What’s the earliest experience, or a stand-out experience, you can remember that made you realize that you can be yourself, write as yourself, and write about issues that matter to you? Has this been difficult for you?
Though I’ve been writing for as long as I can recall, I actually didn’t start to probe deeper into writing, poetry, and literature until sophomore year of college, with the encouragement and help of a wonderful poetry professor. For as long as I have been writing, I also harbored within my heart of hearts a resentful hesitancy towards writing and literature—in a community that celebrated doctors, lawyers, and engineers, what the hell was I supposed to do with stories? I remember being jealous of friends who breezed through calculus, who found chemistry labs and physics equations easy, who had lined up all their engineering internships and medical school applications—I wanted that.
It took completely abandoning writing my first year of college for me to realize just how much I missed it and needed it. In many ways, I’m still learning about writing, being a writer, and figuring out what impacts my writing and what I want to write about. In many ways, I feel like grappling with writing and who I am as a person, not just a writer, has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done: it requires so much discipline (as all the creative writing I do is strictly outside the parameters of what I actually study at school) and self-awareness, but also vulnerability and a willingness to constantly reshape understanding and perspective on things like race, family, and the dynamics of human interaction. But in so many other ways, it’s been so simple it’s laughable. I still make the same face I do when I’m writing now as I did as a child staring out the car window. My dad would always tease, “What are you thinking about?” Stories, dad. All the things I haven’t yet learned how to say with my voice.
Do you feel that your writing is assumed to be autobiographical? How do you feel about this assumption? Does memoir play a role in your poetry?
I think in many ways poetry is almost always assumed to be autobiographical, which I’ve always found interesting, because “non-fiction” is probably not one of words I would choose to use to describe poetry off the top of my head. As someone who is perpetually intrigued by the prism-like nature of narratives and how people tell and perceive stories, it doesn’t particularly bother me—the work I’ve put out is mine, however you would like to understand or interpret that particular claim.
This isn’t to say what I write isn’t true—most, if not all, the things I write about are true and have happened to me. And as someone who writes fiction as well, I think it’s difficult to write about things you don’t know about, and difficult to write well. However, I think perception is a crucial factor for me to keep in mind (with everything, not just poetry)—the work I share is less about myself and my life than it is a palimpsest of the events, people, and things in the world. I’m just one of many conduits.
Has 2018 been different for you than other years?
It’s been a really odd year, to be honest. I’ve had so many incredible and wonderful things happen, from getting summer grants to do literary research on racial passing and narrative structure to performing my first recital, but I’ve also spent probably the majority of the year trying to figure out the whole depression/anxiety/medication thing and how to be a successful plant mom.
TIFFANY WU is a Taiwanese-American writer and harpist from Southern California. She is currently a student at Northwestern University, where she is on staff with Helicon Literary Magazine.
This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 3. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”
Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for this anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.