In Minor Feelings (One World, Feb.), poet Hong explores the Asian-American experience.
What did you hope to contribute to discourses on race?
I wanted to upend the model minority stereotype. It’s just so tiresome; enough already! The Asian-American author’s voice is often described as spare, refined, melancholy. I get so sick of those descriptors. To write myself in this book meant writing in a voice that was angry because I am angry. I’ve always been, even as a child. Sometimes I think because I am a small Asian woman I have to be louder. But I’m also sarcastic, reflective, vulnerable, and all of those things. I tried to capture a multiplicity of tones.
What was the process you took in writing this book of essays versus writing a book of poetry?
Both processes involve a lot of little failures. But the big difference between poetry and nonfiction is that poetry is a form of not knowing what you’re doing. Whereas I wrote essays because I wanted to know. I wanted to ask questions and I wanted to dispel falsehoods of who I am. It’s hard to set up and dispel falsehoods in poetry. I tried to and it didn’t work. Then I tried the novel and it didn’t work. Out of these ruins came this book of essays. The essay form is really quite flexible and roomy. I like to think of it as a coalition of genres.
What do you mean by “minor feelings”?
Minor feelings to me are emotions like shame, suspicion, melancholia, paranoia. All those beautiful feelings that you feel when you are stuck, that you can’t overcome the racial or economic position that you are in, which I think is more indicative of the American experience than how we used to think of the American dream. Minor feelings are also what you feel when your experiences aren’t acknowledged. What are you left with then?
You have one essay where you focus on your maternal grandmother from Seoul. What would she think about your book?
I think she would say, “Your ideas are absurd.” My parents also think this way: they suffered a lot, and I’m living a much better life. So they would probably say, “What are you complaining about? Is it really that bad?” My grandmother would probably say the same. But I think she would have been really happy to see her stories. She was a storyteller. She told us stories about Korea all the time. I think she would enjoy those parts of the book.