Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

  • WHAT MATTERS TO ME IS STORY

    Date: 2021.09.06 | Category: Poetry, Septuagenarian, The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    WHAT MATTERS TO ME IS STORY

     

    It’s been six months since my memoir in verse, Septuagenarian, debuted.  I think about this as another Minnesota poet, and another, and another has released another book of poems.  I think about how different our voices are. How different our techniques. I am less about craft and more about subject. Perhaps because I was told I didn’t learn how to write in graduate school, I didn’t want to prove them wrong.  Or, perhaps, because I was told that what I wrote about wasn’t trendy, I did want to prove them wrong. Trendy not why I write, but that what I write matters (if only to me).  As Deborah Keenan said about my book:

     

    Sherry Quan Lee writes with a purity of intention.  She has no interest in certain kinds of poetics that conceal, or only honor, adornment.  She has her gaze on the long sweep of her personal history.

     

    What matters to me is self-awareness and healing and to know and accept that I am strong—that I am okay. What matters to me is story. And knowing that mine is only one story, but stories intersect no matter how different they may seem, at least that’s been my experience.  Sometimes it’s a similar time and location, a tragedy, a celebration, gender, culture, sexuality, race, age—family.

     

    Yet, since publication, I have seldom opened my book to read what I had written.  Out of fear or out of closure I’m not sure which, maybe both.

     

    Recently I finally let go of dollars to find a streaming service where I could watch Queen Sugar.  I am on Season 4.  Every episode of the entire series has my emotions roller coasting as I come to it from my history and my experience. Nova is an activist, an artist.  She wrote a memoir telling family stories, divulging secrets.  Her family is unforgiving.

     

    Beginning seven years ago my sisters one by one turned from me.  If there was an excuse it was, to me, senseless; one sibling yelling she hoped my writing friends took care of me.  One sibling saying my highs and lows were too much for her.  And one sibling refused to come up with an excuse.  Were they afraid of my truth-telling?  Was I wrong to share our stories? Did my writing have nothing or everything to do with the separations? Two of my  three sisters gave me permission, the other sister I respectfully left out of my books.  I even changed my last name (another kind of separation).

     

    I hope Nova and her family can reconcile and forgive.  Yet for me, separation feels healthy, but sad—I can’t stop grieving.  Is truth-telling for a greater good if the truth be told continues a history of separation?   Does a writer/an artist have control over what they write? Are we born to disrupt?  Can our souls/our spirits handle the repercussions, the displacement?

     

    My most recent book struggles with the theme of separation.  The separations that have cursed my family. Black families/slave families were separated by the auction block, if not that assigned duties and  gender were other forms of separation.  A female slave assigned to house duties-including the duty of fulfilling the master’s sexual improprieties.  And from those liaisons, babies of various skin colors/mixed-race babies—my great-grandmother–added another dimension to the separation of families. Black men were lynched.

     

    Separation was created by laws that kept Chinese immigrants, who came to work in America as cheap labor, from bringing their wives.  West Coast Japanese were separated during WWII most in internment camps, some joined or were drafted into the armed services, others were able to attend college in Minnesota.  My Chinese father joined the Navy because he wanted to, leaving a wife and two young daughters’ home in Minneapolis while he fought the Japanese from a ship out at sea.

     

    My story is complex (as yours probably is too):  poverty, passing, fear, anger, divorce, addictions–separations.  Each poem, each book releases and sets aside who I was to create space for who I am.  Yet who I was has a way of creeping into who I am so I will never be free enough to be happy; but I am emotionally healthy which comes from years of learning, of therapy, of listening, of reading–of truth-telling. Minnesota is a choir of many voices, many songs; poetry. Colorful/diverse writers inform me, connect me, keep me from becoming idle, from being satisfied. Keep me alert.

     

    Maybe today I will open my book, Septuagenarian, and re-remember a life I have lived.  73 years-old.  I have no regrets.

     

    Sherry Quan Lee

    © September 6, 2021

  • SELF-INTERVIEW: SWAN SONG. SEPTUAGENARIAN

    Date: 2021.02.24 | Category: Assignments, Interviews, Septuagenarian, Words of Wisdom | Response: 0

    SELF-INTERVIEW: SWAN SONG. SEPTUAGENARIAN

     

    1. You say your most recent book, Septuagenarian, is your swan song, what do you mean by that?

    Septuagenarian is the last book I will write. Friends ask me why and I respond
    “I am tired.” My focus has always been to discover who I am and why, while hoping to open up a space for dialoging about identity. I’m ready to engage in larger conversations, conversations one can’t have until we know who we are. That said, I am a one-on-one extrovert, not comfortable engaging in large crowds of public spaces.

    Early on in my writing career, I attended many local readings, hoping to support and engage with local writers, especially writers of color; but, in my later years I became more isolated. Maybe it has something to do with age, but mostly I think a change in location, moving away from the Twin Cities, was a detriment. The more isolated I became, the more I became a social recluse. And, although I’ve always been an introvert in larger gatherings and public spaces, the pandemic drew me inward even more. I don’t “Zoom” and I don’t want to (never say never), although I am getting comfortable with viewing the online options which are opportunities to see Twin Cities and national artists who are so generous with their time and talent in the comfort of my condo.

    1. Of all your books, which do you like the best?

    Thanks for asking that question. I actually like best the book I didn’t write, but edited, How Dare We! Write a multicultural creative writing discourse. It was an opportunity to work with twenty-four writers in the mix from across the country and here at home who had stories about their experiences as writers that needed to be told . I also think it gained the most attention of all my books. It is being used in college classrooms and included in Poets and Writers Best Books for Writers.

    https://www.pw.org/bestbooks/how_dare_we_write_a_multicultural_creative_writing_discourse)

    Also, And You Can Love me a story for everyone who loves someone with ASD is a book close to my heart because it’s based on my observation of and experience with my grandson who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 ½.

    The process from the beginning was a learning experience. I took a picture book class from Alison McGhee, international known best-selling author,  to learn what is involved in picture book writing. I, then, worked with two younger artists who also had no previous experience with picture books.

    To see my grandson, now a teenager, page through his book is my greatest reward.

    1. What have you left out of your most recent book and why?

    I can’t stop thinking about what poems I didn’t write. I have to admit that three or four years ago the book started out with just fifteen poems because I was submitting them for a competition-the first year poetry, then prose, then poetry again. Not a winner, I prevailed by, I admit,  padding the manuscript with previously published poems, and asking my publisher if he would be interested in my swan song. Which, by the way, became more focused when a discussion about the separation of Black families led to me being asked to write about it, to write about how separation has been prevalent in our/my family.

    To answer the question, I keep thinking of things I left out or could have explored in more depth, but mainly I left out the physical (including sexual) aspects of aging. I was able to add two lines into an existing poem, but the topic deserves so much more.

    1. If you could have chosen a different career, other than writer, what would that have been?

    That’s an intriguing question. I seldom think of  myself as “writer” as a career. Writing and teaching writing were accidents of a sort. I was working for an independent study program where men and, particularly, women were studying for graduate degrees while being in the work force full time and many raising families. I wondered if I could do it. I quit my job before knowing if I had been admitted to a graduate program, not thinking forward much at all.

    I wanted a graduate degree just to prove to myself I was smart enough to earn one. I chose writing because that’s the only program I thought I was qualified for even though I wasn’t. Despite, apparently, hesitancy on the Committee’s part, I was admitted and the rest of the story is too lengthy to divulge here.

     After graduation a series of community connections provided opportunities to teach, and in 2005 a special connection with a friend led me to my publisher, Loving Healing Modern History Press, who has been loyal to me, to my writing ever since.

    Back to the question. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but when I was required to learn the “new math” I dropped out of college, only to return on again off again until I earned a four-year degree twenty years later.

    1. What will you do now?

    Now, at seventy-three, my first priority is to stay healthy, to eat well and exercise. But I will continue to work with other writers, to try to give back the support and encouragement my mentors offered to me. Maybe I will become a more consistent blogger and post future writing to my blog site or FB writer’s page. blog.sherryquanlee

    I hope to have an audience for my books, but I have little to no interest in book tours or public appearances. Although, if the Pandemic ever subsides, I would graciously accept opportunities to read at local community sites such as Moon Palace Books or East Side Library.

    I think it’s time for me to enjoy life now that I have forgiven myself of previous (and still working on) addictive/compulsive  behaviors. To reign in some of my I know I am right  pronouncements and listen more intently and less reactively, and to forgive abundantly (except those things I believe aren’t forgivable).

    1. What disappoints you the most about being a writer?

    Instead of disappointment I’d rather concern myself with gratitude, with the ongoing progression of BIOPC writers gaining visibility and recognition. That said, there’s a long way to go, especially when organizations make token efforts to be diverse by including BIPOC writers, but don’t respect their monetary worth; but applause for those who do.

    1. What is your weakest skill as a writer?

    Grammar and punctuation.

    1. What is your best skill as a writer?

    Honesty. Fearlessness; writing despite of/because of fear.

    1. What have been your biggest road blocks to becoming a writer?

    Critics:  professors that say “writing about race isn’t trendy.” Lack of professors of color in the academy. Lack of white professors who embrace “teaching moments;” and white professors who might know the needs of students of color, but ignore them.

    A lack of self-esteem.

    I’m not a disciplined writer. I write reactively. I write when a political or personal event, or a story or a poem, or a movie triggers me to react.

    1. What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

    Follow your heart, but more importantly follow your gut (and seriously, not just metaphorically). Don’t listen to, or at least ignore the critics who shame—actually, you will ignore them if you are following your heart and your gut. Seek out mentors, not just for the craft of writing, but for inspiration and motivation. I always told my students it’s who you know, but I meant that as a relationship of mutual respect and trust and friendship-not greed.

    WRITING EXERCISE

    I often asked my students to interview themselves as a creative project. I think it’s a way for aspiring writers to contemplate who they are as writer, what’s important to them as a writer, and where they are on their journey toward their goals.

    PREVIOUS INTERVIEWS CAN BE FOUND AT:

    https://turtleroad.org/2019/10/03/sherry-quan-lee-daring-to-nurture-untold-stories/

     

    https://www.midwestmixed.com/post/midwest-mixed-community-spotlight-sherry-quan-lee

     

    https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/76349157.pdf

     

    https://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewarticle.asp?id=41176

     

     

     

  • FOUND POEM

    Date: 2021.01.13 | Category: Assignments, LHP/MHP, Poetry, Septuagenarian | Response: 0

    FOUND POEM

    Attributed to Septuagenarian: love is what happens when I die (March 2021)

     

    One doesn’t have to imagine good and evil amidst all this terror

    sadness, the bones and the blood surrender

    we can make a difference we are all somebody

    we are not on the backs on the backs on the backs

    of sorrow

     

    that preceded

     

    head separated from body

    body separated from country

    family separated

     

    love guarantees memory        madness

    guns in white rooms the ghost

    of a man an unholy ghost trying to rewrite the story

     

    what if what if what if asking the questions is [not] enough; sometimes

     

    I feel like a boxer punching    the world

    is heavy that’s when the silence is broken

    not with words but with images   children

     

    didn’t know what to make of the bickering

    children got lost in the silences babies suffering;

    the father the mother the siblings gone

    a newspaper headline

     

    to the wicked and the wise there is a difference

    between opinion and truth, a space where dying

    to love where freedom is clearly not where in the world we are

     

    divisive and our lives are at risk

    tolerate a difficult word; racism, white men with assault rifles; death

     

    is temporary

     

    history implodes on a regular irregular heartbeat the charade is over this year

     

    love

    like a sorcerer reads palms this is love choking on air,

    ready to survive pedestals

    collapse amidst a pandemic

     

    hallelujah!

     

    as I sip my morning coffee it is grief it is death it is love;

    hate travels the ♥ broken is what saves us.

     

    © Sherry Quan Lee January 12, 2021

     

    ASSIGNMENT: I’ve been thinking about the recent insurrection at the capitol, the fast and flowing media coverage, the attempts to oust the 45th, etc.  My thought was, as a poet, I should write a found poem based on various print and even video media; but, I thought it would be complicated because of copyright, what is fair use, and how to attribute my sources (unless there is no thought of publishing it).  Instead, I turned to my own writing using only text from my forthcoming book.  Try this as an assignment, use words and phrases from what you have previously written and “find” a poem. I started with a goal in mind, to discover what I might have, perhaps unknowingly, said beyond the personal, have I entered the world?  Having a theme in mind isn’t necessary, it is enough to just randomly choose words and phrases you are drawn to as you reread what you have written over a particular span of time.

    NOTE: The poem published here is a first draft.

  • FROM LOVE IMAGINED TO THE POSSIBILITY OF LOVE

    Date: 2020.12.17 | Category: Septuagenarian | Response: 0

    From Love Imagined to the possibility of Love-Septuagenarian: love is what happens when I die.

     

    If you’re not familiar with the writer I am, here’s a brief bio:

     

    I started writing in 2nd grade, but began a serious writing career in my early 30’s when I realized there were no books about a mixed-race person growing up passing for white—so I had to write it.  It took me 20 years to earn an undergraduate degree, which I focused on writing and multi-cultural studies.  Ten years later I entered an MFA program focusing on creative non-fiction and poetry. Since, I have taught creative writing at Metro State University; and, written several books.

     

    Three years ago I began writing a book of poems, Oh So Wild Oh So Beautiful.  Two years ago the book became a book of prose.  Last year the book, a memoir, returned to poetry with a new title, Septuagenarian: love is what happens when I die; and, this year, December 2020, the final manuscript was submitted and will be published March 2021.

     

    2020 was a difficult year for so many for so many reasons.  I had to remind myself that not everyone can be out in the streets protesting, but there is something we can all do to fight injustice.  I had to remind myself I am a writer and I can write.  And that’s what I did.  I wrote poems for an online anthology, A Moment of Silence.  I wrote an endorsement for a Minnesota Senate hopeful.  And, deep reflection went into my memoir which included the letting go of shame, the ability to forgive, and the acceptance that survival is a commendable act of resistance.  Septuagenarian also was the response to Love Imagined: a mixed-race memoirSeptuagenarian is the possibility of love; yes, even at the age of 72.

Artist Statement

Sherry Quan Lee approaches writing as a community resource and as culturally based art of an ordinary everyday practical aesthetic. Lee is a Community Instructor at Metropolitan State University (Intro to Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing), and has taught at Intermedia Arts, and the Loft Literary Center. She is the author of A Little Mixed Up, Guild Press, 1982 (second printing), Chinese Blackbird, a memoir in verse, published 2002 by the Asian American Renaissance, republished 2008 by Loving Healing Press, and How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman’s life, Loving Healing Press, 2008.

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SEPTUAGENARIAN

Septuagenarian by Sherry Quan Lee

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How Dare We! Write by Sherry Quan Lee

How Dare We! Write

by Sherry Quan Lee

Giveaway ends June 09, 2021.

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LOVE IMAGINED

Love Imagined book by Sherry Quan Lee

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Chinese Blackbird Book by Sherry Quan Lee

HOW TO WRITE A SUICIDE NOTE

How to Write a Suicide Note by Sherry Quan Lee

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