4 Questions with Markowitz Prize Winner Ching-In Chen
Author: Mai Tran
June 7, 2022
The Judith A. Markowitz Award for Exceptional New LGBTQ Writers recognizes LGBTQ-identified writers whose work demonstrates their strong potential for promising careers. The award includes a cash prize of $1,500.
Descended from ocean dwellers, Ching-In Chen is a genderqueer Chinese American writer, community organizer and teacher. They are author of The Heart’s Traffic: a novel in poems (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press) and recombinant (Kelsey Street Press, 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry winner) as well as chapbooks to make black paper sing (speCt! Books) and Kundiman for Kin :: Information Retrieval for Monsters (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, Leslie Scalapino Finalist). Chen is co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press, 1st edition; AK Press, 2nd edition) and Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets (Achiote Press). They have received fellowships from Kundiman, Lambda, Watering Hole, Can Serrat, Imagining America, Jack Straw Cultural Center and the Intercultural Leadership Institute. A community organizer, they have worked in Asian American communities in San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside, Boston, Milwaukee, Houston and Seattle and are currently a core member of the Massage Parlor Outreach Project. They currently teach at University of Washington Bothell in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and the MFA program in Creative Writing and Poetics where they co-organize the Imagining Trans Futures crossdisciplinary research cluster. www.chinginchen.com
Are there any LGBTQ writers or books that you count as formative influences to you as a writer? How did you discover them?
I was raised by women of color feminism as a young writer — I was first introduced to This Bridge Called My Back and Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name in college — and I remember feeling like I had finally learned language for the first time. I felt similarly when I first read Larissa Lai’s salt fish girl, which introduced me to a strange and beautiful world which felt familiar like a kind of home to me. My first QTBIPOC writing teachers — Maiana Minahal, Truong Tran, and R. Erica Doyle — who created space for me to trust in my own work and to learn my own lineages — and Sharon Bridgforth who taught me how to listen to what was in the room and to tap into what was there.
What does a writing day look like for you?
As a teacher, my schedule changes every few months, which means my rhythms and rituals adjust, and I don’t have a regular writing day pattern. I am often just trying to fit in little bits and pieces where I can and longing for larger stretches of time to dive deep. I can tell you what my ideal writing day would look like: I wake up and make a steaming mug of coffee with oat milk and go on a sunny morning walk with my dog Pepper. I return to my little trailer (where I work these days) and do my morning pages while listening to music. Then, I graze from a few books to get the sparks going — and write a few lines in response or extension to what I’ve read and seen already. In the making, I reach a flow where it almost feels like I’m suspended in air in the middle of the act of listening, thinking and making for a few hours. Then, breaking for a meal or tea or another green walk, then back to making and creating. At night, winding down with some reading, listening or watching, a good conversation, a hot tub dip and then finally to well-earned rest.
Are there other LGBTQ writers working today whose work you particularly admire?
So many, too many to name, but here are some whose words have surfaced recently for me — Trish Salah. Cameron Awkward-Rich. Kazim Ali. Deborah Miranda. Ana-Maurine Lara. Tamiko Beyer. Duriel E. Harris. Andrea Abi-Karam. L. Lamar Wilson. Wo Chan. Aliah Lavonne Tigh.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a project called Breathing in a Time of Disaster, which explores individual and collective rituals for survival in the face of disaster via the unit of breath. I’m working on developing a living archive of breathing rituals and speculative dreaming stories for a multimedia show at Jack Straw Cultural Center which opens in October 2022. I’d like to extend an invite to the Lambda community to join a Breath Chorus by contributing an audio or video recording of a breath, which would become part of a breathing chorus for the show: bit.ly/breathchorus