To writer Jenny Zhang, candid and subversive humour is an important ingredient in writing about marginalised groups. Women and people of colour, she explains, must have the opportunity to tell stories that deal not only with struggle, but with absurdity and joy. In conversation with Brodie Lancaster, Zhang talks about physicality, forging a fresh path as a writer and woman of colour, and the complexity of autobiographical readings of her fiction.
Her essays and poems were already earning accolades from Rookie readers, but Zhang thought she was being catfished when Lena Dunham tweeted to say she loved her work. She wasn’t.
Dunham – the real Dunham – wanted Zhang to write the first book published by her new Random House imprint. The result, 2017’s Sour Heart, is a collection of short stories about Chinese-American girls and young women growing up in New York – the daughters of artists who fled the chaos of Mao’s China, only to wind up struggling to survive in a new country. Her stories traverse generations and continents, from public school in Queens to the streets of Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution.
Jenny Zhang is the author of the short story collection, Sour Heart, and the poetry collection, Dear Jenny, We Are All Find. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, N+1, Harper’s, Poetry, Buzzfeed, New York, and Rookie. She holds degrees from Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Brodie Lancaster is a critic and editor based in Melbourne. From 2012 to 2017 she was the editor of Filmme Fatales, a print zine about the places where film and feminism intersect. She has contributed writing to publications including Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Rookie and New York magazine. Her first book, a pop culture memoir called No Way! Okay, Fine was published by Hachette in 2017.