Best Quotes by Jenny Zhang

By | June 1, 2017

Mothers have always held such symbolic weight in determining a person’s worth. Your mother tongue, your motherland, your mother’s values – these things can qualify or disqualify you from attaining myriad American dreams: love, fluency, citizenship, legitimacy, acceptance, success, freedom.

Jenny Zhang

I like to keep a book underneath the pillow that I’m not sleeping on so I can reach over and grab it when I wake up. I don’t always do that, but I like to. I try to make sure it’s a book and not my laptop. I also try not to get too excited about who might’ve been trying to contact me while I was asleep.

Jenny Zhang

Asian American success is often presented as something of a horror – robotic, unfeeling machines psychotically hellbent on excelling, products of abusive tiger parenting who care only about test scores and perfection, driven to succeed without even knowing why.

Jenny Zhang

Growing up in America, I experienced two puberties. The first opened me up to the possibilities of adulthood. The second reinforced that for someone like me – an immigrant, a minority, an Asian-American – there were limits.

Jenny Zhang

As you get older, you realize you’re only the protagonist in your own story and a blip in someone else’s life.

Jenny Zhang

I wish I had acted better. I wish I had been the kind of sister who was patient enough to show my brother the proper spelling for ‘Power Rangers.’

Jenny Zhang

It’s okay if someone is disgusted or offended by my performance. It’s just a performance.

Jenny Zhang

I went to school in California, at Stanford when I was seventeen, and I lived in San Francisco until I was twenty-three, and then I lived in Hungary for, like, a summer, and then I went to Iowa for three years. At Iowa, I actually did the fiction program, not poetry. I was a fiction writer for a long time before I was ‘out’ as a poet.

Jenny Zhang

From its very inception, Lenny Letter set out to create a supportive, positive, inclusive space on the Internet that does not shy away from complexity and nuance.

Jenny Zhang

Karaoke was my family’s happy secret. In those early years in America, like many immigrants, my parents struggled with poverty and loneliness, but they also built provisional families, and inside our bubble there was joy, understanding, an intimate language I could never translate – and above all there was song.

Jenny Zhang

When I was a graduate student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for fiction writing, I felt both coveted and hated. My white classmates never failed to remind me that I was more fortunate than they were at this particular juncture in American literature.

Jenny Zhang

When it comes to love, maturity often gets a bad rap – second love is boring; it’s practical. It’s what our parents feel for each other.

Jenny Zhang

There’s so much of our behavior that kind of curdles and hardens as we get into adulthood, and it becomes so much more difficult to be hopeful and to dream extravagantly.

Jenny Zhang

My privileged upbringing and education and linguistic fluency gave me such proximity to whiteness that it stung all the more to still find myself outside of it. My mother, on the other hand, not only accepted that she would always be an outsider in this country but also believed it to be a finer fate and home than any other she could have had.

Jenny Zhang

When I was writing stories about Chinese American characters in my fiction classes, I’d get comments like, ‘You should consider writing more universal stories.’ But anything can happen to a Chinese American girl – just as much of the canon of English literature involves white men or women.

Jenny Zhang

When I first moved from Shanghai when I was five, I just thought of myself as Chinese.

Jenny Zhang

I grew up in a Chinese American enclave where the person who lived down the street had literally lived down the street from my mother in Shanghai.

Jenny Zhang

As I got older, I realised that people saw me as other things – sometimes Korean, sometimes Japanese, sometimes just Asian. When my family moved to a more affluent white neighbourhood, I started to see myself as ‘other’, this amorphous category. I didn’t even know what ‘not other’ was, but I knew I wasn’t it; I wasn’t what was normal.

Jenny Zhang

‘Alphabet’ by the late Danish poet Inger Christensen. It’s a book-length abecedarian poem. It’s an activist text but also a portal to wonder.

Jenny Zhang

I’d behave savagely if I had access to Bjoerk’s closet.

Jenny Zhang

Shanghai, the city where I was born and spent my first four and a half years. It’s not necessarily the most pleasant or most comforting place, but I have blood memory there, my core was formed there, so I need to go back often, or else I become empty, lost, without meaning.

Jenny Zhang

I lived so completely in my mind – a place of unchecked delusion and complete fantasy!

Jenny Zhang

Growing up, I had to cobble together a scarecrow of things I loved from various different writers.

Jenny Zhang

I think Lena Dunham, the public figure, is – I hate the word ‘brand,’ but I’m going to use it – it’s such a brand that is so tethered to her public persona and to ‘Girls’, but also this progressive politics that she’s been more vocal about.

Jenny Zhang

Of course I want the things I write to reflect well on me or anyone who might feel represented by me, but also, I’m not writing a guidebook on how to be or how my people should be seen. I’m telling very specific stories.

Jenny Zhang

I seem to be drawn to these smaller forms, and I seem to be drawn to things that can be written and also read in one sitting.

Jenny Zhang

Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, who founded Lenny Books together, also happen to have exquisite reading tastes – from obscure small press poetry chapbook to dishy memoirs to literary novels – and so it’s a real honor that they’ve chosen to announce their imprint with my stories.

Jenny Zhang

Growing up, I had a face that people wanted to tell things to, and I grew up with adults who had so much to say. They had lived through decades of unbelievable poverty, starvation, political upheaval, chaos.

Jenny Zhang

Chinese people of my parents’ generation who lived through the Cultural Revolution knew so much of death at such a young age, and the psychic toll those experiences left was immense. I knew the stories of the Cultural Revolution before knowing what the Cultural Revolution was.

Jenny Zhang

I often wonder if my being a fairly small Asian woman with a high-pitched quietish voice plays a role in how often men feel entitled to come up to me and tell me, ‘You have this doll act,’ or whatever.

Jenny Zhang

I hadn’t ever worked with an ‘editor’ until I was 26 – although that could be partly chalked up to the MFA vs. NYC thing, where I came up through institutions that encouraged writers to write privately for a long, long time and not sully themselves with concerns about audience or the business side of writing.

Jenny Zhang

Once I decided I was happy with something, I’d try to send it off into the world, and either someone would want it exactly as it was, or it would remain in my notebook/laptop, and no one would ever see it. This is probably why I didn’t work with an editor until I was 26. The solipsism!

Jenny Zhang

If you were to make a quick judgment call on my intelligence and articulation when I first moved to the U.S. based on my speaking skills, it would be very low.

Jenny Zhang

Sour Heart’ is a collection of seven linked short stories narrated by young Chinese-American girls living in New York City in the ’90s. It’s exceptionally hard to describe what I’ve written without sounding delusional or boring, so I’ll just say they are stories about growing up and the pleasures and agonies of having a family, a body, and a home.

Jenny Zhang

People who have very devastating lives sometimes have the most wild, avant-garde humor. It’s like when you’ve seen it all and been through it all, nothing is off-limits in a way.

Jenny Zhang

We’re not the best about knowing what’s the most interesting about ourselves.

Jenny Zhang

I really had to develop a core. I had to figure out, at my core as a writer, what did I value? What was I about? And I had to love it and take pleasure in it.

Jenny Zhang

I think it was really important for me before I ‘debuted myself’ in front of the world to have a private life with my imagination and my writing for several years. That also made it so I didn’t feel desperate for someone to find me.

Jenny Zhang

White people have always slipped in and out of the experiences of people of color and been praised extravagantly for it.

Jenny Zhang

One of the founding tenets of racism: a society that will never allow white people to think that because they are white, they won’t succeed.

Jenny Zhang

My mother had two unshakable beliefs that she tried to drill into me. The first was that I had to study and work twice as hard as my white peers if I wanted to survive in America, and the second was that it was delusional and dangerous to believe I possessed the same freedom white people had to pursue my dreams.

Jenny Zhang

Whenever I passed by a Chinese restaurant in a car, I’d joke to my friends, ‘Oh yeah, my uncle owns that place.’

Jenny Zhang

For a decade, Emma-Lee Moss has been steadily making weird, moody, melancholic music under the moniker ‘Emmy the Great’ that has been referred to as nue-folk, anti-folk, synthpop, and, most of all, literary.

Jenny Zhang

It’s like a weird mindset to wake up and want to be wanted. Like, I want to be wanted so much already… and I’m so greedy for other people’s desire that I have to really force myself to have some shame about it and some control, neither of which come easily to me.

Jenny Zhang

We lived in one of those half-basement apartments, and on our first night of being in America, someone reached through the grate that protects the window and stole our laundry detergent – which wasn’t a big deal, but it felt symbolic when I heard about it later as an adult.

Jenny Zhang

When I was an undergrad at Stanford, there was a girl named Jennie Kim who worked for the school newspaper. Sometimes people would come up to me and talk to me about articles she had written. ‘That one on getting a Brazilian was hilarious’, some guy said, high-fiving me.

Jenny Zhang

I know I am not the first woman to ask this, but how can I be both damaged and loveable? How do I become the protagonist of a story?

Jenny Zhang

As a child, I would go days without speaking, and then suddenly I would scream until everyone was looking at me.

Jenny Zhang

The year my mom worked as a secretary at an apparel company in midtown, she would often come home in tears because she had mistakenly called her boss by another coworker’s name. ‘You know how it is,’ my father said, ‘they all look the same. It’s not your mom’s fault. There’s just no telling them apart. Same high nose and deep-set eyes.’

Jenny Zhang

I just submitted what I had to the ‘Octopus Books’ contest open reading period, and they said they wanted to publish my poetry book. Then I started to publish more and more poetry because people would ask me to do readings or ask me submit something for their journal.

Jenny Zhang

Poetry was my dirty little secret when I was a fiction writer at Iowa, and then fiction became my dirty little secret when I started writing more poetry and working for ‘Rookie’.

Jenny Zhang

With nonfiction, I had to learn how to be a clear communicator, but it was also a relief to be able to articulate some of my political ideas and beliefs. I also try to do that in my fiction, but I’m more interested in asking questions that lead to more questions, mysteries that lead to more mysteries, rather than immediate answers and solutions.

Jenny Zhang

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