An interview with Chun Yu from The Write Stuff series:
Chun Yu is an award-winning, bilingual poet, graphic novelist, scientist, and translator. She is the author of Little Green: Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Simon & Schuster) and a historical graphic novel in progress (Macmillan). Little Green has won many awards and is taught in world history and culture classes. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the award-winning collection Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace; Boston Herald; Xinhua Daily; Konch; Poem of the Day (SFPL); Migozine; Catamaran; Orion; and elsewhere. She is a recipient of two San Francisco Arts Commission grants for her poetry and graphic novel projects. She is an honoree of the 2020 YBCA 100 award (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) for creative changemakers. Her project Two Languages/One Community with poet Michael Warr brings Chinese-American and African-American communities together through poetry and storytelling. Chun holds a B.S. and M.S. from Peking University and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University in biomaterials. She was a post-doctoral fellow in a Harvard-MIT joint program. Her websites: chunyu.org & twolanguagesonecommunity.com.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I am a poet and graphic novelist but used to be a scientist.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
Being far away from my family in China.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Do it only if it’s a necessity for you.
What’s been most important to your writing: education, or the real world? Why?
The real world. Everything that matters is in the real world, including education.
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
Follow your intuition, don’t let others change you with what they want.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I guess so. Because I am doing what I love.
Why do you get up every morning?
To do what I come to the world to do.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her/their story?
Lao Zi. He wrote the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), The Book of Dao.
What’s wrong with society today?
We’ve lost the great Dao/Tao, the way.
Where do you go to find sanctuary?
Nature: redwoods, ocean, gardens.
What is your fondest memory?
Walking into fresh snow with my beloved grandmother.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Personally: Complete the tasks I am here to do. Fulfill my mission in life.
For the world: Mankind comes to its senses and stops destroying the earth and ourselves.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Art is something distilled from life or discovered in the universe, such as what love really is, an order, a beauty….
It is definitely necessary. It’s what makes us human and gives us meaning.
What is the relationship between your identity and your desires? Perhaps related, perhaps not: why is sex (un)important to you?
They currently are in agreement.
The (un)importance of sex can’t be easily generalized.
What’s your relationship to clothes? Or: describe the shoes you’re currently wearing.
I love beautiful clothes. They carry me through life with my body.
I am wearing a pair of slippers now, like most people in lockdown, LOL.
What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?
Poetry, graphic novels and a film project.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
Solve the homeless crisis.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Out with friends, art openings, poetry readings, and dancing Tango.
Have you ever seen a ghost? Or: what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
No, I have not seen a ghost.
Three dolphins jumping toward each other in the shape of a three-petal flower after I kept calling to them “Dolphins! Please jump for me!” for about two minutes on Ocean Beach.
What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned? Or: what was your last moment of awe?
The future is most likely not what you expected or thought you have been fighting for but it will also surprise you with situations, sometimes miracles, that you could never have imagined.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
Write a poem.
Many little joys can be brought by 50 dollars: a delicious croissant, a cup of tea, a glass of bubbly wine, a book, a hat with feathers…
What are some of your favorite smells?
Air in redwoods, rain, winter plum flowers, and orange blossoms.
What are you unable to live without?
If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Mostly what I am doing now. I love what I do. I will travel more.
If you could live in your ideal society, what would your average day be like?
It’s a bit hard to imagine because there won’t be. I will be completely at ease, loving others and myself, if there is one.