angry reader of the week: sally wen mao

It's that time again. Meet the Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Sally Wen Mao.

Who are you?
Hi, I'm Sally Wen Mao. The most fitting anagram for my name is "nasally meow." That, or "a woman yells". Or is it "anomaly slew"? But mostly, "llama, yes, now."

What are you?
Writer. Artist. Poet. Educator. Immigrant. Daughter. Freak. Border-crosser.

I'm a fellow at Kundiman, an Asian American poetry organization and collective. The community and solidarity of Kundiman is fiercer than a liger on steroids and knows no borders. I'm also part of a writing group in Pittsburgh called "freaks on the street". All we've done so far is trespass a carousel during the off-season and read poems out loud until a security guard kicked us out.

Where are you?
Right now I'm at a diner in Chicago wearing a pink wig. It is AWP season and all the writers are frolicking in the windy city getting their book on.

Most days I'm in Ithaca. Since it is named after a place that was home to Odysseus, I often have the urge to go on a calamitous voyage where I defeat many bosses then return to appreciate the serenity and rest.

It is easy to chase waterfalls here, but that is a pitfall. Don't do it.

Where are you from?
Most of my life revolves around roaming. I was born in Wuhan, China, next to the Yangtse River, where sadly, the Chinese river dolphins vanished. My parents moved to Boston when I was five years old. We hopped from apartment to apartment until we found this one-bedroom apartment on Beacon Street, where one day a kitchen fire broke out. After living in 5 different boroughs, we moved west -- to California. I lived in Cupertino in high school and took writing classes at 826 Valencia. I begged my mother to drive me all the way to San Francisco each Wednesday night so I could write with Dave Eggers. To this day, I'm grateful for 826, this wonderful space for youth, creativity, dream-making. I attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where I lived for five years attempting adulthood and trespassing abandoned places.

What do you do?
Search. Adventure. Engage. Last year I walked through the rainforest for the first time and ate tiny mangos that dropped from trees.

But mostly, I write. I'm working on my first poetry manuscript, and I've been lucky to have the guidance of many wonderful mentors -- Sarah Gambito and Jennifer Chang at Kundiman, Terrance Hayes, Alice Fulton, so many others.

I teach composition and writing at Cornell University, where I pursue my MFA in poetry -- so in the mornings I read field guides and old National Geographics to dredge out weird wonders like parrotfish that get to change genders every so often, especially in mourning (imagine that: "My life partner died, so I'm going to turn into a woman.") I like humans, but I also like to write in the voice of a tree or a badger or sometimes, a durian. Lately, because of Wong Kar Wai's 2046, Chan-wook Park's I'm a Cyborg But That's Okay, Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid, and Bhanu Kapil's Incubations: A Space for Monsters, I've been also drawn to speculative voices.

In the evenings I teach writing and hold discussions with my students, where we inquire, investigate, pick apart literary texts. Subversive movement with just the act of reading and writing! I focus my classes on diaspora texts, such as the wonderful Edwidge Danticat's The Dew Breaker and Junot Diaz's Drown.

My poems can be found forthcoming or published in journals such as Gulf Coast, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Sycamore Review. Online poems can be found at Boxcar Poetry Review, Cave Wall, diode, Drunken Boat, The Journal, and West Branch.

What are you all about?
I'm all about this.

Also, I'm all about duende, the spirit that places someone at the precipice where, as Lorca puts it, "ants could eat him or a great arsenic lobster could fall suddenly on his head." It's that fatalism, that necessary raw energy that drive us forth as artists!

I'm all about honey badgers. They may be fearless, but these creatures are deceptively vulnerable. Just look at them fall into a deep coma after being attacked by rattlesnakes. That, to me, is heartbreaking.

Also, there's such a vibrant community out there of Asian-American poets and writers and artists! And you know, the love, empathy, respect, and soul power in these communities is truly astonishing: enough to give even the most uncertain person courage. These are the people who turn the dials, beat the shit out of those destructive and reductive stereotypes, strengthen and expand the rich expanses of the Asian-American experience. Off the top of my head, pioneering poets like Myung Mi Kim, Patrick Rosal, Oliver de la Paz, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Bhanu Kapil, Jennifer Chang, and so, so many others. Writers and fashion bloggers like Jenny Zhang. Singers like Thao Nguyen. Artists like Michelle Lee and Di-Ay Battad. And sooooo many more.

What are you angry about?
Lack of empathy always gets me in a tizzy. I am angry that David Sedaris wrote a self-deprecating book about France, and then went on to belittle Chinese culture and cuisines with this odious suggestion that Chinese people are primitive because they eat delicious things like duck tongues as if every human being doesn't poop and spit and need sustenance to survive.

I am angry about this. I am angry about this. I am angry that we live in a world where the structure of oppression dictates that always and consistently, one group's hurt gets trivialized and subsumed by the privileged group's entitled need for comfort. Nobody likes a hegemon or a troll pantomiming as a human. There is so much unloveliness out there in the world, and so every day I'm grateful for the people and movements who prove otherwise.

(photo credit: Madeleine Barnes)

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