What was I doing thousands of miles from home, in a place that had no interest in who I was or where I came from? Was it wishful thinking, hoping to find an audience for my work in the US? What I came to realise was that Tin House may mean the world to a writer from Singapore, but a writer from Singapore may not necessarily mean anything at all to Tin House.
I will say this off the bat: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World and Me is the most powerful book I’ve read all year. And everyone should read it.
Between the World and Me is an electric force. And yet his words are never complex or bombastic, but slow and quiet. His words have a life of their own so that they are not just words, but an energy that leaps off the page. To read Coates is to burn; to come so close to fire something in you ignites. To read Coates, for me, is to realise the gap between the writer I am right now and the writer I want to be.
One result of writing not being my main career: I’ve written lots of things over the past two decades and frankly they’re all over the place. Here is an interview I did with my professor and mentor at UC Berkeley, Professor Andrew Jones, who happens to be 余华 Yu Hua’s translator. Yu Hua did a sabbatical at Berkeley while I was there, and Professor Jones arranged for him to meet us and conduct a series of readings. It was written more than 15 years ago (!!) and published in a Chinese literary magazine in 2003 (I searched high and low but couldn’t find a copy of the magazine…)