Cathy Park Hong (Minor Feelings), Souvankham Thammavongsa (How to Pronounce Knife), Victoria Chang (Obit) and C Pam Zhang, (How Much of These Hills Is Gold) Sunday received nominations for the National Book Critics Circle Awards.
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Time named Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning the second best book of 2020.
“At first, the book was just about institutional racism in the arts. But after Trump’s election, I thought the subject had to be broader, that it had to speak directly to U.S. race relations now, Hong told the Yale Review. “And as much as it’s about Asian American reckoning and Asian American identity, it’s also about this country from the perspective of an Asian American woman. There is a distinction there. I also became a mom, and that was an important factor too.”
The NBCCA nominated Hong in the autobiography category.
Thammavongsa won a nomination in the fiction category. How to Pronounce Knife is a a New York Times Editors’ Choice. In the title story in her debut short story collection, a young girl asks her father how to pronounce a tricky word-leading to some memorable moments.
Born in a Lao refugee camp, Thammavongsa grew up in Toronto, Canada.
“Yes, my parents mispronounced things all the time, and they did it with a wonderful and grand confidence, Thammavongsa told The Paris Review. “I would tell my parents that the kids at school pronounced knife with no k sound and we would laugh and laugh at how silly they were. I am interested in the value of a mistake. If the character knew how to pronounce that word from the beginning, there wouldn’t be a story. But because she struggles with it, she knows its power. Language is all about symbols. This little word “knife” becomes a symbol for something so much larger and more complicated. It becomes a way of honoring her family and her place in the world. When the little girl argues with her teacher about the pronunciation of the k, she isn’t just being difficult, she is fighting for the validity of her experience and the integrity of her home.”
Victoria Chang earned a nomination in the poetry category for Obit.
Chang went on a two week writing binge as a way to grief after her mother’s death. Obit is the result.
“I’ve learned so much about grief and myself since my mother’s death,” she said to the Poetry Society. “Grieving in some ways, is a mirror or proxy of one’s personality. I learned that I preferred to grieve privately. Once, while in the garage alone, I opened the blue plastic container with my mother’s teeth in them. It was a strange experience, holding someone’s teeth in my hands. I, like my mother, have a strong nose. The teeth smelled like her. I sat in the garage, alone, sobbing from a smell I had never once considered before. A smell that was probably just Polident.”
The NBCCA honored Zhang with a nomination for the John Leonard Prize, the award given out for best first book.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold tells the story of two siblings on the run during the American gold rush. The story blends Chinese symbolism with reimagined history.
“It’s impossible to move through life without feeling the million barbs and snags, the strange frictions that erupt between my identity, and the assumptions of the white male canon,” Zhang told Pen America. “For years, I tried to pretend my identity didn’t inflect my writing, and as a result wrote far too many bad “Imitation White Man” stories. In these stories, I didn’t want to name the race of my characters so that they could be seen as “neutral;” I refused to delineate my characters’ financial hardships. The vacuous work I created during this period was the worst option.”
Photo of Cathy Park Hong from Wikimedia Creative Commons by Sloking4 (top left)
Photo of Souvankham Thammavongsa via Facebook (Top Right)
Photo of Victoria Chang from Copper Canyon Press (Bottom left)
Photo of C Pam Zhang via Twitter (bottom right)
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