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Elaine Hsieh Chou Books In Order

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Disorientation (2022)Description / Buy at Amazon

Elaine Hsieh Chou is a California-based Taiwanese American author who is best known for her debut novel “Disorientation.”

She was a Graduate Fellow at New York University and an NYFA/NYSCA Fellow in 2021 and her short fiction has been featured in “Ploughshares,” “The Normal School,” “Tin House Online,” “Guernica,” and “Black Warrior Review.”

Growing up, “The Joy Luck Club,” which Elain Chou read in high school in California was her only exposure to Asian American literature.

She can still remember how her classmates used to look at her, somehow expecting that she would confirm how the work depicted Asian Americans.

She found it odd given that she came from a very different generation from any of the characters in the novel written in the late 1980s.

Following high school, she shut off from Asian American literature. As such, when she wrote “Disorientation” her debut novel in 2022, it was out of a need to write for herself rather than to gain an audience.

While the work is full of insights and offers some interesting perspectives on racism, the author has said that it is something of a seminar intended for audiences not very conversant with the experience of Asian Americans.

In essence, she wrote the work to channel her sadness and anger in making a satirical work full of catharsis.

When Elaine Hsieh Chou was an undergraduate student in college, she enrolled in creative writing classes. At this time, she did not know anything about writing except for regurgitating what she read.

She had read works from the likes of Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver in addition to several rural white authors. As such, her very first story was a tale about two poor white lads employed at a North Dakota wheat farm.

Her teacher absolutely loved it much to the consternation of a white male student. He immediately came up to her after class, asking how she could have written such a story and getting her defensive and prickly.

She did not know why her classmate would think she could not write the story just because she is Asian. Most people expected that being Asian she was more suited to write about Asian characters.

For Elaine, she still had to work on what had happened earlier in her life before she could start writing about Asian characters. At that time, she had a strong feeling of damned if she did and damned if she did not.

If she wrote about her community and people, she risked being accused of not being universal. On the other hand, she would get criticized if she wrote about white farm boys from rural America.

When she was doing her doctorate degree, Elaine Hsieh Chou studied British and American women writers from 1910- to the 1930s.

Studying authors such as Djuna Barnes and Gertrude Stein, she came to love them a lot but this was also the cause of her dissociating from academia.

She started thinking why do I have to study all these dead white women, particularly when she read some racist slur from the diary entries of Virginia Woolf.
She was shocked but still believed that she was an incredible writer, even if the world seemed to have moved on from her time and perspective.

Elaine always wondered how Woolf and the other women she was researching would treat her if she lived in the same era as them. She started thinking about why she was spending so much time reading dead white women’s diaries in a basement.

For instance, she would be at a conference where Virginia’s use of grammar was discussed at the same time police were brutally suppressing a demonstration. It was then that she started feeling academia was so removed from reality.

The last straw was when she delivered a presentation on intersectionality at a graduate seminar and was broken by the vitriol she received. It was then that she decided to start writing “Disorientation.”

The novel “Disorientation” was planned out as a multi-perspective story that the author wanted to tell as a novel right off the bat.

The work is told from the perspective of the 49-year-old Ingrid, her two college-age children, and her congressman husband who happens to be white.

It was the first version of the work she ever wrote and at that time she was not very good of a writer. She made too detailed outlines probably because she felt very clueless.

After several rounds and revisions, she finally got her debut novel “Disorientation” published in 2022. The work has gone on to win critical acclaim and has become a bestselling title.

“Disorientation” by Elaine Hsieh Chou introduces Ingrid Yang, a doctoral student in her final year of study.

She has been having a hard time trying to write about the former professor and celebrated Chinese American poet Xiao-Wen Chou. The biggest reason for her struggle perhaps has to do with the fact that she is not at all interested in the man.

Still, her white professors in the Asian American studies department had pressured her to study the poet, even though she would have wanted to study something she was more interested in.

However, she knows that writing her dissertation on Chou could result in a prestigious fellowship.

But she thinks his writing is non-specific and bland and his description of traditional values and majestic Chinese landscapes pander to white audiences with warped expectations of what being Chinese means.

However, everything is thrown into a tailspin when she gets a strange note that helps Ingrid and Eunice her friend to uncover the mystery of a juicy scandal about the identity of the poet.

It turns out that he was never a Chinese man but rather an everyday white man who was facing a frustrating time as he was rejected by all manner of literary journals.

He decided to change his identity and adopt a Chinese identity so that he could cash in on the growing interest in Chinese poetry and art.

The discovery of Chou’s identity unearths a scandal that ropes in several high-profile members of the Asian American department at the University.

Many of these had made their careers studying the impostor’s work resulting in a terrifying but fascinating debate about art and identity.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Elaine Hsieh Chou

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