Interview | KIM LIAO


Interview | KIM LIAO

In this issue…

We’ve been thinking a lot about positions and perspectives - how they define who we are, and how we define the world. We invited a few of our contributors to share their perspectives with us.


Interview | KIM LIAO


Growing up, I never felt like I belonged in my small town, ethnically or culturally. I was born in NYC, but grew up on a small town on Long Island, where as a biracial teenager I was both the token Asian and the token Jew in my class. So throughout my discovery and pursuit of writing as an adult, I've always been drawn to boundary crossers, suppressed stories that challenge what we think we know to be true, and a very curious consideration of the way that we contextualize our experiences into the cultural norms that society wishes to impose on us. I've never felt like I had a built-in community where I belonged, so I see belonging and the pursuit of understanding others' experiences as extremely dynamic processes. I like to think that my writing speaks for itself, in part because it's usually nonfiction or drawn from life -- so there's an element of attempting to uncover the truth that tends to permeate all of my writing, even the shortest pieces.


My relationship with the world on any given day or month or year definitely informs whatever priorities I am trying to bring out in a given piece. When I wrote "Echocardiogram," I was working as a legal writer for an immigration attorney and spent most of my week writing about the achievements of medical professionals and researchers to help them get green cards. At the time, I was very interested in how scientific concepts that we think of as dry or boring (or just never spend any time on) can be fascinating universes. I was researching and writing a lot about cardiology for my day job, so in my writing, I began unpacking everything we believe to be true about the heart. I always think that it's good for writers to interface with the world, and see life lived in action! What you see and observe about the world will find its home in your work -- especially through burning questions and obsessions that refuse to let go of you.


Oh, everything! From the perspective of writing, I often am confronted by learning how little I know as I get older and spend more time writing for others. There are no rules! I now teach creative writing to adults and first-year college writing at CUNY. When I work with my students, I emphasize that good writing is concerned with reaching a specific audience, and using concrete, specific details to illustrate a unique argument or point. Beyond that, anything is possible.


In general, I want my writing to ask more questions than it answers. I want to tell a good story, bring a reader into my tiny corner of the universe and show them around the cupboard of my brain. I want to take the reader on a journey to the discoveries I made while writing a piece. But above all, I want the reader to feel more whole at the end reading my work than they were before. It's a tall order, and I mostly fail. But failing is good; it means that you know where you want to go and aren't afraid.



Kim Liao's writing has appeared in Lit Hub, Catapult, The Rumpus, Salon, The Millions, River Teeth, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Another Chicago Magazine, Fringe, Brevity's Nonfiction Blog, Fourth River, and others. She received an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Emerson College, and teaches writing at Catapult, Gotham Writers' Workshop, and at Baruch and City Tech colleges. She is currently revising a family memoir about the Taiwanese Independence Movement.