Cathy Park Hong on Motherhood and Turning From Poetry to Prose
From the Thresholds Podcast, Hosted by Jordan Kisner
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings, discusses how motherhood changed her work and her relationship to gender, her turn from poetry to prose, and the large-scale shattering of the single story.
From the interview:
I started writing prose, or really seriously started writing prose, when I was pregnant. And I think it was becoming a mother that brought some urgency to the book. Before I became a mother, I always thought of myself as someone who was an outlier, or someone in the margins, or someone who just didn’t follow any kind of demographic. I always embrace that misfit role rather than seeing it as a point of crisis or anxiety. It was that, too, but because I didn’t really belong in any kind of demographic, I also enjoyed that misfit role. But, you know, being a mom, it really affixes you into a demographic. And of course, it’s not like I wasn’t aware of my Asian American identity before, but I thought about it in a new way, a different way.
I also thought about what my role was as a woman. As many people do, I have not exactly a fraught relationship with gender, but I never really cared to—I mean, I’m a total feminist, but I always thought of myself as more androgynous than like a woman, you know? But then after I became a mother, I started thinking about my role as a woman, as an Asian American, as an Asian American woman, as a citizen in this country. And it was the first time I really realized that I had to be some kind of role model and that I was really in a position of authority and a position of power because I was a mother who was influencing another person’s life. And that really changed my writing.
Before, I was much more interested in play and experimentation. I didn’t care if my language was decipherable. But after I had my daughter, I really wanted—of course, I always wanted to say something to prove a point when I was a poet, but I just felt that I had a tremendous responsibility to, almost in a pragmatic way, to make the world a better place for my daughter. I know that sounds so cheesy, but that’s just how I felt at the time. So I would guess that was the threshold.
This episode is brought to you by: Betterhelp. Get 10% off your first month by visiting betterhelp.com/thresholds; What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron, now available wherever you get books from Catapult; and, Luster by Raven Leilani, now available from FSG.
Cathy Park Hong’s book of creative nonfiction, Minor Feelings, was published this spring by One World/Random House (US) and Profile Books (UK). She is also the author of poetry collections Engine Empire, published in 2012 by W.W. Norton, Dance Dance Revolution, chosen by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Translating Mo’um. Hong is the recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her poems have been published in Poetry, A Public Space, Paris Review, McSweeney’s, Baffler, Yale Review, The Nation, and other journals. She is the poetry editor of the New Republic and is a professor at Rutgers-Newark University.