By Amanda Huynh
The recent controversy with Michael Derrick Hudson left me with a mixture of confusion and frustration. His name has become infamous on the literary scene in regards to his Chinese pen name, Yi-Fen Chou, and his poem, “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve,” being selected for The Best American Poetry 2015 anthology. In the anthology, his bio is written as the following:
“There is a very short answer for my use of a non de plume: after a poem of mine has been rejected a multitude of times under my real name, I put Yi-Fen’s name on it and send it out again. As a strategy for ‘placing’ poems this has been quite successful for me. The poem in question, ‘The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve’ was rejected under my real name forty (40) times before I sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou (I keep detailed submission records). As Yi-Fen, the poem was rejected nine (9) times before Prairie Schooner took it. If indeed this one of the best American poems of 2015, it took quite a bit of effort to get it into print, but I’m nothing if not persistent.”
To add to his scandal, it was discovered that Yi-Fen Chou was not a name that he created. It in fact belonged to a female who grew up in his home town, Fort Wayne. Not only is Mr. Hudson pretending to be a Chinese writer, but he is pretending to be a Chinese female because being a white male does not give him enough advantage when submitting works to journals and magazines.
In the past, I have read articles about how much weight a name can carry. There have been studies that compare resumes with black-sounding names and white-sounding names. There have been articles about women novelist pushing their novels to agents under male names in order to be seen. We, as a society, cannot shrug off Mr. Hudson’s scandal as a “So what? He used a Chinese pen name.”
Mr. Hudson’s Chinese pseudonym lands in a time where a handful of journals are taking an extra initiative or being created in order to support and promote women, people of color, LGBTIQs, and other minorities. The fact that these journals exist forces us to really analyze the literary publishing world: minority writers are not being adequately represented.
If we, as a writing community, tolerate Mr. Hudson’s actions, then what is to prevent him or any other writer to submit their work under an ethnic pen name? To submit to journals who only want to publish voices of the marginalized?
As a colored female poet, I am forced to look at and wonder how readers are subconsciously approaching my work. I am of Hispanic heritage, but married into a Vietnamese name. When I submit my poems, do they see my name and see an Asian writer? When I submit to Latino journals and magazines, will they ignore my submission because of my Vietnamese last name? How am I being received by predominant white editors and readers?
I know I am not the only writer of color to ask these questions. We work and sweat over our writing, and to have it weighed only by the name attached makes our battle far from being over.