Crystal Yeung is an almost-poet and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the College of New Rochelle. She received her BA in English literature and MA in Language and Literacy from CCNY and her work has been published in Rabbit Catastrophe Review and Poets & Writers. She is a recipient of the 2017 Amy Award and serves as poetry committee chairwoman for the PEN Prison Writing Program and is on staff for Apogee Journal.
Here’s our Quick Temper interview with Crystal Yeung-
Why do you write?
I write for survival. When writing, I think about what a poem does on the page and how it lives, how it is activated, embodied, and inspirited when it is read aloud, how it is a living, breathing document. I think about the precision and consequences of words. I think about power structures, mainstream ethos, and my obsessions. I think about how I no longer want to negotiate or compromise my existence and legitimacy.
Who do you hope reads your work?
Anyone and everyone, people who do or do not look like me. A professor of mine, Taylor Plimpton, once said, “Specificity is universality,” and, as human beings, we’re in this weird experience occupying this temporality together; so really, the work is meant for everyone. But for the Chinese girls who do look like me, I know. I know, I know, I know your voice is out there in the cacophony of the world, and it might be a while before you find it. Some will try to install a voice for you, or others will prescribe one; the way my own mother would put it: “You’re being someone you’re not. But I know who you are. Why can’t you be just that?” I ask this to not just the girls who look like me but to the broader world and all its citizens: who gets to write your story? You or another hand? Until then, maybe my work can be a map. Until then, this is for you.
Where does the anger in your work come from? How does it manifest?
My brand of anger is a kind of frustration. Frustration at how we tolerate and reward mediocrity and injustice and why am I and everyone else tired and in pain often. Y’know, the yoozh.
Angry book recommendations for angry readers?
James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time comes to mind. Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar has anger brimming beneath the surface. Come to think of it, the very first book that got my blood boiling as an 8th grader was Walter Dean Myers’ Monster.
Crystal Yeung will be reading with An Angry Reading Series on February 9. Come through!