Today@Sam Article

Professor Wins Lamda Literary Award

June 29, 2018
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney


Lamda Literary, the nation’s leading organization advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer literature, awarded Ching-In Chen, assistant professor of creative writing in the Department of English, a prestigious Lambda Literary Award at an awards ceremony that took place on Monday, June 4, in New York City.

Chen was honored in the transgender poetry category for their book “recombinant.” The book explores subjects such as Chinese/American history, as intersecting with Native American and African American history; genderqueer lineage; immigration, migration and labor, and speculation in the archive.

“I feel grateful that the judges awarded ‘recombinant’ with the Lambda Literary Award,” Chen said. “This is a reminder that the work has a home and a place in the world.”

Chen wrote the majority of the book while in the doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but significantly revised the manuscript after arriving at SHSU. Chen’s ultimate inspiration for the book began as a young Asian American student. 

“I did not learn much about the histories of Asians in the Americas. As I grew older and met more community activists and those knowledgeable about community history – and by extension, community memory – I realized how many stories are out there which we never hear/learn about, which might be lost,” Chen said. “In ‘recombinant,’ I made it my goal to investigate this kind of history. Often times, I only found a few details or artifacts and had to speculate and imagine the rest. This became a large part of the process of writing the book.”

Chen spent a lot of time investigating events and studying archives, specifically the Asian Export art stored in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts and an 1889 anti-Chinese riot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

“Much of this history involved policies such as the late 1800’s Chinese Exclusion Acts, which excluded certain immigrants from entering the United States based on race/ethnicity, gender and class. In this way, I think of Chinese American history as a history with an alternative, queer lineage, which I was also interested in exploring,” Chen said.

Though Chen has already proven to be a successful writer and poet, they continuously practice and refine their craft.

“About five years into taking my writing seriously, I started to think of my arriving to the blank page daily as a meditative practice. In this way, I learned that it is more about showing up to the process than about waiting for brilliant lightning to strike me,” Chen said. “Once I figured that out, I knew I had to find strategies to keep me honest and writing, especially during the times I felt tired, uninspired or resistant.” 

In addition, Chen finds encouragement and inspiration from accountability groups. 

“In these groups, we are working towards our goals and supporting each other to get them done. I have been part of a group called The Grind for years. We sign up each month and get put in a group of 8-12 people via genre and what kind of writing we are doing (new, revised or a manic collage). Then, that month, our goal is to e-mail some piece of work by midnight to our groupmates. I have used this process to write the majority of the work I have produced in the last ten years or so.”

Chen also participates in writing residencies and most recently earned a Storyknife Fellowship for June 2018 in Homer, Alaska. The opportunity allowed Chen to explore Alaskan writings and work in uninterrupted solitude and peace. 

“This writing has shown me a small, deep window of a world different from mine,” Chen said. “Writing is a way for us to understand the world, to develop our empathy and compassion for all living things and for ourselves.”

Chen is a Kundiman, Lambda and Callaloo Fellow and a member of the Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundations writing communities. Chen is the co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities and Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets. Their work has appeared in The Best American Experimental Writing, The &NOW Awards 3: The Best Innovative Writing, and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics.

Chen is the also the author of “The Heart’s Traffic” by Arktoi/Red Hen Press in 2009.

‘recombinant’ was released in March 2017 by Kelsey Street Press and can be purchased here.

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