On Tuesday, writer K-Ming Chang visited the Bowdoin community virtually to speak about her work and her experiences in the writing world as a queer woman of color. Prior to a webinar in the evening, Chang hosted a small writing workshop for students of color at Bowdoin.
Chang’s first novel, “Bestiary,” was published in 2020. The novel has since been named a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and a winner of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” Award, among other awards. Chang was only a college student when she wrote “Bestiary,” and in the talk, she reflected upon her unconventional path to publication.
“After I had finished writing it, I knew no one in the publishing world, so I ended up just cold-emailing agents,” Chang said. “One morning, I got a call from a New York City area code, and I thought ‘Oh, spam call,’…I ended up speaking to an agent and that began the journey. But it was definitely so unexpected and so wild.”
Associate Professor of Asian Studies and English Belinda Kong worked with the Asian Students Association (ASA), the Alpha Delta Pi Society and Elina Zhang ’16 to organize Chang’s virtual visit. Kong explained why she felt it was important for students to hear Chang’s story.
“I thought it’d be nice to bring not just an Asian American writer, but also a queer writer and someone who’s of the students’ generation, to give people different models of what it means to be a ‘successful writer,’” Kong said.
Chang creates a sense of magical realism in the novel by drawing upon the Taiwanese myths and stories she grew up hearing. She explained how she designated mystical elements to certain characters, like the protagonist’s love interest, Ben.
“When I was writing Ben, I was thinking of a divine figure, that she was human, but not quite human,” Chang said. “She is so playful, but also has this way of speaking that is very ancient and not at all like a 14-year-old girl. I really enjoyed deifying her and making her that trickster God in the presence of mortals.”
The novel features three generations of an Asian-American family by following the unnamed characters of grandmother, mother and daughter. Kong spoke to how this family-oriented model introduces a spectrum of themes that are not usually represented in one work.
“What I really like about the novel is that it addresses Asian-American queer sexuality as something that can exist in the same space with issues of family,” Kong said. “It’s actually a story where the queer Asian-American relationship does not have to be partitioned off from the parents or the older generation.”
Chang’s writing will not stop with “Bestiary”: her upcoming work, a series of short stories entitled “Gods of Want” will be published in July. This talk was part of AAPI heritage month programming, which will include several more events throughout the month of April.