In You’ve Changed (Catapult, May), War reflects on her experience navigating womanhood in Myanmar and the U.S.

Your story unfolds over a series of essays that flit between your college years in the U.S. and your adolescence in Yangon. Why that approach?

Making the book an essay collection gave me more freedom to play around with my story. I’ve always been drawn to writing essays, mainly because I love doing the research that goes into them. One big editorial note that my editor gave me was to write as if I were talking to someone I knew, so I wrote these essays just as I would speak in conversation with my closest friends.

There’s a lighthearted irreverence that buoys your stories, even when you’re contending with more serious matters, like your fear of being tokenized within the white landscape of book publishing. How did you strike that balance?

Coming from a Myanmar background, I’ve noticed that most books by nonwhite writers are always marketed or referred to as “poignant” and “moving.” Obviously you don’t want a book that’s flippant, but I’m someone who laughs at everything, and I wanted that to carry over. I’m still a brown woman operating in primarily white spaces, but I wanted to show that just because I’m a brown writer does not mean my book is going to be about struggling all the time.

In one essay, you recall a particularly vivid scene from your youth in which your friends help you figure out how to use a sanitary pad. As a self-identified “introvert,” what was it like to share such personal things?

There are stories in here that I literally swore I would take to my grave. When I was starting to draft the book I definitely did that thing where I was like, “What if my mom reads this?” In the end I had to tell myself nobody is going to read this. That was the only way I could write these essays the way they were meant to be. My mom still hasn’t read the book.

You write a lot about this paradox of feeling both estranged from and drawn to your Myanmar heritage. When you discovered the concept of liminality, you write that you “instantly recognized it as the place I’d been occupying my whole life.” Would you say you gained some sort of insight from existing in this space?

Absolutely. I used to wish I had stronger roots somewhere. When I left Myanmar for college in the U.S. I was so excited, but once I arrived, I realized I was so focused on getting there that I didn’t consider what I was leaving behind. I definitely didn’t realize how much attention my being from Myanmar would draw to me. But that was the thing that everyone noticed, since I was one of two Myanmar students on Bard’s entire campus. Once I was forced to investigate what being Myanmar meant, I realized that my roots were way stronger than I had thought.