In my wallet is a lucky two-dollar bill that a taxi driver gave me as change on February 20, 2014. It was a rainy evening, and I was attending my first Asian American Writers’ Workshop event: a question-and-answer with Chang-rae Lee, moderated by Catherine Chung. Chang-rae Lee had just published On Such A Full Sea. After the Q & A, I bought a hard copy of the new book and quivered my way to him.
“I’ve been reading you since I was eleven,” I said, feeling sweaty and gross. “You were the first Korean writer I read.”
He said thanks and signed my book: To verse forever.
“I’ll see you at AWP!” I squeezed out.
Then at AWP, I actually did meet him again. He was with his writer-friends including David Mura, Daniel Chacón, Sharline Chiang and Christine Hyung-Oak Lee. They were all so warm and genuine that I felt encouraged enough to send them all friend requests on Facebook afterwards (which they accepted).
Later that year, I applied for a summer internship at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. AAWW is “a national not-for-profit arts organization devoted to the creating, publishing, developing and disseminating of creative writing by Asian Americans.” (from aaww.org) AAWW also promotes and supports works by non-Asian artists of color as well (recent example is the Undocupoets reading held at the Workshop, in which NYU alum Javier Zamora and current NYU student poet Christopher Soto a.k.a. Loma were involved in). Fortunately, I got the internship that summer and served as an author events intern, mostly helping plan and execute various events. I met many writers and learned a lot about office duties and event management, but the most valuable gain was an expanded community of people of color. I am extremely lucky to have friendships with people of color in New York; I am always learning from my poets of color friends at NYU and the past interns and staff at AAWW. I think about all the conversations and events about social justice, politics, and race that I participated in, and don’t know how I would have survived without these friends.
Before working at AAWW, I had no idea how much I could involve myself with the organization. I quickly learned that the staff there doesn’t have a steel wall around them but rather that they are really looking to give the interns many opportunities. They were always open for event or article pitches and organized luncheons with editors and artists for interns to meet. In fall 2014, I was offered the position of Poetry Editor for The Margins, AAWW’s literary magazine. Ken Chen, the executive director of AAWW, and Jyothi Natarajan, the Managing Editor of The Margins, are not only interested in publishing poems by established writers but are also very much looking forward to publishing more emerging writers. Recently, The Margins has featured poems by NYU student Monica Sok and 2015 Margins Fellow Wo Chan. Poems by NYU student Marco Yan are also forthcoming.
Needless to say, AAWW has had a big influence in my life. I grew a lot working for the AAWW, both as a writer and as a person of color inhabiting New York City and the literary world. It provided a safe space for me to question and learn about my own existence, and gave me the nourishment and affirmation I needed.
To volunteer, join the listserv, find out more about opportunities, or submit to The Margins, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (though The Margins will have Submittable set up soon). Check the website at aaww.org to read recent publications and look at the upcoming events.
By Emily Jungmin Yoon