Tag Archives: VONA

VONA Seed Our Success

VONA alum fiction workshop w Junot

VONA has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself as a writer, for my writing, as a writer of color. I’ve honed my craft and my voice at VONA. I’ve met the best and most encouraging and genius mentors (Junot Díaz, Mat Johnson, Chris Abani, etc., all of whom have been formative to my work) at VONA.

I’ve found a community at VONA that stands with me everyday as a human and a writer.

If you believe in me as a writer, you believe in VONA

publishing panel

For five out of the past seven years, I have attended VONA workshops. I have attended when I felt tentative, and when I felt strong. It was the place to which I returned when 18 months after my stroke, I felt able to write fiction again, and wanted a safe place in which to revisit my writing. It is my writing touchstone, and I want it to continue to exist and grow as a touchstone for other writers of color.

I’ve finished a novel manuscript over the course of my time with VONA. I’ve published stories and essays over the course of my time with VONA. I nailed down my voice as a writer over the course of my time with VONA. I owe so much.

And this is not to say you owe; maybe you do, as a reader of works by writers of color or as a VONA alum (many of whom have moved onto great critical success and whose works have landed on such things like the NY Times Notable 100 Books lists). But even if you do not fall into these categories, I ask you to INVEST.

Workshop with Chris Abani

There is a fundraiser under way to keep the program and workshops robust–and to that end, to bring in more voices from the unknown places and diversify literature. I owe so much to VONA as a writer, and that is why I gave the healthiest donation I could muster this year. And I’m asking my friends with love for literature and the arts, writers and readers, to do the same.

We are constantly asked to give money these days, especially since funding has been cut from so many programs–but if you’re considering a monetary donation to one arts group, I ask that this be it. Your money will go directly to the program and to the writers they support.

Please give. You can either make a donation to VONA or buy tickets to the fundraiser, held at Uptown Body & Fender on Sunday June 30, 2013. The VIP reception, at which you can meet with Distinguished Writers) is from 3:00-4:30pm, and the main event (food, readings, auctions), is from 4:30-6:00pm.

VONA Main Flyer 5

Me and Junot Diaz

Our writing workshop group

VONA 2012


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…and an amazing time was had: VONA 2011 + Pride

VONA 2011: advanced fiction alum workshop

This was the BEST.VONA.EVAR. (I think I say this every year).

But really: the fucking lightbulb went on over my head during my week at VONA. Junot took me by the shoulders and pointed me in a direction I hadn’t yet seen–and then he and my workshop peers took a metaphorical flashlight and turned it on. And there it was: a path. I now know the way to the end of my novel, through all the revisions ahead. And I’m going to do it, knowing that there are people who believe in me, and in this manuscript. Who “get it.”

I can’t even tell you the sense of relief and elation and gratitude I feel.

You see, my goal for this revision was to work on characterization. I knew the characters lacked 3D…but I learned what lacked was STORY. Their stories. Ding ding ding!

I’ve been writing this thing for nearly 7 years. Not a straight 7 years, as I took a 2 year break from the novel while I recovered from a freaky deaky left thalamic stroke that left me with no short term memory (something, I cruelly discovered, that is critical to writing narrative). But still: 7 years. And I can now see my destination.

It’s still a ways off in the distance–and there’s still a lot of work and revision ahead of me–but it’s just work. And more importantly, I am almost done (almost being at least 3 more revisions). Just being able to see the Emerald City on the horizon after all this time on the yellow brick road (or if you prefer another metaphor–the New World after sailing across the ocean)–feels like relief. And hope. And joy. I’ve got my second wind now. And with that second wind, I hope I breath more life and stories into my characters. And that my readers will feel that second wind!

Now I’m experiencing re-entry into my world. The last time I had such a hard time re-adjusting was after my three week residency at Hedgebrook. I was changed then, and I am changed now. But nothing else has changed. And no one seems to know I’ve changed. Things feel out of sync. I’m bewildered and bewildering.

And so I find myself taking a deep breath. I’m saving that breath for my novel. And in my real life, I am settling back into normal patterns, so that I can fit back into my real life.

Immediately upon my return to NYC this weekend, I went to Pride–in my 20+ years in the SF Bay Area, I’d never been to a Pride Parade, for no good reason other than not wanting to deal with traffic, which is like–a really bad reason. So like with yoga, it took NYC to get me to Pride. And what a Pride it was! The jubilance in the wake of the passage of NY’s Marriage Equality Law was amazing. I cried tears of joy, and my voice went hoarse along the parade route.

But I gotta admit–I think some of those tears of pride were for myself. I’m a self-critical writer, and I rarely feel proud of myself as a writer–but in that moment along the parade route, in the wake of immense writing encouragement and support at VONA, I felt rare pride in my writing. And it took Pride to swallow me up and allow me room for my private moment of pride.

"I'll see your Prop8...and raise you New York!"

I also went to the Alexander McQueen show at the Met yesterday afternoon (like I said, I’m not jumping straight back into my writing–I’ve gotta digest all the epiphanies from last week)–and that show is a masterpiece. All those beautiful, groundbreaking clothes–created from the dark places in McQueen’s heart. It was like a torch for me and my writing.

If you are a writer of color serious about your craft and seeking community and mentorship…get thee to VONA. Apply. It happens every summer in the SF Bay Area (this summer, VONA moved to the Berkeley campus). It’s been life changing for me, and game changing for my writing. If you have attended VONA in the past and/or want to support writers of color, consider making a donation to VONA.


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Quick blog post, June 15, 2011

Rapture Art

I am sitting down to write for the first time in weeks. Life has been hectic, albeit in celebration, these days. Lots of parties, outings, (non-writing) work, meetings, travel. I wonder at times if the world is cold-blooded; now that the temperatures have risen, the pace of activity has quickened.

And in the face of a frenetic social schedule and steamy summer, I find myself fantasizing about winter–a time of year when the ubiquitous jackhammers silence, the snow casts a monochromatic scheme over things, and getting dressed is mostly about getting that down parka over my jeans and tshirt. (Yes, I spend almost the entirety of winter in a tshirt and jeans under a parka). I love when nighttime outweighs daylight and a party is not outdoors but cast in lamplight and candles. You’d find me happy in wintertime Narnia.

Winter is the time of year when I get most of my writing done. I am not sure why this is, but after numerous writing seasons, this is confirmed as fact. Thankfully, I normally live in San Francisco, where summer is one long glorious winter.

But it’s summer in NYC, where it can get so sweltering that my legs become slick with sweat (sexy, I know). I’ve stocked up on summer dresses. I’ve cut my hair. I’m trying to figure out summer makeup. And I’m writing and seeing how it goes.

Because I haven’t blogged in awhile–thought I’d do a “quick blog post” as an update.


  • Nova Ren Suma’s debut YA novel, Imaginary Girls. Buy it.
  • Beginning to read manuscripts from VONA. Did I mention VONA before? I got a lot of rejections in the past few weeks (everytime I opened my mailbox, it seemed there was a lightweight envelope addressed in my own handwriting)…but I will be in Junot Díaz’s fiction workshop this summer. I haven’t had workshop with him since 2005, and I’m excited about working with Junot again.
  • Can you believe I’ve never read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse? So I’m picking it up.


  • My novel. I am trying very hard to work on nothing else.
  • But I did write up my parents’ visit to NYC, and in particular, their jaunt to Queens, over at AAWW’s Open City blog.


  • A lightning storm from inside a jet. I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye, and I looked out the plane window. I’d missed whatever it was. Then another flash in my peripheral vision–was my retina detaching? I kept my eyes on the infinite black horizon–and there, there I saw it: an illumination of the clouds beneath. Lightning storm down below. It was like the animation of synapses firing inside a brain, the clouds brain matter and lightning, genius.
  • Too many couples breaking up on the streets of Manhattan to count.
  • An “I love my dildo!” sticker on a residential vehicle in San Francisco’s Mission.
  • Sailors falling-down-drunk during Fleet Week.
  • Bridesmaids. The female response to The Hangover–booyah!
  • Lots of nekkid people looking out their windows in the hotel across the street.

Memorable eats/Culinary outings:

  • Fine dining Israeli food at Zahav in Philly. Israeli food is much more than pita and hummus, people!
  • Too many great meals in Manhattan (some upscale, many more cheap eats)–I’ll have to do a different post on my favorite eats here.
  • Everytime I return to the Bay Area–the first thing I want when I get off the plane is a Gordo burrito. If I land too late to get a Gordo burrito, I just get it the next day. NYC has Dos Toros (a direct derivation of Gordo) and it is good–but isn’t the same.


  • Oh holy crap, I’m turning into a New Yorker; I don’t think I’ve cooked anything substantial in weeks, not even when I was in San Francisco.


  • I have an excerpt from my novel out in Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience. I’ve been trying to keep my lips sealed on this until closer to publication date (in October), but I can’t keep it closed anymore! The book is available for pre-order from Amazon–and yes, it features a sex scene from my novel.
  • My short story “Ume” will be out in Kweli Journal’s June issue. The piece holds a special place in my heart, because it was the first piece I began and finished after my stroke, from which I took about 2 years to recover. “Ume” was inspired by a friend who told me a story in hopes that it would awaken a part of my damaged brain, and the story brought me hope that I could write again.
  • Tamiko interviewed me about writing and MFAs as part of her “(private)” MFA series at kikugirl. I had fun reflecting on my MFA experience, and I hope some of it will resonate with you.
  • I have a stigmata on my left foot. When I slammed my foot by accident into a spike, I at first thought, “OW, what did I hit?” and then thought, “This is a very particular kind of bruise–this hurts more than a bruise.” I looked down. I saw the hole.in.my.foot. And then I started crying hysterically as I ran for a bandaid.

Never happened:

  • The Rapture


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VONA apps are online

I am going to repeat what I tweeted this morning, amidst my horror at the Japanese earthquake + tsunami….

This is the most amazing thing you can do for yourself as a writer of color: apply to Voices at VONA workshop!

I blogged a bit about writing conferences and residencies over at Writerland last year–and included VONA in my list of writing destinations. I don’t think I’d be the writer I am today, or the writer I will become, without VONA in my life.

Deadline is April 18, 2011.

And yes, I just sent in my application–so I know I just decreased my odds by sharing VONA with you, but that’s what VONA is about: sharing and community, so there you go!

As an important side note, please help the Japanese earthquake and tsunami survivors by donating money to the Red Cross, which has now earmarked a fund for the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Amidst shrines and temples in Nikko

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Quick blog post, June



  • Manuscripts from VONA. It has been a looong time since I was in a workshop, and at first I regarded the stack of manuscripts like papers from my students (I think I literally said outloud, “Arrgh! Aren’t I on summer break from teaching?!”). But then I started reading them and fireworks exploded in my head; they were rich and creative and I enjoyed reading them as a peer. I learned as much from reading and critiquing their works as I did having my novel excerpt workshopped, no small thanks to Mat Johnson’s extreme generosity and heart as our mentor and workshop leader.
  • Vida by my amazing friend Patricia Engel. Vida is out this Fall; when the galley arrived in the mail I think I nearly squealed with pride. Buy it.
  • Blindness by José Saramago. Started reading it before VONA. Still reading. Can I say WOW?
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie is one I’m picking up now. It was mentioned several times in workshop, 3 of those mentions occurring during my workshop. Must read.
  • The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. This is a book that is so dark, I can’t immerse myself in it right now. But I also know this is a book I’ll probably savor like I finally did Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, another book that sat next to my bed for 2 years before I picked it up and read it nonstop. The Road, as you know, is a book that I consider perfectly written.
  • And I read a rejection letter that had a substantial handwritten note about my story they liked reading (but still rejected). I’ll take it.


  • Really? The truth? Nothing. Except this blog. My journal. Dabbling with a few half done essays, including one about my stroke and its impact on my writing and the 2 year recovery process. Thinking and obsessing about my novel and what I want to revise, which I kind of count as writing. I am in a trough void of confidence these days (picture a neverending chorus inside one’s head chanting, “You suck, you suck, you suck, you suck…”). But VONA has recharged me. Couldn’t have come at a better time, really.
  • But I did send out a bunch of stories. Spent enough on postage to miss the money.


  • Nigella’s cooking show on the new (and so much better than Food Network) Cooking Channel. I want her to take care of me.
  • Jamie Oliver’s cooking show. I don’t think he meant to be funny, but…
  • Per Mat Johnson’s recommendation, Children of Men. A grim movie but one that tells a story in a non-stupid way.
  • See happenings below, for the sights on our road trip.

Memorable eats:

  • A special meal at Poppy in Seattle and savoring its thali-centric menu.
  • Albion strawberries from the farmer’s market.
  • The McGangBang (McChicken sandwich inside of a Double Cheeseburger):
    the McGangBang

Culinary outings:

Pizzaiolo. Caffe Intermezzo salad. Lots of fast food on the road. All a blur.


We ate a sh*t-ton of road food this month–such that the first thing I did when I got home was make chicken matzo ball soup.
chicken soup


  • One of my friends is sick and without health insurance. She is starting radiation and chemo this week. Pray for her. Send lots of positive thoughts. She is worth praying for, you won’t regret it. Let’s put it this way: she is the kind of person, who despite her diagnosis sent ME a get well gift when she heard about my brief ER/Trauma visit:

    plushy comfort toy gift from Jennifer

  • Road trip to Seattle!
  • Road trip to Seattle…where I got hit by a car. The first thing I saw in Seattle was Harborview’s ER Trauma 1 center.

    car accident vs my pedestrian's ass, day 5

  • I pretty much HATED Seattle after getting hit by a car, which happened my very very first morning in the city. (I’d literally left the hotel and walked 20 paces when I got hit by a car while walking in the crosswalk on a green light). I tried eating a sandwich from Salumi, but it was an incredibly average two bites (I stopped eating it in my malaise). But guess what? My friend Tara saved Seattle’s honor by inviting me to join her for dinner at Poppy, to which I limped via cab (pain) and thoroughly enjoyed (thank you so so so much, Tara, especially for the wonderful conversation and hospitality even if I was distracted by pain and unable to laugh for fear of rib pain):

    poppy bar menu

  • Then, road trip back from Seattle. I love the surprising things you see on the road.Like, the people from Little People, Big World driving alongside you:

    Little People, Big World

    And Mount Shasta, which isn’t so much surprising as it is stunning. I swear, as I grow older, I become more and more like my parents, who are Korean, and thus obsessed with mountains as I have become:

    Mount Shasta

    Happiness and hope in a car:




    Not enough room in an 18 wheeler for your stuff, so…

    not enough room in the truck...?

  • One of my short stories, sent to a litmag, was returned to me in its original envelope. The stamps were not cancelled. The envelope had been opened and taped back up. The contents were still inside. The post office said the address was wrong. Who opened up the envelope? And did they read my story?weird.
  • VONA. Workshop with Mat Johnson, which was an amazing experience, the highlight of June. He is smart and funny and compassionate.
  • I also met Tayari Jones irl!
  • My dogs went to the vet. Not exciting. Except they both took simultaneous dumps in the exam room before the vet walked in. And when I limped-walked to get a paper towel, I stepped in one of the dumps (didn’t realize that was happening behind me on the floor). Total shitstorm. These are my 2 wiener dogs planning the whole thing, en route to the vet:trouble!
  • My 17 year old Wiener Dog lost a front tooth. This is after the vet appt. We don’t know where the tooth is. Is this how it happens? They just start falling apart?

In sum, I looked out the window today and saw sunlight, and leaves rustled by a slight breeze. My dogs are sleeping on the couch, and Jónsi is playing on the stereo. My aches and pains and recurring sadnesses are not much in the Universe. I’m in love with my husband and he, with me. I’m able to hug my friends and family. Hell, I have friends to hug. I feel thankful.

p.s. this feeling of peace/contentment/satisfaction will dissipate at any moment.

comfy wiener dogs


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