Readers are being urged to seek out the work of â€œactual Asian poetsâ€ in the wake of the revelation that white writer Michael Derrick Hudson assumed a Chinese pseudonym to make it into the Best American Poetry anthology.
The hashtag #ActualAsianPoets has swept Twitter after publication of the anthology last week, in which Hudson, a white American from Indiana, admits in his biographical notes that his poem The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve was turned down 40 times when he submitted it under his own name, but when he submitted it as Yi-Fen Chou, he received just nine rejections before being accepted.
In response, the Asian American Writersâ€™ Workshop began tweeting the names and work of â€œReal Asian poets to knowâ€ under the hashtag #ActualAsianPoets, with a host of others joining in to name authors from Jane Wong and Monica Youn, whose poems Thaw and March of the Hanged Men made it into The Best American Poetry anthology alongside Hudsonâ€™s, to Kevin Minh Allen (â€œBut, here I am, back from the deep well they tried to drown me inâ€), RA Villanueva (â€œWe are a hive of nervesâ€”yes, a / flotilla raided by the darkâ€) and Monica Sok (â€œTell me time is a strangling fog. / Tell me the day is an elk drinking carefullyâ€). It also set up the satirical #WhitePenName generator.
Author Jenny Zhang, in a lengthy and impassioned piece for Buzzfeed, called on readers to â€œseek out the work of Asian American poets who werenâ€™t included in the anthology but whose poetry we ought to remember long after we forget this white guy in yellownameâ€, naming Cathy Hong Park, Ken Chen, Tan Lin, Hoa Nguyen, Jason Koo, Jackie Wang,Wendy Xu, Trisha Low, Patrick Rosal, Brandon Shimoda, Bhanu Kapil, Wo Chan, Sally Mao, Ginger Ko, Muriel Leung, Jennifer Nelson, and Geraldine Kim.
Zhang revealed that when she was a graduate student at the Iowa Writersâ€™ Workshop for fiction writing, her white classmates â€œnever failed to remind me that I was more fortunate than they were at this particular juncture in American literatureâ€, saying that â€œthey were shameless about their envy, not shy or coy at all about their certainty that my race and gender were an undeniable asset, which, in turn, implied that I could be as mediocre and shitty as I wanted and still succeedâ€.
Hudson, she wrote, wanted â€œwhat my cohorts at Iowa wanted too, to have the right to a name that gave them an â€˜edgeâ€™ without having to endure racism, erasure, tokenization, self-devaluation, and the constant requests for free intellectual labourâ€.
Ken Chen, executive director of the Asian American Writersâ€™ Workshop, told NPR that â€œwhen former Spokane NAACP president Rachel Dolezal pretended to be black, it wasnâ€™t because she was unaware of white privilege. It was because she was ashamed of it. For Michael Derrick Hudson, he was afraid he lacked that difference that would mark him not as abnormal, but as special. If Dolezal obscenely fantasized about becoming black, Hudson at first looks like a clear-eyed calculator. He wanted power, the capital of multicultural difference.â€
But, said Chen, â€œAmerican literature isnâ€™t just an art form â€“ itâ€™s a segregated labour market. In New York, where almost 70% of New Yorkers are people of colour, all but 5% of writers reviewed in the New York Times are white. Hudson saw these crumbs and asked why they werenâ€™t his. Rather than being a savvy opportunist, heâ€™s another hysterical white man, envious of the few people of colour whoâ€™ve breached their quarantine.â€
Sherman Alexie, the award-winning writer who edited this yearâ€™s Best American Poetry anthology, has defended the reasoning behind keeping Hudsonâ€™s poem in the collection even after the writer admitted his true identity. Admitting last week that he had been â€œmore amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese Americanâ€, Alexie said that if he had pulled the poem, â€œthen I would have been denying that I was consciously and deliberately seeking to address past racial, cultural, social, and aesthetic injustices in the poetry world … [and] would have implied that I chose poems based only on identityâ€.