Talking PONG at Asian America: The Ken Fong Podcast

Also chatted about battling cancer and the need for more Asian American stories

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I had the honor of speaking with Ken Fong on his Asian America podcast about PONG, cancer, and the need for more Asian American stories. Also check out his conversations with Angry Asian Man’s Phil Yu, graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, actor Randall Park, and other Asian Americans transforming what it means to be Asian American.

LISTEN HERE.

The Misadventures of Asian Americans, an interview at AAWW’s The Margins

Novelist YiShun Lai and I discuss our debut novels, dysfunctional families, and writing the Asian American antihero

Novelist YiShun Lai and I met online when the Tahoma Literary Review, which she helps edit, accepted one of my short stories. My debut novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, was published in November 2015, and I soon discovered that YiShun’s own debut, entitled Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu, was coming out in May 2016. I noticed the coincidental titular resemblance. Both our novels feature dysfunctional Asian American families and heroes who are gifted—at unintentionally setting fire to their lives and the lives of people who care for them.

Why misadventuring Asian Americans? Were we subconsciously pushing against the model minority myth? Were we just writing stories we wanted to read? Why did we both try to portray Asian Americans as self-destructive, morally challenged, even anti-heroic?

YiShun lives near Los Angeles, and I live in Brooklyn, so we conducted an e-mail conversation and discussed our fictional misadventures, difficult mothers, and our shared concerns about the state of Asian American literature.

Read the rest of our interview and excerpts from our novels over at Asian-American Writers Workshop’s literary journal The Margins.

Go pick up the latest Prairie Schooner for my review of Paul Beatty’s THE SELLOUT

Beatty’s everything men try to reclaim their oppression and the result is a breakthrough

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Few novelists write characters as improbably multitudinous as Paul Beatty. In The White Boy Shuffle, Gunnar Kaufman is a poet, a basketball player, and a messiah. In Tuff, Tuffy Foshay is a drug-slinger, a competitive eater, a sumo-wrestling enthusiast, and a candidate for city council. In Slumberland, Ferguson “DJ Darky” Sowell is a sax player, a jukebox sommelier, a porn film composer, and an expat. Beatty’s men are everything men – Renaissance dudes in protest of a world that forces them to be defined by their race.

In Beatty’s fourth novel The Sellout, the titular protagonist is a farmer, an ostrich-breeder, a weed dealer, and ultimately a self-made social scientist. He’s known only as “The Sellout,” because he is derided as such by his late father’s friends, who congregate in a Dum Dum Donut in Dickens, California, a fictional Los Angeles town modeled after Compton. Dickens is about to be wiped off the map by real estate moguls to prop the property values of the surrounding areas. After the signs welcoming people in and out of Dickens are removed, The Sellout decides to help put the town back on the map. Like his father, who subjected his son to race experiments that included painting Barbie black so he wouldn’t prefer white women, The Sellout begins conducting race experiments of his own.

Get the issue now and read the rest.

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Or just go buy the book!

My review of Charles Bock’s ALICE AND OLIVER at Electric Literature

Charles Bock’s cancer novel is at its best when it’s not about Alice or Oliver

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It would be easy to characterize Charles Bock’s Alice and Oliver as just another cancer novel. The book is inspired by Bock’s late wife, Diana Joy Colbert, who battled AML (acute myeloid leukemia) in her thirties. She underwent two stem cell transplants and passed away two-and-a-half years after diagnosis. As a stem cell transplant patient myself (twenty-one months later, I still hesitate to even consider uttering the word “survivor”), I was tempted to read Alice and Oliver as a detailed chronicle of the rigors of enduring one of the most harrowing and risky medical procedures in existence — just to connect with someone else who went through it.

As such a chronicle, Bock’s novel does not disappoint.

Read the rest here.

 

What would you do if you had months to live?

Talking about writing with my old MFA program

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At age 37, writer Leland Cheuk ’08 watched as this hypothetical became his new reality.

Following an unexpected diagnosis with MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome), often referred to as “pre-leukemia,” Cheuk was told that he had a few years, if not a few months, to live. His only hope: a risky, no-guarantees stem cell transplant surgery. Suddenly the author, who had been penning fictional stories stories since third grade, was faced with two very real and seemingly imminent themes: 1.) Death and 2.) Dying without getting published.

In his gripping Salon.com essay “I wanted to publish a book before I died” Cheuk confesses: “All my life, all I’ve wanted – above love, adventure, even helping others – was to publish a novel—one silly novel. So it was fitting that I would be told that I was dying, alone, while staring at yet another unpublished manuscript.”

What would it mean to never be published? Cheuk navigated this pressing possibility in tandem with his illness. He grappled with this question through high-dose chemo treatments, platelet transfusions, and nights in an isolated hospital room. Then, nine months following his initial diagnosis, Cheuk underwent the stem cell transplant needed to save his life. What happened post-surgery is a truth stranger than any of his fictions.

An hour after learning that his transplant was considered a success, that his stem cell donor’s cells had engrafted, and that he was on the road to recovery, Cheuk checked his email.

“I read a message from one of the indie presses to which I had submitted my enthusiastically titled novel The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong,” recalls Cheuk. “They were writing to tell me it had been accepted for publication.”

Today, nearly two years after the life-saving transplant, Cheuk is a cancer survivor and published author. Below, he tells us how MDS has influenced his urgency to write, and how earning his MFA in Creative Writing has changed the way he approaches his work.

Read the rest here.