In the Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Bao Phi
Tell us about your poem “Run the Jewels” in Volume 22. How did it come to be?
I had read, several times, of the horrific lynching of Chinese in Los Angeles in 1871, but was surprised that there was so little awareness of it in the American consciousness. In a way, poetry and writing is a type of history, a type of memory, and I felt like it was an incident I should write about. To do my part in the intervention, you know, as the history of Asian Americans is often intentionally erased and dismissed.
What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
I was a refugee in a large, poor family who turned to books as an escape and solace. When I was very young, I discovered the joy of creating worlds, and my own stories. There was never just one thing – it was many things. Dungeons and Dragons, books of all genres, theater, comics, and so on.
What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?
Yes, too many to name here. But special shout outs go to David Mura, Diane Glancy, and Diego Vazquez.
How does the current political climate influence your art or creative process?
I’ve been a writer across more than two decades of upheaval, struggle, and growth, and I’ve tried to be engaged throughout those years in the world around me. So I can’t say that the current political climate has changed me that much. I don’t mean to say that things aren’t terrible—but to a degree, things have always been terrible. But there has also always been change, and growth, and I try to hang on to that.
What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing?
Resistance against the constant erasure of Asian American people. At heart, that’s what drives my work.
What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
I’ve been tinkering with a Vietnamese American zombie apocalypse novel for years. Also trying to write a weird book full of poetic and not so poetic essays, as well as more children’s books.
Bao Phi is the author of two poetry collections, Sông I Sing and Thousand Star Hotel, both published by Coffee House Press, as well as two picture books for children, the 2017 Caldecott Honor and Charlotte Zolotow award winner A Different Pond, and My Footprints, both published by Capstone. He works at the Loft Literary Center and lives in Minneapolis with his daughter. You can find more about Bao at his website.