“There’s a satisfaction I get from reading a piece and knowing the right person at the right time is telling this story.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do when you’re not reading for NER?
I was born in the Midwest and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, and am currently based in Washington, DC. I work at an independent bookstore and recently wrapped up a publicity internship with HarperCollins Publishers. The days have blurred together this past year, but lately I’ve been rekindling my relationship to more “literary” writing and trying to move my body more regularly. I have a dance and acrobatic background, and after a year of massive stagnancy am trying to slowly encourage myself to move again in whatever way makes sense for me. I also watch a lot of Survivor.
What made you decide to be a reader for NER?
I met NER Nonfiction Editor J. M. Tyree at Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference the summer after I graduated from college. I was an intern with NER while attending Middlebury, and he asked if I’d be interested in continuing to work with NER as a nonfiction reader. At the time, I was primarily writing poetry but wanting to get more involved in nonfiction as both a reader and writer. The timing and opportunity was right for me, and I’ve been reading for NER since then.
Have you ever read a submission that later got selected for publication?
I’ve read several submissions that were later selected for publication—a favorite that comes to mind is Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s “Twenty Remarks on China,” translated by Ryan C. K. Choi. It’s a striking collection of vignettes from the time Akutagawa spent in 1921 traveling as a journalist in China. I don’t typically read works in translation, but was instantly drawn to this piece for its humor and striking imagery.
What is your reading process like? What do you look for in a submission?
My submission reading process is fairly unexciting: I batch download the month’s readings to a folder on my laptop and sit down on a Sunday morning to cold read through submissions in one go. I don’t know if there’s anything specific I look for in a submission, but I do really enjoy pieces that aren’t afraid to dig into complicated and still-messy experiences. What’s interesting to me is the emotional work the author has done to get an essay to completion, and it’s clear when a writer has fully processed and worked through their subject matter. There’s a satisfaction I get from reading a piece and knowing the right person at the right time is telling this story.
Of the pieces you’ve read at NER, which was your favorite or most memorable to you personally?
Jennifer Chang’s “Looking for Wong May” is an essay I can’t help but return to over and over again. Part of the “Secret Histories” series, a series of lectures from the 2019 Asian American Literature Festival examining lost literary histories, the essay explores Chang’s relationship to the poet Wong May. Chang writes about a particular kind of loneliness of the Asian American poet. Like Chang, loneliness has been a part of my life since I was child, and it’s something I’ve been connecting with again as I work through questions about what life as a creative person, a mixed and Asian woman, looks like for me. There’s a kind of desperation to find someone, anyone, who really sees you, and Chang taps into that so perfectly in her essay. I’m interested in the desperation behind that search, the futility of it, but also what exists beyond that loneliness and disappointment. The vulnerability in Chang’s writing gives me permission to exist, to have my questions and fears and hopes as a writer in a way I didn’t believe was possible. There’s a lot in that essay that I haven’t worked through yet, and I hope someday to read it with more clarity and perspective. For now, I’m just grateful this piece exists in the world.
How has reading for NER influenced your own writing/creative pursuits?
Reading for NER has been a welcome constant these past several years. I’ve been involved in the literary world from a variety of different angles, but I have a special place in my heart for literary journals. I love that I get to be a quiet, tiny part of the work NER does. I’m still very much working through what my creative priorities are, but as I move into writing more nonfiction myself, I am grateful for the intimate and valuable insights I’ve gained while immersing myself in nonfiction submissions.
What do you read for pleasure? Is there something you’re reading at the moment that you would recommend?
I tend to read broadly across genres, one of the positive side effects of working in bookselling. Romance, poetry, essays, young adult fiction . . . whatever grabs me and won’t let go. Right now I’m in the middle of reading an advanced copy of Anthony Veasna So’s short story collection Afterparties, a gem of book that’s dark and humorous and shines light on Cambodian-American and queer communities. Anthony passed away this past December at the age of 28, and reading this collection is such a bittersweet experience. I feel so lucky we have this incredible work from him, but I wish more than anything that I was reading this book in a different context. His death is such an immense loss to the literary community, and I only hope that readers give this book the love and attention it deserves when it publishes in August.
NER‘s staff readers, all volunteers, play an essential role in our editorial process and in our mission to discover new voices in contemporary literature. A full list of staff readers is available on our masthead.