One of the longest running programs of The San Francisco Foundation, the Joseph Henry Jackson, James D. Phelan, and Mary Tanenbaum Literary Awards has been recognizing Bay Area literary artists since 1935. Past winners include Philip Levine (1960), Al Young (1968), and Jane Hirschfield (1986).
This year, we were pleased to share this honor with seven emerging writers. In anticipation of their reading in November, we interviewed a few awardees about their craft. This 5th installment features writer Vanessa Hua whose novel-in-progress, A River of Stars “reveals how many Chinese lead a transnational existence, economically, politically, and culturally tied to both their ancestral and adopted homelands, in ways unavailable to generations past.”
LB: Tell us about your background. How did you start writing, and how did you get to where you are today?
VH: As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, I have long been writing stories about the diaspora and the complicated relationships people have with their birthplace and adopted home – in my journalism and in my fiction.
I have worked in newsrooms big and small around the country, giving me the discipline of writing daily and the opportunity to explore the world around me. At the San Francisco Chronicle, I covered Asian American issues, and also filed stories from China, South Korea, Panama, and Burma. At UC Riverside, where I earned my MFA, I grew much as a fiction writer, learning how to think critically about my work.
My writing reflects the sum of my experiences and as such, is always evolving.
Excerpt from Loaves and Fishes:
What he admitted to no one, and would have hid from God if he could, was that the prophecies diminished Creation. A world reduced to types: Good Girls, afraid of their mothers, life and responsibility yet seeking excitement. Mama’s Boys, aching for success. Wise Guys, whose defenses fell with enough flattery. But if man was created in God’s image, when people flattened and shrank in the eyes of Prophet Alex, so too did God.
Read the full excerpt here.
LB: How has being a writer in the Bay Area influenced your work?
VH: For more than a century and a half, the Bay Area has been a gateway for those traveling back and forth across the Pacific. I have a passion for writing about the circular flow of people, ideas, and stories.
The Bay Area’s lively writing community has a feast of readings – such as LitQuake and Babylon Salon – and literary magazines – such as ZYZZVA – that inspire, delight, and support local authors. I’m grateful to the Writers’ Grotto in San Francisco, a workspace where I have found much support and opportunity, and am indebted to the Steinbeck Center at San Jose State University, which awarded me a creative writing fellowship last year. I am also part of a longtime writing group that has read many drafts of my work.
LB: What inspires you? Where do you find inspiration?
VH: I am fascinated by gaps in history, outside of public record, where I can set my imagination free, where I can enter and animate my characters.
LB: How has receiving this award impacted your creative practice?
VH: I deeply appreciate this generous award, which offers encouragement in a writer’s life full of uncertainty. With this gift, I can devote more time to my fiction.
LB: What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?
VH: Write daily, revise, read widely – and support your fellow writers. Form a writing group, go to readings, subscribe to literary magazines, put on events, take or teach a class, and pass along opportunities. In this way, you foster literary community.