Ai Weiwei in New York City: An Interview with Kelly Tsai

Kelly Tsai is a spoken word poet, writer, performer and director, whose latest work AI WEI WEI: THE SEED is an exploration of Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei’s early life in New York City. The performance traces the years before Weiwei became internationally renowned for his provocative, political art. Apogee Editor-at-large Melody Nixon talked with Tsai about her upcoming show and whether art and politics can ever be separated. Melody Nixon (MN): How did you first come across Ai Weiwei’s work? Kelly Tsai (KT): Back in 2012 I was in Taipei, Taiwan, and I saw Ai Weiwei’s exhibit at the contemporary fine arts museum there. When I was walking through the exhibit I saw all these photos of street corners that I knew in Brooklyn and the East Village and I was like, “wait a second, what are these?” Then I realized that Ai Weiwei had actually spent much of his 20’s and 30’s (1981-1993) in NYC as a young artist, which I thought was really interesting. MN: That inspired you to investigate his life story? KT: Yes. With a little more research, I found out that his father was a political poet and he also was friends with many...
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Spotlight on Issue 3: James Yeh

James Yeh’s “Your Giant New Loft” appears in Apogee Issue III. The brief story tours the expensive home of a friend you didn’t know had money while exploring class anxiety along the way. I spoke with James about the piece, his writing, and more. Scott Dievendorf: Part of Apogee’s mission is to publish literature that interrogates the status quo and engages with issues of identity politics. Not all of your work is explicitly political and I wouldn’t necessarily classify you as a political author, though your piece in our current issue certainly speaks to class anxiety. Do you ever feel a personal urgency to explore issues of class, race, or other facets of identity through your fiction? In other words, what are your personal feelings about using literature as means of social inquiry? James Yeh: That’s a tough question to answer because on the one hand, of course I’m interested in class and race and issues of identity. As the son of Taiwanese immigrants to South Carolina, where I was born and grew up, there isn’t much choice. Questions of race and identity come to you—sometimes at you. That said, I’m less interested in work that strikes me as wholly or...
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David Mura on The Last Incantations

    David Mura is a contributor, advocate, and advisory board member of Apogee. He is a poet, memoirist, novelist, playwright, critic, and performance artist. Mura’s most recent work is the poetry collection The Last Incantations. He is also the author of three other books of poetry: After We Lost Our Way, The Colors of Desire, and Angels for the Burning. His prose work includes the memoirs Turning Japanese and Where the Body Meets Memory, and the novel, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire.   Crystal Kim (CK): As Creative Nonfiction Editor of Apogee, I read and immensely enjoyed working with you on Bondage & Liberation for Apogee’s Issue 3. It was exciting to dip into your writing in another form—poetry. How does your new collection of poetry, The Last Incantations, differ from your previous books? David Mura (DM): In my earlier books, particularly The Colors of Desire, there was a significant focus on my identity specifically as a Japanese American and on the history of my community. I was trying to transfer and reflect some of the discoveries I’d made in my memoirs. In a way, I had to write those memoirs to create an intellectual, cultural and historical context...
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Taking it Lying Down: An Interview with R. Erica Doyle

“You have come to do an autopsy and at the first excision found a beating heart.” R. Erica Doyle’s Proxy cuts with terrifying precision as it performs an autopsy on desire.  Proxy was published by Belladonna* and won the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award, and was a Lambda Literary Award finalist.  I sat down with Doyle to discuss. Cecca Ochoa: How did Proxy begin? R.Erica Doyle: The origin of Proxy was an exercise in exposure and vulnerability.  I was in Patricia Smith’s workshop, and there was an exercise to write about a taboo. Not something that is a taboo in society, but what is taboo to you. Maybe it is taboo to you to write about piercing your nipples, but I don’t really care. At the time what was taboo was writing about the really fucked up things that women did to each other in relationships. Right now there is this call out culture, but it’s not really happening in a real way, in my opinion. CO: It’s a game, now. RED: Yeah, it’s a game. People are not calling out some real things that they could call out. But, that was something that a couple...
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Spotlight on Issue 3: Cynthia Dewi Oka

Two poems by Apogee Issue 3 Featured Artist Cynthia Dewi Oka Tabuh Rah I. After the wounds are scraped the blood flaked to sawdust the feathers black snow around her ankles, she will bite into the bird and drink like a coyote or child of Cain, roll the sour heat across her tongue; she will become a weapon. II. The loose bolt of the jugular. The wrench of the tongue. Inside her the hands of men churn like Pacific storms. Gleam of coin toss, then the rat-tat-tat polemics of a dead revolution. III. The bets are placed. Tourists fiddle with their cameras. The cocks are thrown into the pit, armed with their bodies, slick with god: whatever knife plays within us, what Lorca called duende, will mark its territory tonight. IV. The spectacle cleanses the witness. Tradition and formlessness both demand a good death. When it is over, the sun like a fat white spider resumes its weaving, in and out of Bintang beer bottles, the ditches where children bathe, the wax paper kites that pin up the sky. V. She sucks the bones dry. Each flightless bird’s eye that will not close again. In the caves of memory, where...
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Spotlight on Issue 3: José Esteban Muñoz and Rebecca Sumner Burgos

I was wasting time online the other day, thinking about writing this essay on what the legacy of  José Esteban Muñoz means to me- a person who never knew him, but experiences a synapses­ changing euphoria when I read his work. Online, I came across a picture of a friend in an airplane. They ­- gender ambiguous, creature­-like, with their wildly colored hair and their face painted neon­- tongued their lip in the direction of their neighbor, a regal transwoman. Behind these two, another happy-looking queer (the only other figure in the picture) winked into the camera. For a moment, I allowed myself to daydream that the entire plane was filled with queers. I imagined an aircraft hurtling 500 miles per hour, 35,000 feet above the earth, where every being chose their own unique gender and performed it without inhibition. Then I opened Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia and underlined the first sentence: “Queerness is not yet here.” Muñoz takes queerness as the wilderness of identity. He captures ephemeral moments where queerness exposes itself to the present. Drawing on Ernst Bloch, he defines utopias: “They are the hopes of a collective, an emergent group, or even the solitary oddball who is the...
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Silent Auction Items

Still haven’t bought a ticket to our joint benefit with MoCADA this Thursday? If the readings by acclaimed writers Cathy Park Hong, Kiese Laymon, Mahogany Browne, and Saeed Jones, the installation by artist Shantell Martin, and being among the first to get your copy of Apogee Issue 3, isn’t motivation enough, then check out our silent auction items.  (Oh, and if you have bought your ticket, maybe you should start thinking strategically about how to have your name last on the list when the auction closes…) Silent Auction Items: GOTHAM WRITERS WORKSHOP ONE DAY WRITING INTENSIVE Admission to a One- Day Intensive with Gotham Writers Workshop, New York City’s leading private creative writing school. Intensives are fun, fast-paced immersions in a genre of writing of your choice. Ideal for both the beginner and someone wanting a quick refresher course. Value, $150 each (2 for auction) ENTRANCE FOR TWO TO THE NEW YORK WRITERS’ COALITION WRITE-A-THON Two tickets to the New York Writers’ Coalition Write-A-Thon, New York City’s most popular marathon writing event, to be held on November 1st 2014. Value, $300 THE DEVIL IN SILVER AND BIG MACHINE, BY VICTOR LaVALLE Signed, hard cover editions of two novels by acclaimed fiction writer...
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Gray Matter: Reading into Ageism

By Lisa Peet “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” This, for those who’ve never seen it, was the caption to Peter Steiner’s now-famous 1993 New Yorker cartoon. Even though the Internet had barely hit public consciousness at that point, the line struck a nerve. And no wonder: one of the great wonders of online life, in those days, was its anonymity. On the Internet, nobody knew what you looked like, how much you earned, where you grew up, or your level of education; nobody knew you were sitting home in your pajamas; and—famously—nobody knew you were a straight white guy. The Internet of the mid-’90s freed you to become anyone you wanted; it was the liberation of the keyboard. Writers, of course, have long appreciated the protection of being preceded by their words; the term nom de plume first showed up in the 19th century, a good 150 years before we had such things as user names. Many of them were women competing in a man’s world: the Georges Sand and Eliot, the Brontë sisters before they hit their stride, science fiction writer James Tiptree, Jr.—born Alice Bradley Shelton. And who (of a certain age) doesn’t remember the...
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Rethinking Utopia: An Interview with Rich Benjamin

Melody Nixon recently interviewed Rich Benjamin, journalist-adventurer and the author of Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey To The Heart Of White America. See more at The Common Online   MN: Living on the East Coast and in New York City in particular I find it so easy to make assumptions about what is happening “out there,” in the rest of America, in terms of everything, but especially race relations. Your book offers rich insight as you actually travelled throughout the country investigating what you call “Whitopias.” What are Whitopias? RB: There are a couple important, salient qualities of the communities I visited, which I call Whitopias. A Whitopia has to be whiter than the U.S. in general, i.e., right now the U.S. is about 69% white. A Whitopia has to be whiter than its respective region in the country, (east, south, west, Midwest), and it has to have had at least 6% growth between 2000 and 2008, and the majority of that growth has to have to come from white residents. And the final quality that is absolutely crucial to a Whitopia is that it has to have a special social charm, a je ne sais quoi, a special...
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