Alumni Melanie Mah is publishing her first novel, The Sweetest One. We asked her to share a favourite debut read:
“It's hard to pick a favourite first book—I like first books a lot—but currently, I’m very excited about Ocean Vuong's Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press), which arrived at the bookstore for me just a few days ago. I've only just started it, but I’ve gobbled up everything I’ve found of Vuong's online—slowly, because for me, poetry should be, has to be, lingered on. His work is full of longing. It’s so sad and beautiful and alive. It reflects the mysteries of life and kicks you in the teeth with its brilliance.
I'm sure this will be refined as I continue reading it, but Vuong's work so far seems to be about violence—global conflict, family conflict, and violence enacted on individuals. It’s about not fitting in and having bad things happen to you and not loving yourself and the complications of desire, love, hope, and change in the face of all this. Frankly, a lot of it I can relate to.
I used to not relate to being Asian. Junot Diaz once said something about how part of the monstrosity of vampires lies in how they can’t see themselves in mirrors, and how ethnic minorities can feel the same way, monstrous, because we don’t see ourselves in the culture we consume. I read that the other day and it really spoke to me. Before the last few years, most of the works by Asian writers I’d seen were maybe from people who’d lived large chunks of their early lives in Asia. Some of this work made Asia and the Canadian diasporic experience seem exotic somehow. But my life never seemed exotic to me. It was just my life. I was born in Canada of Chinese parents. And there’s this new current of second- and sometimes first-generation Asian writers whose writing is informed by their ethnicity—this is necessary because, even if our lives may not be exotic to us, we are other, and it affects how others see or treat us—but whose work is not all, or not primarily, about Asia. (Though it might be, in part, about relationships with Asian parents, or how it is to be Asian when so many people around you are white.) Diasporic Asian writers of my generation and younger are coming of age, and it’s exciting, all these perspectives and possibilities. It’s really, really nice to finally see people on a page who are like me."
The Sweetest One was released by Cormorant Books on June 10th. A Toronto launch is in the works for July, details TBA.