Victor Yang is one of the four recipients of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. It will provide financial support for him to attend the Retreat in April 2017. The Award recipients are determined by merit and financial need, and the Award is funded by IWR Alumni.
Victor spends lots of time teaching, biking, and thinking about food when he is not parked in front of Microsoft Word at a coffee shop. He spends his days as a labor organizer at the janitors’ union in Boston, USA. His job, as a writer and an organizer, is to listen to other people’s stories and ask that they be shared. His essays are forthcoming in The Rumpus and Tahoma Literary Review. He grew up in Canada, rural China, and the USA.
What are you most looking forward to about the Retreat?
VY: While writing my application, I did the math for the Retreat: four days, five workshops, up to fifteen writers each. I’m excited for how that time multiplies — to talk about craft, to learn from folks from around the world, and to write.
What do you find inspiring?
VY: A good cup of coffee can do many wonders, I learned back in my student days. Plus no Wi-Fi and a promise to myself or a good friend that I’m not leaving the coffee shop, library, or wherever else until I write at least a paragraph or two, no matter how shitty. Getting into the practice of barfing words onto a page, or what other people call freewriting, has really helped.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
VY: Small goals are good. In the first week of working on a manuscript, I built up enough momentum to write a grand total of seven words one day, fifty the next, and on it goes.
How has writing influenced your life?
VY: I’ve been the wallflower who enters a room full of strangers and clam up, or the kid who sits at the back of the class without saying a peep for weeks. Microsoft Word has treated me with more kindness than many social situations. I started journaling as a kid to make sense of the world and perhaps some of the most confusing things in that world, namely my own self and my wackiness. Word processing software, other than the red squiggles that yell for not spelling right, is as non-judgmental as they get.
As I’ve read stories by folks like Jenny Zhang and Daisy Hernandez about their mothers and their activism and their take on racism in the world, I think “Hell, how do they describe and reflect on experiences in my life in words so much more poignant and accurate than my own?” I guess this is answering the inspiring part of what you were asking in the last question, but when done well, “well” in terms of not necessarily good craft but good therapy and processing, my writing encourages me to treat myself and others with more humanity and to find what’s common among all of us. It helps me make sense of things that I find specific and weird, and to discover, in the process of writing and thinking, that those things tell of universal truths that can in turn speak to so many people.
Victor would also like to express his gratitude for the opportunity to join the IWR community and for everyone who made the Alumni Award possible.