Curtis Chin by Emily Kozik and Xiaoxuan Yang

Post by Emily Kozik and Xiaoxuan Yangpicture1

Curtis Chin is best known for his powerful documentary, Vincent Who? that retold the story of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was brutally murdered by two racist men. It generated public outrage over hate crimes and initiated a pan-ethnic Asian American movement. But besides his accomplishments in the movie industry, he founded a creative movement for Asian American writers in the multicultural roots of New York City. The Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW) was established in 1991 as a space for Asian Americans to find a voice apart from a restrictive white literary culture and self-stereotyping narrative. Many writers of color, such as Asian Americans, struggle to gain attention for their work since 89% of the publishing industry is white, as shown in a 2014 Publishers Weekly survey [1]. Roxane Gay’s study of the New York Times books coverage in 2011 found 655 out of 742 reviewed books (around 88%) were written by white authors [2]. In contrast, only 33 of those books (4%) were written by Asian American writers [2]. In the context of racial inequality, Curtis Chin has founded AAWW as an incubator for writers and an advocacy group for challenging the status quo in the writing industry.

 

To fight for cultural pluralism, Curtis Chin built a community in the AAWW by welcoming marginalized writers with diverse cultural backgrounds, especially Asian writers. He also co-led public readings such as Jim Fall’s Eighty-Eight’s at local cafes in New York to attract all kinds of writers to get involved [3]. The successful establishment of this workshop has already raised people’s awareness in inventing the Asian American creative culture of tomorrow. In fact, in 2011, in the celebration of twentieth anniversary of the AAWW, they raised a Kickstarter project, and funded $13,262 in just two weeks to host Asian American Literary Festival. The workshop has also gained writer allies such as novelist Alexander Chee, who credited Curtis Chin and his organization with helping him grow professionally as a writer-he met both his agent and the editor of this first novel through AAWW events. This year, the AAWW still carries Curtis Chin’s inspiring legacy as it hits its quarter-century mark.

 

Rather than building on his personal goals for the movement, Chin found AAWW on the community’s ideas for an interracial, counter cultural literary movement. This solid foundation has allowed the AAWW to thrive to this day, even after Chin moved on to his Hollywood career in 1996. Chin credits his successors, Michael Yi, Parag Khandhar, Peter Ong, and Quang Bao in an interview for “continuing to grow and service the community in ways I could not even have imagined” [4]. Today, AAWW curates work on two different platforms, The Margins and Open City,  rethinking Asian American Identity and telling the stories of New York’s Asian and immigrant neighborhoods. They have also initiated an immigration movement known as CultureStrike, where writers actively participate in boycott, specifically of Arizona in the wake of SB1070.

 

What began as an idea to develop and empower local marginalized writers, Chin’s project has transformed into a cultural movement, eternalizing his wish for Asian Americans to connect with their voices and their communities. In 2014, Curtis Chin wrote Local/Express, an anthology to Asian American arts and community in the ‘90s. He called upon writers from the early days of AAWW. One of these writers, Vincent Young reflects in a blog post on the full circle reality of Chin’s mentorship. “Curtis and I worked on it over the course of weeks. It felt good to be “workshopping” again. I realized only after I finished reading Local/Express that that was what I cherished most about my connections to the Asian American community in the 90s” [5]. Curtis Chin’s ‘baby’ – the AAWW – has set the foundations for a cultural revolution one writer at a time in a place they call home.

 

Works Cited:

[1] Milliot, Jim, “The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey 2015: A Younger Workforce, Still Predominantly White”, Publisherweekly.com.

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/68405-publishing-industry-salary-survey-2015-a-younger-workforce-still-predominantly-white.html (accessed Oct. 16th, 2015)

[2] Gay, Roxane, “Where Things Stands”, Therumpus.net.

http://therumpus.net/2012/06/where-things-stand/ (accessed June. 6th, 2012)

[3] New York Magazine, VOL 27. No.5, January, 1994

[4] Hong, Terry, “Literary Interview: Curtis Chin [in aMagazine: Inside Asian America], smithsoniapa.org. http://smithsonianapa.org/bookdragon/literary-interview-curtis-chin/ (accessed September 10th)

[5] Young, Vincent, “Sentimental About Local/Express”, Cranialgunk.com.

http://cranialgunk.com/blog/2014/04/20/sentimental-about-localexpress/ (accessed April. 20th, 2014)

[6] “About,” Asian American Writers’ Workshop, accessed August 31, 2016, http://aaww.org/about.

[7] Lynn Neary, “In Elite MFA Programs, The Challenge Of Writing While ‘Other’,” NPR, August 19, 2014, accessed August 31, 2016, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/08/19/341363580/in-elite-mfa-programs-the-challenge-of-writing-while-other.

 

Creative Piece:

A mosaic of Curtis Chin. It is made up of 112 photos related to Asian American Writers’ Workshop, such as supported writers’ headshots, community event photos and published book covers.

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