The Indiana University Arts and Humanities Council will host poet, translator, novelist and San Diego State University professor Marilyn Chin this week as a part of its "China Remixed" initiative. She will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 13, at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center.
Born in Hong Kong, Chin grew up in Portland, Oregon. Her work is political, hybrid, expansive, playful, daring and ambitious. In one of her most widely anthologized and well-known poems, "How I Got That Name: An Essay on Assimilation," she writes of a complex Asian-American experience: her father's desire for, and the impossibility of, her own cultural assimilation.
With a tone that is direct and confrontational, she unpacks the "model minority" stereotype and ends the poem with her own metaphorical death. She says, in a mock-obituary, "[Chin] did not flinch nor writhe,/ nor fret about the afterlife,/ but stayed! Solid as wood, happily/ a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized/ by all that was lavished upon her/ and all that was taken away!" Both pain and resilience, for Chin and her poems, coexist in the face of political and personal struggle.
Words used to describe Marilyn Chin include toughness, poignant and humorous. Her body of work -- from "The Parable of the Fish," published in Indiana Review 24.1 in 2001, to her poetry collection "Hard Love Province," which won the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award -- represents her mastery of exactitude. There is no question of her unflinching storytelling, which asks -- or rather, tells -- the reader to reckon with the world she presents.
In a Los Angeles Review of Books interview about her poetry collection "Hard Love Province," Chin said she writes "for a wild-girl Chinese American poet-scholar-reader-weird brainiac like you. Why not write for the best possible reader -- the most informed and enthusiastic reader -- one who loves poetry from a variety of traditions?" She mentions the idea of the "abnormal reader, an informed outlier, a really smart student of poetry, who might have all her senses open." Chin never underestimates her audience, which is evident in her work.
In addition to "Hard Love Province," she is the author of the novel "Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen" and poetry collections "Rhapsody in Plain Yellow," "The Phoenix Gone," "The Terrace Empty" and "Dwarf Bamboo."
In "Contemporary Women Poets," Chin said, "My work is steeped with the themes and travails of exile, loss and assimilation. What is the loss of country if it were not the loss of self?"
Through toughness of line and voice, her writing examines the collapse of the country and self and resists easy answers, tackling the nuances of Asian-American and female identities, as well as coming-of-age, immigration and growing older.
In addition to her literary accomplishments, Chin is the recipient of a Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, five Pushcart Prizes, the Patterson Prize, a Fulbright Fellowship and awards from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Chin's talk at IU is free and open to the public. More information about other "China Remixed" visitors and events is available from the IU Arts and Humanities Council's initiative website.
Su Cho and Lisa Low are graduate students at Indiana University.