Interview: Jane Wong, author of 'How Not to Be Afraid of Everything' Chinese American poet Jane Wong's new collection, How Not to Be Afraid of Everything, grapples with fear and anger at her family's silence about what they suffered in China's Great Leap Forward.

This book of poetry says, 'I have fists,' and the world needs to know

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The poet Jane Wong spent her early years always within the smell of food.

JANE WONG: I grew up in a Chinese American takeout restaurant on the Jersey Shore, literally surrounded by food, feeding other people. And growing up in a restaurant, everything feels so greasy and gloopy, and, like, there's sounds of woks firing. It's just such a space of full synesthesia and gluttony, you know? I would come home, and I would smell like chicken broth.

INSKEEP: OK, I'm hungry now. She comes from a Chinese American family. But it was not until college that Jane Wong knew her family, which made its living feeding people, had a past of going hungry.


Some of her ancestors died in China's Great Leap Forward. That was a disastrous effort to modernize Communist China in the 1950s and '60s. Her parents grew vague when they talked about those deaths.

WONG: My family would just use the term they disappeared.

DETROW: Jane Wong tries to not gloss over the facts in a new book of poems. One is about China's Great Leap Forward.

WONG: (Reading) Our teeth - little needles to stitch a factory of everything made in China - you ask, are you hungry? Hunger eats through the air like ozone. You ask, what does it mean to be rootless? Roots are good to use as toothpicks.

DETROW: The poem is part of Wong's new book, "How To Not Be Afraid Of Everything." She writes about fear - a particular kind of fear.

WONG: That turning around when I walk down the street always feeling like I have to look behind me, that's the feeling of this book.

INSKEEP: A kind of fear that for her can curl her fists and turn into rage.

WONG: And that rage can be very internal. And the feeling that I have all the time as someone who is an Asian American woman, the assumption is that I'm going to be quiet and I'm not going to be mad.

INSKEEP: She says she wants to be willing to speak out when an outrage demands it.

WONG: This book feels very much like it's trying to make sure that everyone sees that I have fists and they are curling and uncurling at all times.

DETROW: Jane Wong's book of poems is called "How To Not Be Afraid Of Everything."

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