Article: Ethnic Cleansing in America’s West

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 2:22 pm on Friday, February 22, 2019


For Longreads, I uncovered a shocking part of America’s history. In the 1880s, thousands of Chinese-Americans were driven from towns up and down the West Coast. Their neighborhoods were destroyed, their belongings stolen, and their lives threatened. The first incident of anti-Chinese violence started in Eureka, near where I grew up:

… That night, the mob looted Chinatown. Teams went into the countryside to inform Chinese people living there that they too had to leave. When some 60 men fled into the forests, they were tracked down and dragged back to the dock. By morning, gallows had been erected with an effigy hanging from it. A sign read: “Any Chinese Seen on the Street After Three O’clock Today Will Be Hung to This Gallows.”

Read the article here.

The image depicting the Seattle riot against the Chinese, discussed in my article, is from here.

Article: Stephen Bishop Made Mammoth Cave the Must-See Destination It Is Today

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 2:14 pm on Friday, February 22, 2019


I have a new article up at the Smithsonian. It’s about Stephen Bishop, a slave who was also one of America’s first cave explorers. He discovered much of Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest cave system in the world.

… Using ropes and a flickering lantern, Bishop traversed the unknown caverns, discovering tunnels, crossing black pits, and sailing on Mammoth’s underground rivers. It was dangerous work. While today much of the cave is lit by electrical lights and cleared of rubble, Bishop faced a complex honeycomb filled with sinkholes, cracks, fissures, boulders, domes and underwater springs. A blown-out lantern meant isolation in profound darkness and silence. With no sensory impute, the threat of becoming permanently lost was very real. Yet it’s hard to overstate Bishop’s influence; some of the branches he explored weren’t found again until modern equipment was invented and the map he made by memory of the cave was used for decades.

Read the rest here.

Goodbye 2018

Filed under: Personal — Administrator at 7:48 am on Sunday, December 30, 2018

Even though I didn’t get everything I wanted, 2018 was a successful year of career achievements, travel, and adventure. Highlights:

* Kyle completed his first year as CSO at Purism, a company that makes privacy-oriented laptops and is working on a cell phone. He signed a book deal to write about computer-y things and spoke at several conferences, including the Freenode in Bristol (link is to his talk). I love his integrity, work ethic, and pretty much everything else about him.

* In addition to polishing up the two books I wrote (email me if you want to know more), I published a lot this year. I’m most proud of breaking into The New York Times with my article on Eugene O’Neill, as well as The Washington Post with an essay on Writing and Motherhood. Some other publications I’m proud of:

Bohemian Tragedy: The rise, fall, and afterlife of George Sterling’s California arts colony in Poetry Foundation.

Ghost Writer: The Story of Patience Worth, The Posthumous Author in Longreads.

My Year of Smoke: Finding Echoes of Frankenstein in the California Fires in LitHub.

Student Debt and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for Ploughshares.

Sleep Disturbance in The Forge Literary Magazine.

second place

* Gideon turned six and went into first grade. We worked on swimming, Spanish, reading, math, and piano. He won second-place at the coloring contest at the fair. He beat his dad at checkers and joined chess club at school. He’s always making something cool out of cardboard tubes.

* We bought a camper van. We went to Bryce Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, Dinosaur National Monument, Las Vegas, the Oregon coast (twice), Yosemite, Mendocino, Humboldt, my parent’s house, Big Sur, Half Moon Bay, and Fort Brag.

* We also went to Greece!

* And we checked out Disneyland for the first time.


* Beyond that, I saw Othello in Oregon; hiked; fled from the California wildfire smoke; baked (including the above star-shaped bread); read more Shakespeare; painted about a dozen paintings in an attempt to improve my art skillllz; saw Neko Case, the Punch Brothers, and En Vougue perform at different points; threw a fondue party; saw a parade; went wine tasting; ate a Dickens-themed dinner; grew a giant garden; and generally lived life. Much of this is up on Instagram and Twitter.

So, pretty good year. Goodnight 2018.

Essay: The Talking Walls of Angel Island

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


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


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


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.



Greece Trip 2018

Filed under: Personal — Administrator at 3:47 pm on Thursday, October 25, 2018

This October, we went to Greece! It was a sensational trip. (Good word, sensational.)

Here are pictures. If you want more, Follow Me On Instagram.

We visited the Acropolis in Athens:

acropolis jk


And saw where the Oracle of Delphi used to sit:


And ate tons of food:


Especially olives:


And visited ruins of theaters where important Greek plays were first performed:


And wondered at the strange reality of Greek mythology:


And swam in the Mediterranean:


And ran a race in the original Olympic stadium:


And found Greek mythology relevant in light of the Kavanaugh hearings:


And stayed on a Greek island full of cats and donkeys:


And stayed in a medieval castle built upon a giant rock:


And saw Mycenae, the world’s first literary site:


And really, Greek mythology is so interesting:


Sensational, I tell you.

Everywhere We Went In Our Camper Van

Filed under: Personal — Administrator at 2:28 pm on Saturday, October 20, 2018

Oh hello. It has been awhile. Well, we’ve been busy. For one thing, we’ve been driving around the country in our camper van. Here are the places we went:



Bryce Canyon



Dinosaur National Monument in Utah


The Rocky Mountains

rocky mountain

The Oregon Coast

oregon coast

If you want more pictures, you can Follow Me On Instagram.

What have you been up to?

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

Betty Smith

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.

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