Justin Chin by Jennifer Joseph

Justin Chin celebrated with ‘literary mixtape’

In a tribute to the life and work of Justin Chin, who died late last year at age 46, Jennifer Joseph of Manic D Press will release Justin Chin: Selected Works Thursday night, Sept. 8, with readings and reflections by some of the poet’s close friends and fellow writers.

Celebrated for what Joseph calls “his ability to combine humor with hard-core truths,” Chin published seven books: four of poetry, two essay collections and a novel. In 2007, he won the Thom Gunn Award for Gutted. Joseph, who published his first and last books, and all of the poetry collections, decided to edit “Selected Works” not in chronological order but as a sort of “Justin Chin literary mixtape.”

“That approach allowed me to craft a book which forms its own narrative,” she said, “so you really get this amazing perspective on why this writer is important, and what the themes were.”

Joseph met Chin in 1994. As host of the popular Paradise Lounge open mike events, she was asked to organize a poetry slam, the winner of which was to tour the country with the Lollapalooza festival. Fifty poets and 400 people packed Slim’s for that competition; Chin finished second with his poem “Chinese Restaurant.”

“It was one of these moments when everybody looked at each other and thought, who is this person?” Joseph said. “Justin had that effect on people when he read his writing; it was just like, wait — who are you? What is this? What’s going on here?”

This sentiment is echoed throughout the book, which includes reflections by Kevin Killian, Rabih Alameddine, Beth Lisick and Ali Liebegott, all paired with the writings they discuss. Through the eyes of his friends, lovers and literary comrades, and scattered throughout his own verses, we see Chin as a beginning writer, shocking the advanced creative writing workshop at the University of Hawaii; we watch him on tour for his first book; we see him, diagnosed with HIV in the mid-’90s, as “a beacon of light” to gay people.

“At a time when most of the writing that was supposed to reflect our lives was maudlin claptrap,” writes Alameddine, “Justin’s poetry polished the rust off my heart. The world we lived in was crazy; he reflected that, not some sentimentalized image of it.”

The book release occurs on what would have been Chin’s 47th birthday. “That was intentional,” Joseph said. “Because this is to his memory.” She said she hopes “Selected Works” will “spark people’s interest so that they seek out his full books.”

A formidable cast of all-stars and Manic D authors will pay tribute: Killian, Alameddine, filmmaker Henry Machtay, Larry-Bob Roberts, Thea Hillman, Maw Shein Win, Alvin Orloff and Daphne Gottlieb.

“We’ll all be reading poems from the book,” Joseph said, “and reading essays from the book, and not mourning Justin’s passing but celebrating his life.”


Justin Chin: Selected Works: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8. Free, City Lights, 261 Colombus Ave.

This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Photo by Jennifer Joseph

Other book events

Anuradha Roy (“The Folded Earth” and “An Atlas of Impossible Longing”) is in town to celebrate the paperback release of “Sleeping on Jupiter,” which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize (7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, Free).

Studio One Reading Series teams up with Commune Editions to release its latest title, David Lau’s “Still Dirty,” with readings by Wendy Trevino (“Brazilian Is Not a Race”), Cheena Marie Lo (“Un/Natural/Disasters”) and Jasper Bernes (“We Are Nothing and So Can You”) (7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9. Studio One Art Center, 365 45th St., Oakland, Free).

Babylon Salon presents its fall reading, featuring Ramona Ausubel (“Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty”),J. Ryan Stradal (“Kitchens of the Great Midwest”), Tess Taylor (“Work & Days”), Frances Stroh (“Beer Money”) and John Jodzio (“Knockout”) (6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10. Armory Club, 1799 Mission St., S.F. Free).

Writers With Drinks presents Anuradha Roy, Margaret Wappler (“Neon Green”), Hollie Hardy (“How to Take a Bullet, and Other Survival Poems,” Na’amen Tilahun (“The Root”), Curtis Chen (“Waypoint Kangaroo”) and comedian Dominique Gelin (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10. Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., S.F. $5-25).

Chana Bloch (“Swimming in the Rain: New and Collected Poems, 1985-2015”) and Susan Cohen (“A Different Wakeful Animal”) read from their poetry (2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, Bird & Beckett, 653 Chenery St., S.F. Free).