Immersive storytelling is my life’s work, and graphic design is one piece to this particular puzzle. As an independent experimental game developer, I do illustration, design, poetry, prose, orchestral composition, and just enough coding to glue it all together. I started out as a writer when I was a child, dreaming of fantastical worlds I never did leave behind. When I turned fifteen, and my mind began to change in ways I couldn’t anticipate, I found myself drawn to experimental long-form prose. My first novel was a queer, dreamlike, and experimental poetry-prose hybrid in stream-of-consciousness form.
What my friends said about my work then is the same as what they say now: This makes me feel something, but I don’t know what it is.
Then I grew up and went to college for a degree in English, but I got accepted into an exclusive program for English majors that was called a sub-concentration, which required a 100-page creative writing thesis and a certain amount of creative writing credits. It basically required you to take all the levels of workshop available, and then some. Those workshops were never designed for people like me. They told me that experimentation is largely undesirable, impossible to parse, and if everyone can’t relate to it, there’s something wrong with it. The university workshop taught me that my voice, my vision, and my audience didn’t matter: the writer was never permitted to speak during criticism.
It took me some time to unlearn that—not as long as it could have, thankfully—but longer than it should have. It took me up until last year, just after I turned 23 as the world burned, that I came to understand there was more to the world than what everyone had always said to me. When I traced my way back to the experimental hybrid work of my painful adolescence, I found incredible, shocking joy and relief. And once I broke that first boundary, other boundaries started to break as well.
In my mind, there is not much difference between the instinct for visual balance required for white space in poetry and the same instinct when it comes to design and aesthetic composition. The same applies for the rhythmic and tonal musicality of poetry and developing an ear for rhythm and tone in musical composition. Maybe it’s an unpopular opinion, but I feel like the divisions between artistic disciplines are regarded as far more ironclad than they need to be, and hybridity of form can really open up your imagination, letting you see past so many more doors that were closed before.
I found my way to graphic design when I rediscovered who I was as a storyteller. What formal creative education told me was this: The literary world has to be this way because it always has been. That’s just how it is, and you have to accept it if you want to survive. But I am thriving now, and what I want to say is, Just because it “always” has been like this doesn’t mean it should be. It doesn’t mean it has to be. And there is more than one way to survive, artistically and otherwise.
Xuan Nguyen | FEYXUAN is a disabled fey orchestral music composer, writer-poet, and illustrator-designer. Their recent projects have involved the solo development of aesthetic interactive fiction games exploring the nuances not exclusive to the following: power, trauma, madness, nonbinariness, divinity, and monstrosity. LIAR, LIONESS (Feb 2021) and the demo for OCHITSUBAKI【落ち椿】(March 2021) are out now. Their books include LUNG, CROWN, AND STAR (Dec 2020, Lazy Adventurer) and THE FAIRIES SING EACH TO EACH (Feb 2021, Flower Press). Xuan Nguyen is the Art Director of Lazy Adventurer Publishing, and they help Grimalkin Records as a Graphic Designer.