Mother of Invention

October 1, 2019  • Institute Staff

When Tina Chang was working on her latest poetry collection, Hybrida, she focused on news stories about the violent deaths of unarmed black men like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice. As the mother of a young black boy, she felt compelled to ask through her work how she would raise her son to be safe. Chang, Brooklyn’s first female poet laureate and a professor at Sarah Lawrence College, spoke about the creative process during a taping of the First Draft podcast hosted by Mitzi Rapkin. The discussion took place before a live audience in June at Aspen Words’ Summer Words Writers Conference and Literary Festival, where Chang taught a five-day poetry workshop. “I was trying to chart the course of how difficult it is to get to motherhood,” Chang said of Hybrida, “and yet how miraculous that is.” She explained that she wove her own history into the book, too. Poems like “Revolutionary Kiss” highlight the ancestral paths from Taiwan and Haiti to the United States, paths that brought Chang to the moment when she kissed her son for the first time. Chang also spoke of her admiration for Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Stanley Kunitz, her 25-year friendship with former US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, and her favorite karaoke song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”