Furious at white American author's use of Chinese pen name to gain fame, Asian American writers battle Yi-Fen Chou via Twitter

#ActualAsianPoets hashtag sweeps Twitter amid furore over white poet Michael Derrick Hudson's submission of work for publication using a Chinese pseudonym after it had been rejected under his actual name

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2015, 11:28am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2015, 12:23pm
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Readers are being urged to seek out the work of “actual Asian poets” in the wake of the revelation that white writer Michael Derrick Hudson assumed a Chinese pseudonym to make it into The Best American Poetry anthology .

The hashtag  #ActualAsianPoets has swept Twitter after publication of the anthology last week, in which Hudson, a white American from the state of Indiana, admits in his biographical notes that his poem The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve was turned down 40 times when he submitted it under his own name, but when he submitted it as  Yi-Fen Chou, he received just nine rejections before being accepted.

In response, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop began tweeting the names and work of “Real Asian poets to know” under the hashtag #ActualAsianPoets, with a host of others joining in to name authors from Jane Wong and Monica Youn, whose poems Thaw and March of the Hanged Men made it into The Best American Poetry  alongside Hudson’s, to Kevin Minh Allen (“But, here I am, back from the deep well they tried to drown me in”), R.A. Villanueva (“We are a hive of nerves-yes, a / flotilla raided by the dark”) and Monica Sok (“Tell me time is a strangling fog. / Tell me the day is an elk drinking carefully”). It also set up the satirical  #WhitePenName generator.

Author  Jenny Zhang, in a lengthy and impassioned piece for Buzzfeed, called on readers to “seek out the work of Asian American poets who weren’t included in the anthology, but whose poetry we ought to remember long after we forget this white guy in yellowname”, naming     Cathy Hong Park, Ken Chen, Tan Lin and Hoa Nguyen, among many others.  

Zhang revealed that when she was a graduate student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for fiction writing, her white classmates “never failed to remind me that I was more fortunate than they were at this particular juncture in American literature”, saying that “they were shameless about their envy, not shy or coy at all about their certainty that my race and gender were an undeniable asset, which, in turn, implied that I could be as mediocre and sh**ty as I wanted and still succeed”.

Hudson, she wrote, wanted “what my cohorts at Iowa wanted too, to have the right to a name that gave them an ‘edge’ without having to endure racism, erasure, tokenisation, self-devaluation, and the constant requests for free intellectual labour”.

Ken Chen, executive director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, told  National Public Radio that “when former Spokane  [National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People] president  Rachel Dolezal pretended to be black, it wasn’t because she was unaware of white privilege. It was because she was ashamed of it. For Michael Derrick Hudson, he was afraid he lacked that difference that would mark him not as abnormal, but as special. If Dolezal obscenely fantasized about becoming black, Hudson at first looks like a clear-eyed calculator. He wanted power, the capital of multicultural difference.”

But, said Chen, “American literature isn’t just an art form – it’s a segregated labour market. In New York, where almost 70 per cent of New Yorkers are people of colour, all but 5 per cent of writers reviewed in The New York Times are white. Hudson saw these crumbs and asked why they weren’t his. Rather than being a savvy opportunist, he’s another hysterical white man, envious of the few people of colour who’ve breached their quarantine.”

Sherman Alexie, the award-winning writer who edited this year’s The Best American Poetry anthology, has defended the reasoning behind keeping Hudson’s poem in the collection even after the writer admitted his true identity. Admitting last week that he had been “more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American”, Alexie said that if he had pulled the poem, “then I would have been denying that I was consciously and deliberately seeking to address past racial, cultural, social, and aesthetic injustices in the poetry world ... [and] would have implied that I chose poems based only on identity”.

The Guardian