Why A White Poet Posed As Asian To Get Published, And What's Wrong With That : Code Switch A white man called Michael Derrick Hudson used the name Yi-Fen Chou as a strategy to get published. Ken Chen of the Asian American Writers' Workshop in New York says the writer wanted to be "special."

Why A White Poet Posed As Asian To Get Published, And What's Wrong With That

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/439247027/439247028" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


There's a poem in the 2015 edition of "Best American Poetry" by Yi-Fen Chou. The book came out on Tuesday.


That's also when it came out, in the book's biographical notes, that Yi-Fen Chou is not a Chinese poet. He's a white guy named Michael Derrick Hudson. Hudson wrote in his bio that he uses the pen name as a strategy to get his poems published.

CORNISH: The debate about this online has been heated. It's also been loud at the Asian American Writers' Workshop in New York, where Ken Chen is executive director. He sent us this commentary.

KEN CHEN: A friend of mine told me a teenager she knew had told her a secret - you know I'm not really Asian, right? I'm a normal person. At the Asian American Writers' Workshop, if you're person of color, we believe you have a story only you can tell. But if you're a person of color, you may have at one point felt that you were not normal. You aren't white. And so when the poet Michael Derrick Hudson adopted the fake identity of Yi-Fen Chou, you have to wonder, why would he want to be Asian? Why would anyone want to be abnormal? When former Spokane NAACP President Rachel Dolezal pretended to be black, it wasn't because she was unaware of white privilege. It was because she was ashamed of it. For Michael Derrick Hudson, he was afraid he lacked that difference that would mark him not as abnormal, but as special. If Rachel Dolezal fantasized obscenely about becoming black, Hudson, at first, looks like a clear-eyed calculator. He wanted power, the capital of multi-cultural difference. But American literature isn't just an art form, it's a segregated labor market. Almost 70 percent of New Yorkers are people of color, but all but 5 percent of writers reviewed in The New York Times are white. Michael Hudson saw these crumbs and asked why they weren't his. Rather than being a savvy opportunist, he's another hysterical white man, envious of the few people of color who've breached their quarantine.

In rebuttal to Michael Hudson, the Asian American Writers' Workshop asked people to tweet their white pen name. We made an online white pen name generator. It spits out names like Madison Murphy, Shannon St. Claire, or Donald Trump. The white pen name hashtag went viral. Some people tweeted the whitest writers they could think of - Jonathan Franzen. Others invented over-the-top satirically white names, coded somewhere between WASP-y New England and 1980s porn star.

Many Asian-Americans live under the name of someone who does not belong. The idea actually started when staff member Jyothi Natarajan mentioned that people always whitened her name to Dorothy. By using a white pen name, you could dabble in being, quote-quote, "normal," and reject it, laughing at how silly such a desire would be.

And so what about the pen name Yi-Fen Chou, used by Michael Derrick Hudson? If you know Chinese, you know it actually means a piece of stink.

CORNISH: Ken Chen is executive director of the Asian American Writers' Workshop.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.