(Setting an intention to blog weekly on my novel in progress)
It’s been six years since I graduated from college and six years since I began working on The Chins of Brownsville, which subsequently became, No Ghosts in Brownsville, and which was, for a couple days, Canton on Pitkin, until my father pointed out the similarity of this title to Moscow on the Hudson (1984). It is for now, Livonia’s Canton Kitchen, let’s see for how long!
The book, too, has evolved over these years. It began as a story that aimed to somewhat accurately retell my paternal family’s story over the course of a century—mainly because I love family history, family photos and talking about the immigrant experience. Over the years, while I did retain the historical component, I suddenly ended up with a lot of pages focused on a character based on myself, and exploring her experiences in college circa 2010! How did I end up there? I think I was mostly working in real time to understand and come to terms with my own racial identity and character flaws, and the ways these had impacted my college relationships.
Later, these pages felt self-indulgent and uninteresting and disconnected. I turned twenty-eight this May and scrapped all the college scenes the same week.
Over the past few months, I’ve become increasingly focused and interested in the relationship of my family’s story to the neighborhood where the story takes place, and where several of my family members grew up—Brownsville, Brooklyn. How could I not? Brownsville has a rich culture and the most incredible history, and over the years of my research I’ve come to meet the most amazing residents, past and present. Yet I’ve also struggled with the question of how I, as an outsider to Brownsville, whose residents today are mostly African American and West Indian, could possibly qualify to write about Brownsville! It is a common sentiment in Brownsville these days that it’s time for Brownsville residents to get to tell their own stories. For far too long, the neighborhood has suffered from racist, simplistic depictions by the mainstream media.
It seems incredibly important that I find ways to support born-and-bred Brownsville artists and their efforts to tell the neighborhood’s many stories—and readers, I am open to exploring ways I can do that, so please be in touch.
But I must tell this story too, because it is also important to explore how Chinese Americans understand their relationship to the white or Black neighborhoods where they live and work.
Accordingly, I’ve decided to begin this blog by publishing a few posts on interviews I conducted this summer with Brownsville activists and residents who graciously shared their time with me for my research. I will aim to follow it up with a weekly post discussing some of the issues that are coming up for me in my novelistic process—rough jots that I won’t spend a lot of time editing, opportunities to practice non-perfectionism.
with so much gratitude,