Month: May 2013

An Interview with Angie Chau

Interviewed by Katerina Argyres

Angie Chau’s daring 2010 short story collection, Quiet As They Come, has been adopted for classroom curriculum at universities and high schools across the country–including at our own City College of San Francisco.

Finalist for both the Commonwealth Club Book of the Year and the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Book of the Year awards, Quiet As They Come explores the lives of Vietnamese immigrants as they struggle to adjust to life in San Francisco. Three families share a house brimming with secrets, dreams, and desires. Some thrive while others are destroyed by the false promise of the “American Dream”.

Chau, winner of the 2009 UC Davis Maurice Prize in Fiction, has been published in many distinguished literary magazines. Her work has earned her a Hedgebrook Residency, an Anderson Center Residency and a Macondo Foundation fellowship.

Chau was born in Vietnam and traveled throughout the world before settling in California. She earned a BA in Southeast Asian Culture and Political Economy from UC Berkeley and a Master’s degree in English with emphasis in Creative Writing from UC Davis.

How old were you when you left Vietnam? Where did your family move to?

I was three years old when we left and four by the time we arrived in San Francisco.

In many immigrant stories, most people are caught in between two cultures and trying to find harmony with both. What was your experience of leaving home and moving to another country? Or if you don’t remember, what was it like for your parents or the rest of your family?

Your question is beautifully put and it’s an eternal question. How does one find happiness, balance, harmony, and live life gracefully? I think it’s a question that every individual struggles with regardless of country or creed. Maybe this question comes to the forefront in immigrant stories because the differences in cultural norms and tastes can be so striking when a person is uprooted from one country and put into another. It sets up tensions that are accessible for good storytelling if done right. In practical terms though I whole heartedly confess to picking and choosing what I like best from each culture, whether Vietnamese or Western, and selectively integrating what I like.

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“Fire” by Sarah Hoenicke

Fire

by Sarah Hoenicke

We line up and we know what they think of us. We know they see us as freaks; we know they do not see us. It took a long time for me to see that life is more than what you see, and I think some folk do not, they do not ever see that. They go on, to them we are our shirts, pants, legs, arms–each of us a bone, all of one corpse, we go to the fire. But what makes me, that is more than the me you see. It is the thought, the choice, the laugh; it is the thing that I do with my eyes when I smile or frown, the ways my skin folds–these make me. Mom, she’s in front of me. She has short hair, too short. It looks bad and makes her feel like a small thing when she is a big thing, at least to me. She has bad clothes too, clothes that the camps didn’t want. They take all from us, but don’t want what she has. It is too poor for the poor; the work dust on it will be food for the fires. My dad, his son, they are sent to a camp far from us, over the fence, the cold fence. We do not hear from them, but I hear that the men, they have it worse than us. They are told: work, work, work, work, then die. We are just told: die. One girl, she has a baby. They pass the babies through the hole in the fence. Those that are not like us, some of them take the ones that are small enough to fit through. I think of what will happen to them, those small babes born in the midst of this death place, those ones that get set free. And I think I should have had such luck, to be one of them, and not me. They break us up now, and make us form two rows. They scream. We scream. I can’t reach her hand. She can’t get to me. They have clubs and guns. I don’t know why they take us apart just to push us back together. Maybe for fear. There we were as one, one more time, all our big Jew bones in one room. That’s what they say: your big Jew bones, you brown girl–but I’m not brown. The room is closed. There is no light. They line us up. No one fights. There are dead with us, and small ones too small to do much but cry. We are one, and that’s how they burn us.

Sarah Hoenicke’s Fire will be published in our Spring 2013 issue.

Copyright © Sarah Hoenicke