Family of a Yi-Fen Chou Steps Forward, Protests White Poet’s Use of a Chinese Pen Name

September 15, 2015

Last week, we reported on the controversy surrounding the inclusion of a white poet using a Chinese pseudonym in the latest edition of Best American Poetry, which was guest-edited by Sherman Alexie (who gave his own explanation).

Now, it turns out that Michael Derrick Hudson’s pseudonym, Yi-Fen Chou, may come from a real person, according to the New York Times.

The family of a woman named Yi-Fen Chou, who attended the same high school as Hudson in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has demanded that Hudson stop using the name. Ellen Chou, Yi-Fen’s sister, told the New York Times that she was “aghast” at Hudson’s “careless disregard for Chinese people and for Asians.”

Ellen Chou, a communications official with the United States Department of Defense in Washington, DC, said that Yi-Fen Chou, a nuclear engineer in Chicago who goes by a married name, did not want to be identified or interviewed.

“He seems to think we have it easy, but we don’t,” she said, responding to the explanation Hudson gives for using the pseudonym “as a strategy for ‘placing’ poems” in his bio in the back of the book. Hudson claims the poem submitted to Best American Poetry had been rejected under his own name forty times, and just nine under the name Yi-Fen Chou.

“We all worked very hard to achieve our own success,” Chou added. “I’m just appalled by his actions.”

Now, people have taken to social media to respond with satire. The Asian American Writers’ Workshop has started the #WhitePenName hashtag to encourage fellow writers of color to imagine their benefits if they used a “white” pen name; they even created a “White Pen Name Generator” that will give you your own “white” pen name.

Related reading: Dika Lam describes her own take in The Rumpus, as does Jenny Zhang on BuzzFeed.

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