Like many, I read voraciously as a child. My most treasured books—not pictured in these photos—have migrated with me from the coastal city of Vancouver to land-locked Gambier, Ohio. Here, I attend school at Kenyon College, a literary institution through and through. These photos, kindly taken by my mom back at home, reflect the influence of the many literary communities I have immersed myself in over the years; from the signed copy of Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh I found hidden behind a pile of history books at a college bookstore to the old Tin House issues I picked up at Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. I had bought Moshfegh’s book as an ironic, not-very-serious investment of sorts after My Year of Rest and Relaxation, now on loan to my partner, left me with mixed feelings. As for Tin House, I remember discovering the publication on Twitter as a bright-eyed fifteen-year old who resolved to one day attend one of their workshops.
To be clear, I have not read everything on these shelves. Sleep is a book I bought at the airport, en route to a debate tournament in high school, and never cracked open because I fell asleep on the plane. Another, Stephen King’s On Writing, tumbled further and further down my to-read list as I shifted my writing interests toward poetry, and to the illuminating voices of living poets who are Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color. Others represent books that I have previously read in part, or in academic settings. The collection of Virginia Woolf essays found its way to me during my last year of high school, when I was in the UK and interviewing for a place at Oxford University. I had wanted to revisit her words after studying them in the limiting context of my AP English Language class, and the physical book doubled as a memento of that moment in time.
As for the books I have read and cherished, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and Bestiary by K-Ming Chang both take the cake. I ended up bringing both authors’ poetry chapbooks respectively with me to school, and just did not have space to carry these in my suitcase, too. These writers hold a special place in my heart for their invented lineages and heavy lyricism that speak to experiences of diaspora in such multi-dimensional ways. They were the ones that taught me about possibility within language, and how so many things begin with family in all sorts of non-Western notions of the word.
Now might be a good time to talk about the little toy figures beside my books! This past summer, I got super into collecting Pop Mart blind boxes, which is what I would spend my tip money on after working a shift at Starbucks. They do not hold a huge amount of significance for me as a former hyper-fixation, but I do love how cute they look, guarding my bookshelf. Below them, I store stacks upon stacks of YA novels, consisting of research for my own manuscript and books that I enjoyed when I was in a teenager. Although not pictured, I still think Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson is hugely underrated, as is Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser. The former introduced me to the most heartbreaking rendition of Peter Pan I had ever read, and led to me falling in love with retellings of fairy tales and myths.
With where my interests lie right now, I am hoping to read more books about art history and curatorial practice within museums and art galleries! To name the most recent book I read, I want to shout out Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, which I have been recommending to everybody and their mother. It’s a wonderful novella translated from Japanese, and it was the perfect summer read for my goldfish brain this past summer, at a time when I was learning to love writing again by prioritizing fun first.
Stephanie Chang (she/they) is a Chinese-Taiwanese Canadian writer, editor, and multi-disciplinary artist from Vancouver, British Columbia. Her writing appears in The Rumpus, Adroit Journal, Kenyon Review, Frontier Poetry, Waxwing, and wildness, among others. She is the winner of the 2021 Adroit Prize for Poetry, judged by Carl Phillips. Currently, she studies Art History and English at Kenyon College, where she received the $15,000 S. Georgia Nugent Award in Creative Writing.