October 30, 2018
Honors Fellowship project
"It’s in an unfortunate in-between ... which I guess is where it started in the first place."
John Starr’s “book thing” is technically complete, but doesn’t fit neatly into publishing categories. Part poetry, part biography, and part history, his not-quite-book mirrors how he feels about the topic: his own identity, growing up half Chinese in suburban PA.
“I forced myself to look at that 'cultural in-between space' through a lot of different lenses: philosophy, music, history, different creative styles, and other people’s voices," he said. "Because I think that’s kind of what identity is."
The format shifts as often as the genre. Sometimes, 2 columns on a page tell 2 different stories. Even a single poem conveys 2 entirely different perspectives, depending on whether you follow the words in an English or Chinese reading pattern.
If it sounds confusingly disjointed, it's intended that way. John wants you to start out feeling a little like he did before the work all starts to come together.
Along the way, he confronts memories of racism from his all-white high school, and shares touchingly funny reflections from his mom, who has to grapple with some the same internal questions herself. (Her family jokingly calls her the “banana cousin: yellow on the outside, white on the inside.”)
He uses rap lyrics, too, because he decided music is essential to his sense of self. (Although, sorting out his feelings about how rap fit into the culture where he grew up wasn't as clean-cut.) Listen to his work on Soundcloud.
Eventually, all those expressions tie together into a more relatable ‘conclusion.' But it's still an uncertain one, just like reality.
“It made me feel better, but it’s just not something I'll ever be fully able to work out.”
Have a creative idea of your own?