This summer’s bloated sequel may or may not live up to the standards set by its predecessor. I’ll be among the first to know, in a Times Square theater on opening night, blocks away from where the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella finals are hosted each spring, also recommended. But in any case, it’s likely to lack the strange and perhaps embarrassing emotional force of the acca-awesome book that spawned the franchise.

The Story of Us

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by Maurice Sanders

I asked myself while I was alone, sitting in the darkest part of my room, staring into the darkest part of my mind, traveling to the darkest part of my heart, what part of me wasn’t lovable before you decided it was okay for you to touch me in ways I never thought of or desired to be touched, and as I sat there, heart hurting from crying inside as my rock gut stored and recycled my pain I never formed an answer as my questions seemed to continue to mourn.

Who’s going to love you now, when will this nightmare ever end, how will I survive this pain, why was I ever born and how will I overcome this scar? With nothing but darkness to grip me, all I thought about was you.

And as I sit here alone in the corner of my bed, in the darkest part of my room traveling though the darkest part of my heart, trying to find structure and balance in the darkest part of her fears reading from the pages of the greatest story that was never told from a girl I loved and knew, I asked the source of her pain without any fears, worries or blame as I mustered up all the courage I ever knew, “But let’s just make this very clear, this is exactly what I feared.” What gave you the right to end what was ours and what was true and who gave you permission to touch her, and as I continue to carry on and read from the pages that was sung with tears lining the corner of my eyes, my heart hurting from wanting a gentle caress to ease the tightness inside my chest, my hands shaking from the madness that surrounds me from a girl I favored and somehow knew, as she was struggling to exist, reading out loud her deepest wish, wanting so badly to strengthen her strength so somehow she’ll pull through, I read the words that struck my nerves and I don’t know what to do as she wrote with courage and determination I knew that the cancer had grew, as she stated in loud bold letters like she wanted to yell and scream “Who invited you inside of my skin to crush all of my hopes and dreams and what gave you the right to touch me.”

Tears finally fell from my eyes at that moment with no surprise and my pain started to rise as my questions grew and my blame became a nightmare and my fear became so clear as I lost the little girl I loved and knew and the world was there to behold the greatest story that was never told as my darkness covered my soul and left a scar that never healed and only grew, from the invasion of her skin and a touch that will never end from a form that’s known as cancer that’s the truth, as my darkness became so clear and my heart formed its own tears I was forced to say goodbye to me and you.

I wish the world could somehow know about the greatest story that was never told about a boy that lost his soul and now he’s confused and a girl that stole his heart but was taken in the darkness by a scar that left its mark on who she knew and a girl that only loved and that’s the truth.

Trayvon Martin

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by K.D.A. Daniel-Bey

He’s dead
Not because he was thuggin’ / or bangin’ / or being a public nuisance
No, he’s gone / because we failed him

We failed him by failing ourselves / by failing our history / failing
our posterity / holding our lives so cheaply / discarding one another
so quickly / therefore we failed him . . . / & because of our failure /
another young man, not just another colored/negro/black/African /
but another young man is dead

See / it doesn’t matter if it was at the hand of a wannabe
neighborhood watch cop / that had too much time on his hands
& not enough sense in his head / Nor was it because he was a
Euro-Hispanic bigot, tired of “them always getting away with it”
/ not even because that overzealous and highly suspect idiot / was
allowed to legally carry a gun / even with two strikes against him
on an honest-to-God official police record / who didn’t even follow
official police direction.

No, Trayvon is dead, and we killed him.
See / those six—? jurors did what juries have been doing for over
a hundred & fifty years / when a cheaply valued life / has/is/was
/ taken for sport / When a grown man with a gun can’t subdue a
skinny seventeen-year-old boy, armed with a bag of skittles / so
he manufactures a situation in order to slay that boy / Knowing /
believing / Assured . . . that he won’t be held accountable for the no
count life he has taken.

So Trayvon is dead.
He’s dead / like the hundreds of other Trayvons, Biancas & Ayannas
found broken & lifeless everyday / all over this great U. S. of A. The
Yummys & Amadous, Rodneys & Malices who / found themselves in
a stressful way / making a fateful decision on a faithless day / Their
lives torn away so cheaply / easily / not even holding any value to
their families / until they won’t see . . . them anymore.

We’re responsible.
The thing is / we’ll stand up when there’s a sound bite / but not
when it’s the right / thing to do / the hard thing, the smart thing,
the unity thing / We won’t demand our young people receive a good
education / a good home to stay in / healthcare to sustain them / the
proper example & values to sustain a nation / To fight the good fight
/ to bring our butts in at night / To make our neighborhoods right /
for their safety.

So don’t tell me you’re upset that G. Z. / got away with murder when
you line your own children up for the slaughter / daily / Maybe / to
honor this son / Trayvon / you need to let these things inform your
behavior / Stand up for what’s right, as real men and women with
your neighbors / Turn your world, your thoughts, to the efforts of
your labors / Never ever let your faith or you works waiver / until
the job is done

Let us honor Trayvon, the fallen son.

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