Thursday, May 15, 2014

Asian Artist Profile: Matthew Salesses


Matthew Salesses is the author of a novel, I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying and the novella, The Last Repatriate. Both books I highly recommend. His newest book, from Thought Catalog, is an essay collection called Different Racisms. It explores the unique racism Asian Americans face, including Jeremy Lin's impact on Asian American representation in national media, America's perception of Psy (Gangnam Style), and the model minority myth. Different Racisms can be found here.

Matthew was kind enough to answer questions about his writing, growing up Asian American, and, yes, sadness. You can find out more about him at his website here, friends.

I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying is a novel told in flash fiction, while The Last Repatriate is a beautifully concise novella. What are the benefits and difficulties of writing short fiction? Especially with taking the short pieces to form a longer narrative, like a novel? 

Each of the chapters in I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying is shorter than a page long. And I suppose, though I hadn't thought about it, The Last Repatriate is made up of many small parts. I've realized recently that this may just be the way I write best, as much as I'd love to write longer extended scenes. When I attempt those scenes, they often work better broken up into parts. I think part of this is that I am working with insight as cause and effect, more so than a longer string of physical action, and insight on the scale of smaller arcs is a lot about suggestion. Real insight is done in conjunction with the reader, or something. I leave a lot out when I'm making leaps or I cut a lot out when I'm really revising. When these small arcs add up, their elisions, as much as what is there, hopefully add up to some larger arc of emotional insight, where the reader is able to make something out of what is missing and feel it on a deeper level than the satisfaction (hopefully) of the resolution of what is there. I am making this up as I go along, though, and perhaps am not explaining myself accurately.


What struck me from reading both I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying, and The Last Repatriate, is a sense of almost indefinable sorrow, something that the characters in the books don't quite have the language to articulate. Even with the humor in these books, there's an underlying sadness that creates a tension, at least for me, that is extremely effecting. This may be too abstract, but can you talk about creating that mood? About writing, capturing, that sadness?  

Sadness--that's interesting. I think, in a way, the sadness is in the level of awareness. What the characters are aware of and what they are not aware of. The disconnect there is a large part of the disconnect in articulation and between fantasy and reality. I'm often writing arcs of denial. But at some level, there's awareness, and that awareness probably creates a sort of unrealized, or mood of, sadness.

Who are some of your favorite writers? What are you reading right now? 

I was just telling someone that I've noticed that so many of favorite writers are Canadian: Michael Ondaatje, Anne Carson, Alice Munro as frontrunners. Some of my favorite storytellers are Japanese: Haruki Murakami and Hayao Miyazaki, especially. Right now, I'm reading and rereading a number of Asian American books for a course I'm supposed to be teaching in the fall. I'm also reading ARCs of forthcoming books, like Kim Sunee's A Mouthful of Stars, and listening to E.M. Forster books on my iPhone.


There was a time that I didn't think there were really any young Asian American writers out there. But I was wrong, I just didn't know where to look! Was it difficult for you to find other Asian American writers? Do you feel like it's getting easier for Asian American writers to get noticed, to be found? 

It was difficult. I hope it has gotten easier with the internet. But I think part of what made it difficult when I was younger was that I didn't even know to look. Or I was afraid or ashamed to. One's school (and maybe one's local library) tell you what books are supposed to be, especially if you grow up in certain parts of the country. There is always someone telling you what books are supposed to be. Perhaps now those voices are more representative, but I suspect they're only very slightly so. There's too much politics to go on with this answer.

How was it like growing up Asian American? How has it affected your writing? 

For me, it was inextricable from growing up as an adoptee. I'm basically always writing about it, now. But there was a long time when I couldn't bring myself to write about it. It's harder for some people to be honest with themselves than it is for others.