Essay: The Talking Walls of Angel Island

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 11:02 am on Friday, December 21, 2018

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I wrote an essay for La Review of Books. It’s about the Chinese poems on the walls of Angel Island Detention Center.

From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station processed 175,000 Chinese immigrants. It was called the “Ellis Island of the West,” but its aims were different. When Ellis Island was operating, only two percent of applicants were turned away. Angel Island was created as part of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and as such, 18 percent of applications were rejected and five percent were deported outright. All were detained on the island for weeks, months, and even years. The longest detention was 756 days.

This spring, when the Trump administration began separating families on the US-Mexico border, Angel Island popped into my mind. The apparent racial bias underlying this policy made me think of this older, racially motivated detainment of immigrants. As in the current crisis, the Chinese immigrants had no control over their situation. Separated by gender and race, they slept in bunkers on thin canvas mats. They were imprisoned for no other reason than they wanted to come to the United States.

While at Angel Island, the Chinese wrote poems on the walls of the detainment center about their situation. I’d been hearing about them for years. There are 200 poems, each a unique documentation of life at the center. In August, I took my six-year-old son on the ferry to see the poems myself.

Read The Talking Walls of Angel Island.

Short Story: Sleep Disturbance

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 10:56 am on Friday, December 21, 2018

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I wrote a short-short for The Forge Literary Magazine. It’s called Sleep Disturbance:

They say we’re primates, but you looked like a bear as you padded through the blue light of my neighbourhood, naked.

More Here.

LitHub: My Year of Smoke

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 10:48 am on Friday, December 21, 2018

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I wrote an essay for Literary Hub. It’s about the California wildfires, Climate Change, and the writing of Frankenstein. Excerpt:

The campground in Oregon is foggy in the morning. The air is soft and clean. I walk out of my van and scrutinize the white feathers of cloud blurring into the branches of fir trees, looking for undertones of brown. My fear is that the smoke has followed us here.

The day before, we drove eight hours to escape the wildfire smoke smothering California. All week I’d been suffering from a strange sickness. First, a wild sore throat fading to congestion. Then I coughed up something green. When I tried to sing, I found myself gasping for air, my ability to modulate sound compromised by weakness in my chest. I walked my son to school and came back with an itching spot in my throat, like a low-level ember that couldn’t be put out, no matter how much water I poured on it.

More here.

Article In The New York Times

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 3:55 pm on Tuesday, October 30, 2018

I’m so happy to have my first piece in The New York Times. I retraced Eugene O’Neill’s footsteps around San Francisco, where he raced to complete his best works before he lost his ability to write.

It ran in the travel section, but you can also read it here.

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Essay in Ploughshares: Student Debt and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 10:13 am on Friday, October 19, 2018

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I wrote an essay for Ploughshares on Student Debt and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the novel written by Betty Smith. It looks at the difficulty of paying for school, both now, and in Smith’s time. Things have changed, but not enough.

Article in Longreads: Ghost Writer: The Story of Patience Worth, the Posthumous Writer

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 10:06 am on Friday, October 19, 2018

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I wrote an article for Longreads. Check out Ghost Writer: The Story of Patience Worth, the Posthumous Writer.

One day in 1913, a housewife named Pearl Curran sat down with her friend Emily Grant Hutchings at a Ouija board. Curran’s father had died the year before, and Hutchings was hoping to contact him. While they’d had some success with earlier sessions, Curran had grown tired of the game and had to be coaxed to play. This time, a message came over the board. It said: “Many moons ago I lived. Again I come — Patience Worth my name.”

This moment was the start of a national phenomenon that would turn Curran into a celebrity. Patience Worth, the ghost who’d contacted them, said she was a Puritan who immigrated to America in the late 1600s. Through Curran, she would dictate an astounding 4 million words between 1913 and 1937, including six novels, two poetry collections, several plays, and volumes of witty repartee.

Essay In The Washington Post

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 8:18 am on Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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I wrote an essay for The Washington Post! It’s about how becoming a mother has made me a better writer. A sample:

Throughout my pregnancy, I weathered comments about how difficult writing would soon become, all while obsessing about how I would juggle caring for a baby and finding time to write.

I shouldn’t have worried. In the five years since my son’s birth, I’ve written two novels, won grants and residencies and broken into many national publications. Before becoming a mother, it took me 10 years to write a novel. I never won grants or residencies pre-birth, because I rarely applied for them and, despite my skills and experience, I was intimidated to approach national magazines. Now I don’t have time for any of that angst because the babysitter is leaving in an hour.

Read I thought having a baby would hurt my career. I was wrong.

Learn To Write From The Movies: Kill Your Darlings

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 8:12 am on Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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I have a new Learn To Write From The Movies up at Barrelhouse. It’s about Kill Your Darlings, a movie about Allen Ginsberg starring Daniel Radcliffe. A sample:

Lesson 4: Do Weird 1940s Drugs.

Naturally, Burroughs suggests they do drugs. He’s William S. Burroughs. But it’s the 1940s, so drugs are limited and strange. They settle on Benzedrine, which Hollywood studios forced Judy Garland take when she was a child. It contains amphetamine. They take it by squeezing a white substance that looks like butt medication into coffee.

It turns out that Benzedrine is productive to art. In a creative frenzy, the men rip up Burrough’s books and tape them to the wall. When I imagined the invention of the cut-up technique before, I didn’t picture it happening in a cracked-out meth den. Who knew?

Read the rest here.

Poetry Foundation: Bohemian Tragedy

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 8:17 am on Monday, March 19, 2018

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I wrote an essay for the Poetry Foundation on the poet George Sterling and the Carmel artist colony. It’s a crazy story about artistic utopia, California Bohemians, scandals, affairs, and a suicide pact. Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and HL Mencken were all involved.

Read the essay here.

Learn to Write from the Movies: Magic Beyond Words: The JK Rowling Story

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 7:27 am on Monday, March 19, 2018

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Check out Learn to Write from the Movies: Magic Beyond Words: The JK Rowling Story. Here’s a sample:

Lesson 3: Don’t Bother To Write Until A Creepy Ghost Appears To You In A Dream.

Good news. You don’t have to sit at a keyboard struggling to write every day. In fact, you don’t have to write at all. If you’re meant to be an author, the story will come to you. In Rowling’s case, it appears as a scary Harry Potter ghost child who glares at her while lightning flashes in the background. I thought she was going to scream, but it turns out it was inspiration.

Read The Rest Here.

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