A White Guy Couldn’t Get His Poem Published So He Called Himself Yi-Fen Chou

A White Guy Couldn’t Get His Poem Published So He Called Himself Yi-Fen Chou

If someone is talented, then it shouldn’t matter what their race is — but thanks to affirmative action, minorities are given precedence over whites. The latest example? A white man tried to get one of his poems published and couldn’t, until he submitted it under a Chinese name.

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Sherman Alexie read hundreds, maybe thousands, of poems last year while editing the 2015 edition of Best American Poetry, an annual anthology that comes out Tuesday. Just over six dozen of them made the final cut, including “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” by Yi-Fen Chou, 20 brief, cynical lines on the absurdity of desire.

But after Alexie had chosen the poem for the collection, he promptly got a note from the author, who turned out not to be the rueful, witty Chinese American poet he’d imagined while reading the piece.

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It was written by Michael Derrick Hudson of Fort Wayne, Ind., a genealogist at the Allen County Public Library who, given his field of expertise, could probably easily explain that he is not of Asian descent.

Hudson, who is white, wrote in his bio for the anthology that he chose the Chinese-sounding nom de plume after “The Bees” was rejected by 40 different journals when submitted under his real name. He figured that the poem might have a better shot at publication if it was written by somebody else.

“If this indeed is one of the best American poems of 2015, it took quite a bit of effort to get it into print, but I’m nothing if not persistent,” reads his unabashed explanation.

Anecdotally, Hudson’s calculation was correct. The literary journal Prairie Schooner, one of nine places to receive a submission from “Yi-Fen Chou,” accepted “The Bees” and three other poems for its Fall 2014 issue. The poem was referred to Best American Poetry, where Alexie came across it, and wound up in the collection, where Brooklyn-based writer and snarky Tumblr poetry-commentator Jim Behrle found it and posted it to his site.

This was apparently one of the best poems of the year, yet it couldn’t get published because the guy who wrote it was white? Discrimination against minorities is a real thing, but in our race to make sure it never happens, the pendulum has unfortunately swung too far to the other side.

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