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Get to Know Portland Arts & Lectures Author Cathy Park Hong

Single tickets for Cathy Park Hong’s event on January 27th are now available! Click here for more information.

On January 27, Literary Arts will host Cathy Park Hong as the second event of our 2021-22 season of Portland Arts & Lectures.

Cathy Park Hong is the author of three poetry collections and Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, a New York Times bestselling book of creative nonfiction which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography and was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.

Hong is known globally for her award-winning poetry, and published three volumes of poetry before turning to nonfiction in her essay collection, Minor Feelings.

She discusses what it’s like to write in two such vastly different genres in this interview with Franny Choi for The Believer.

[Minor Feelings is] my most personal book. I dig into a level of vulnerability that I haven’t done before. …My poetry is more of an art form, whereas in nonfiction I’m really trying to spark a discussion and fill in a gap.”

WATCH: Cathy Park Hong was named to the 2021 TIME100 list. She discusses her work and reads from Minor Feelings.

Minor Feelings explores Asian American identity through essays. The collection dives into both personal and individual experiences as well as wider cultural events, including the erasure of Asian Americans from U.S. history books and the roots of the “model minority” stereotype.

Listen to Hong discuss the collection and its impact with Sam Sanders on NPR.

“Minor feelings aren’t exclusive to Asian Americans. Anyone who’s marginalized can feel this, where basically your perception of reality is always denied by the dominant culture. In the case of America, it’s usually people of color.”

VOX interview with Alexa Lee

Becoming pregnant and experiencing motherhood helped unlock Hong’s drive to explore identity and her place in America through prose.

She discusses this shift in her creative focus in this discussion with Jordan Kisner on the Thresholds podcast.

“After I became a mother, I started thinking about my role as a woman, as an Asian American, as an Asian American woman, as a citizen in this country. And it was the first time I really realized that I had to be some kind of role model… And that really changed my writing.”

Want to read like Cathy Park Hong? Explore her AAPI reading recommendations here.

Her recommendations include Good Talk by Mira Jacob, who will visit Portland for our 2022 Everybody Reads author lecture on March 10th! More info about the event here.

Interested in more? Below is a bio of Cathy Park Hong’s life and writing career thus far.

Cathy Park Hong was born to Korean immigrants in 1976 and raised in a bilingual home. She recalls her childhood in Los Angeles as a “profoundly lonely experience,” during which she first began to comprehend the cultural invisibility of Asian Americans in the United States. Her father, who owned a dry cleaning supply warehouse, worked hard to fund Hong’s tuition at private schools and, later, Oberlin College. 

At Oberlin, Hong discovered a community of other artistic and politically-minded students; she studied under professors of color like Myung Mi Kim and began to find the language to describe her experiences of marginalization. After graduating, Hong went on to receive an MFA from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. There, she observed a troubling trend among her classmates: the students of color—many of them Asian American—were methodically removing all mentions of race from their writing. 

It was at Iowa that Hong says she “fell into” and ultimately “chose” poetry as her medium, although she also loved journalism and longed to eventually return to writing nonfiction. In 2002, Hong published her first collection of poems, Translating Mo’um, which won the Pushcart Prize. Her ambitious, genre-bending second collection, Dance Dance Revolution, was selected by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize and named one of the Los Angeles Times’ Best Science Fiction Books of 2007. Engine Empire, Hong’s third book of poems, arrived in 2012. Her work has been published in The Guardian, McSweeney’s, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Poetry, and elsewhere.

Hong’s latest book—her first of nonfiction—is Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. In this seven essay collection, Hong explores and deconstructs the deeply harmful misconception that Asian Americans do not experience racism. She describes minor feelings, the book’s namesake, as “the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic.” In simpler terms, Hong says, “that includes all the feelings of shame, suspicion, and melancholy that you feel when the dominant culture gaslights your lived experiences.”

However, Hong’s switch from poetry to nonfiction is not the only thing that sets Minor Feelings apart from her previous works. “My thoughts on racial consciousness became more urgent after I became a mother,” Hong says. Motherhood, as well as a self-described “obsession” with Richard Pryor, led Hong to the writing of Minor Feelings. She recalls asking herself, “How can I write honestly about race [in a way] that feels as immediate and urgent and real as what Richard Pryor was doing with stand-up comedy?” Until she became a mother, Hong hadn’t wanted to write about Asian American identity. Like her classmates at Iowa, she’d tried to avoid becoming a “proxy for a whole ethnicity, imploring you to believe we are human beings who feel pain.” 

At once conceptually broad and bracingly personal, Minor Feelings incorporates many autobiographical elements of Hong’s own life. She explains, “I didn’t want people to just think through my argument; I wanted people to feel through my argument. The only way you can get people to feel through an argument, I realized, was to use my own experiences.”

Despite being published in early 2020, Minor Feelings received heightened attention after the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings, in which eight people were killed, six of whom were Asian women. The killings—which still have not been formally designated by law enforcement as hate crimes—generated widespread protests against anti-Asian violence, and shed indisputable light on the entrenched anti-Asian sentiment that Hong describes in her essays. “These minor feelings,” Hong says, “are major.” 

Minor Feelings was a New York Times best seller, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, called Hong’s book “an incendiary account of what it means to be and to feel Asian American today. Minor Feelings is absolutely necessary.” The book is currently in development for a television adaptation starring Greta Lee and produced by A24. 

In addition to her own writing practice, Hong serves as poetry editor of The New Republic and teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Rutgers University–Newark. As part of her recent inclusion in TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021, Hong was profiled by the Vietnamese-Chinese-American comedian, Ali Wong, who called Minor Feelings “the book to read if you want to be more in touch with your humanity.”

Single tickets for Cathy Park Hong’s event on January 27th are now available! Click here for more information.

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