Alexander Chee at Redivider

An excerpt from my interview over at Redivider with editor Matt Salesses:

AC:…I remember when I was a writing student in college feeling like literature was a big food court at the mall, and for being half-white and half-Asian, I was like, will I be able to work at the Korean restaurant, or at the white people restaurant? What if I can’t work at either restaurant because I don’t belong there? I was just thinking about these things while having lunch at a sushi restaurant in Middletown, CT where all the waiters there were Asian, even though all of them were not Japanese. And they were standing around looking sort of dejected and it made me think about that food court idea of literature again. Like, “Here I only get to work at the sushi restaurant or the soondubu restaurant.” I think that’s disgusting. It’s beneath all of us and I’m looking forward to the day when we all collectively get over it.

MS: But it must be so much easier to get a job, too. You think, “I could just get a job at an Asian restaurant.” Some people probably just take it because it’s so much more convenient.

AC: And that is also true. There certainly are a lot of cultural rewards for deciding to fit in with that group. But then you lose yourself, even though you also have audiences who are there because of what you are as opposed to what you wrote, and that’s not cool. That’s just weird. I feel like certain writers have their careers not because they’re any good, but because they’re willing to represent a kind of collective projection on the part of a particular community as to what that community wants to see itself as. And I’d much rather be a little more chaotic than that. And a little more connected to life.


  1. It all does get complicated because I think there can also be a “loss of community” that goes on when you write something that the community does not expect or support. Like when you expose a secret about the community that is, of course, not a secret, but that the community either pretends is not true or tells itself that no one knows about.

    Then, it is as though you are pushed into the majority group, because they have their own reasons for wanting the secret exposed. Of course, those aren’t your reasons so it becomes a strained and unholy alliance.

    In other words, the people in your community want to like you for who you are, but then don’t because of what you say. And the people outside of your group are a little uncomfortable with who you are, but then decide that you are the Exception Out Of Which to Make An Example, and embrace you because of your willingness
    to tell the secret.

    Which, essentially, leaves you all alone.

  2. I loved the bit about Jenny Lind’s final tour closing the House of Lords down so they could attend. Though maybe a combined tour of Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert could shock/awe Congress into shutting down?

    1. Ha.

      In fact, no modern singer wields the fascination she did. Nor have they, since. It’s amazing to think about.

  3. If any group sees any of themselves in you, things are projected on you whether you like it or not or whether you planned it or not. Suddenly, you’ve become the ass that carries the whole burden of representation in part or in bulk depending on how much representation your canvas can hold. Everyone’s going to have a preference in the “food court” …hell, if you didn’t know a thing, would you go to a Mexican joint run by Chinese folks or go to the ones run by the “real” Mexicans? You know, the bottom line is this: if you’re good, everyone recognizes you even if you’re not “authentic.”

  4. “When you’re doing this kind of writing, you’re looking for that moment in the research where you read the two things and you think, that means that this third thing probably could have happened. And that third thing, over time, you have enough of them, that becomes the novel.”

    Amazing and so helpful. Thanks.

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