Conducted by Jessica Therese, Senior Prose Editor
1. You recently spoke at a Ted Talk in Vancouver! That’s amazing. What did you speak about and what was your experience like?
Thank you! I spoke at a Tedx conference specifically run by and for youth, and the chance to talk to so many high school students in my region about something so personal was an amazing opportunity. A bit about me: I’m a debater. I’ve done British Parliament, Canadian National Debate Format, Public Forum, and a few other debate styles that have worked to sharpen my voice into a weapon if necessary.
Another thing about me: I’m your text-book introvert. Looking at these differences, I spoke on how introverts approach public speaking compared to extroverts; ways that introverts can succeed with raising their voices when they feel every part of their mind preventing them to. Of course, introversion can manifest into an endless stream of behaviors for every person. However, I did feel that discussing this topic was very close to heart, and it gave me the chance to reflect on why introverts could be even better public speakers. For me, the desire to succeed in the sport and eventual fruition that came was, with no better word, empowering. Having struggled with anxiety and dangerously low self-esteem, the ability to express opinions or craft speeches in a way that makes me know my voice matters was a power I could claim and attribute for myself.
2. Many of your poems are political in nature; what political events have been inspiring you to write lately?
Most of my recent work that’s been hiding and seething quietly in my Google Drive revolves around the fetishizing of Asian women and issues faced by the diaspora. Having been born in Canada and raised in a typical Asian-Canadian fashion, my writing covers vivid memories and experiences of feeling unwelcome in my own country. Or being commanded to leave.
Examining the hold that white men have on our political system always makes for a good poem. Really, I think the political nature of some of my poems are political because everything is. I’m putting into words the ways I am directly affected by governmental decisions, or how despite progress, I have yet to see it in my day to day interactions.
3. Do you have any words of advice for young writers who want to write about controversial or sensitive topics but aren't sure how?
I think accepting that some form of opposition will always exist is the first step. Thankfully, the writing community I’ve immersed myself in online actively advocates for banning guns to prevent further violence, promotes LGBTQ rights in a manner that demands positive representation, etc. I think a lot of the political turmoil we see today, especially as youth, is begging for responses. I don’t believe that young writers should ever feel obligated to only write ‘looking-out-the-window” poems or stray away from sensitive topics out of fear of their writing lacking depth. Unless they wish to write about concepts that are intrinsically harmful and perpetuate discrimination against any group of people, I think it’s important that youth can reflect on the changing landscapes they are growing up in.
And to this, I consider vulnerability an important trait that can help a writer’s voice find footing in otherwise heavy and highly relevant political or social issues. Remember you aren’t outlining a news article, you’re addressing a nation or an ideology or an event that infringes upon your freedoms, or possibly involves you immensely. Drawing personal connections and getting to the root of why something matters to you in the first place is crucial.
Stephanie Chang is a poet from Vancouver, British Columbia. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Adroit Journal, Cosmonauts Avenue, The Berkeley Poetry Review, and more. She is a Best New Poets nominee, National Gold Medalist in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and recipient of the 2019 Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship for literary arts. Her writing has been recognized by the Jessamy Stursberg Prize, Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize, Poetry Society of the United Kingdom, and L'Éphémère Review Writing Awards.