The Desert Nights, Rising Stars
Writers Conference

Desert Nights Rising Stars Writers Conference Faculty 2019 Kirsten Chen

Kirstin Chen

Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference Faculty 2019

About Kirstin Chen

Kirstin Chen's new novel, Bury What We Cannot Take (Little A, March 2018), has been named a Most Anticipated Upcoming Book by Electric Literature, The Millions, The Rumpus, Harper’s Bazaar, and InStyle, among others. She is also the author of Soy Sauce for Beginners. She was the fall 2017 NTU-NAC National Writer in Residence in Singapore, and has received awards from the Steinbeck Fellows Program, Sewanee, Hedgebrook, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. Born and raised in Singapore, she currently resides in San Francisco.

Find Conference Sessions with Kirstin Chen

Did That Really Happen?: Writing Characters So Real, They Walk Right off the Page
Kirstin Chen

Saturday, February 23, 2019, 3:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Location: Traditions, University Club
Type: Presentation, Workshop
Genre: Fiction, Mixed Genre

This session explores how writers can strategically use details from their lives to craft vivid fictional characters and to tell resonant stories. Beginning—and even more experienced—writers sometimes feel the need to hide that parts of their fiction are rooted in reality. But the use of autobiography is a fictional strategy like any other, such as choosing a particular point-of-view or a particular structure.


Literary Citizenship Panel: Craft as Culture
Kirstin Chen, Bill Konigsberg, Jennine Capó Crucet, Matthew Salesses, Jake Friedman

Friday, February 22, 2019, 3:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Location: Carson Ballroom, Old Main
Type: Panel
Genre: Community, Social Justice, Social Practice, Writing Life

We often think about mass media and journalism in the context of social responsibility: what and how news is covered, as well as accuracy and objectivity. What about literature? Do writers have a responsibility to engage with critical societal issues or movements? What brings a writer to feel compelled to use their art as social commentary or activism? How do race, class, and other social categories affect our lives and lead us toward certain subject matter or genre? Can creativity even be obligated at all?


More About Kirstin Chen

Ang, Prisca. "Kirstin Chen Ventures Out of Singapore With Novel Set in 1950 Maoist China." Forbes, April 27, 2018.

The scene is Maoist China in the 1950s. A family flees its home on Drum Wave Islet, an island off the coast of mainland China, as they face persecution from the authorities and bear the consequences of a heartbreaking decision. It is a time of uncertainty, set against the tumultuous political landscape of the Cultural Revolution.

These circumstances seem to have little to do with a Singaporean born almost three decades later, but they form the backdrop of Kirstin Chen’s sophomore novel, “Bury What We Cannot Take,” published in March.

Chen, Kirstin. "Am I Chinese Enough To Tell This Story?LitHub, March 26, 2018. 

After my first novel was published, I flew back home to Singapore for the Singapore Writers Festival. I’d been asked to read an excerpt at my panel. It was a simple request; I’d given countless readings in the preceding months, always alternating between the same three passages. This time, however, when I flipped through my book, I felt a new trepidation. Soy Sauce for Beginners is set in contemporary Singapore and filled with Singaporean characters, and yet, I’d spent little time considering how a Singaporean audience would receive it. The sentences had been composed in Boston and San Francisco, revised from feedback offered by my American graduate school classmates and agent and editor, and read mainly by American readers. What if Singaporeans thought I’d been away in the US for too long? That despite what my passport said, I wasn’t Singaporean enough to tell this story?

---. Excerpt from Bury What We Cannot TakeHyphen, March 5, 2018. 

For March, we are pleased to provide you a sneak peek of Kirstin Chen's new novel, Bury What We Cannot Take, out later this month. In the wake of the Communist takeover, a rash action by San San's grandmother and a choice made by her teenage older brother set in motion her family's plan to flee to Hong Kong. There's only one problem: they can only take one of the children with them. This excerpt features the first chapter of the novel, as the children discover what their grandmother has done. (Karissa Chen, Senior Literature Editor)

---. Excerpt from Soy Sauce For Beginners. The Good Men Project, January 17, 2014. See also another excerpt from Soy Sauce For Beginners at Hyphen.

These are some of my favorite smells: toasting bagel, freshly cut figs, the bergamot in good Earl Grey tea, a jar of whole soybeans slowly turning beneath a tropical sun.

You’d expect the latter to smell salty, meaty, flaccid—like what you’d smell if you unscrewed the red cap of the bottle on a table in your neighborhood Chinese restaurant and stuck your nose in as far as it would go. But real, fermenting soybeans smell nothing like sauce in a plastic bottle. Tangy and pungent, like rising bread or wet earth, these soybeans smell of history, of life, of tiny, patient movements, unseen by the naked eye.

Nye, Michael. "Episode 55: Kirstin Chen & Michael Nye." TK Podcast with James Scott, April 10, 2018.

In her second novel, BURY WHAT WE CANNOT TAKE, Kirstin Chen depicts a family in China under the tightening rule of Mao. She tells James about her choice to tell the story when and how she did, along with trying to make people happy, learning to craft endings from short stories, dealing with cultural tourism, and, of course, writing in a cave in a museum. Plus, Michael Nye on the AWP conference, selling your book, scheduling your day, and writing longhand.