Milestones and Pitfalls

Weekly column written for the Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here.

A milestone: my private school on the Upper East Side of NYC has gone for 6 teaching weeks without having to close because of the virus. Sure, some groups of students had had to stay home because a classmate or two had a household member who tested or could be positive, but the rest of the school had continued to function, and after the requisite weeks of quarantine, those students had rejoined in-person learning. As a teacher, I can't begin to tell you the immense difference between real and virtual learning. An informal poll will have to suffice. All my juniors, 16-17 years old, said that they would rather study in school than at home.

It is only possible for my school to reach such a milestone because we have such superior resources. We are rich not only in funding but also in personnel. Our teacher-to-student ratio is small. More importantly, our staff-to-student ratio is also small, much bette…

Eloquent Experiments

 Weekly column written for the Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here.

Last spring, at my all-girls independent school, I taught a senior-year poetry workshop called "A Portfolio of Selves: Four Asian American Women Poets," focusing on the work of Monica Youn, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Celina Su, and Jenifer Sang Eun Park. The students responded enthusiastically and imaginatively to the variety of subject matter and style in these very different poets. I was immensely impressed by the students' eagerness to learn from these eloquent experiments in contemporary poetry.

The poems written by one student, Charlotte Baker, stood out for their self-assured adoption of the means on offer to convey her very own ends. I had very little to offer her in terms of feedback. The poems were whole, or almost so. The poems were incredibly vulnerable too. They transcended the writing exercises to become genuine investments in discovery and feeling. They have now been published…

"Palinodes in the Voice of My Dead Father"

Serendipity, to have two of my "Palinodes in the Voice of My Dead Father" appear in Flypaper Lit, which calls Ohio home, when I'm here in Ohio for Elnora's memorial service. GH and I have lost three parents between us in the last three years. The palinodes give voice to the tension between mourners, as in every family, and then the possibility of reconciliation.

Five of the palinodes also appeared in PN Review 255

Is There Hope for Democracy?

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A warm welcome to Singapore Unbound's weekly newsletter to everyone who is joining us fresh from the 2020 Singapore Literature Festival in NYC. Here you will find more news and discussions of the topics of democracy, freedom of expression, and equal rights, and of your favorite authors from the festival.

The videos of all the festival events, including the festival previews, are now available for viewing on a special festival playlist on YouTube. You can enjoy listening to the speakers now at your own leisure. If you have found an event particularly interesting, you could organize your own viewing party with friends and discuss the the ideas about literature and politics raised by festival speakers, such as Tanie De Rozario, Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha, Nuraliah Norasid, Ricco Villanuea Siasoco, Amanda Lee Koe, Paula Mendoza, Aimee Liu, and Meira Chand. The Opening Address by PJ Thum "Is There Hope for …

Singapore Unbound Denounces Harassment of PJ Thum and New Naratif

Singapore Unbound
Public Statement 
September 21, 2020 
Singapore Unbound Urges Prime Minister's Office to Withdraw Police Complaint

Singapore Unbound denounces the People's Action Party government's harassment of PJ Thum, the Managing Director of New Naratif, an independent news website reporting on Singapore and Southeast Asia.

The Elections Department, Prime Minister's Office, has filed a police complaint against New Naratif, alleging that New Naratif published “paid advertisements that amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under s83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the recent 2020 General Election.”

As New Naratif points out, the PEA is framed so broadly that almost any kind of paid public comment could be construed to run foul of it, including New Naratif's coverage of the General Elections, boosted as paid posts on Facebook. Judge for yourself: The PEA states that “…such material shall be election advertising even thou…

To Be Vocal

Weekly column written for the Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here.

Thank you for buying books from our imprint Gaudy Boy in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Gaudy Boy donated our sales proceeds from June through August to Voices of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY). Together we raised $500, including two outright donations. Led by Black and brown people, VOCAL-NY is a statewide grassroots membership organization that builds power among low-income people directly impacted by HIV/AIDS, the drug war, mass incarceration, and homelessness. The organization has active chapters in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, and Westchester County. We're pleased to support its community organizing, leadership development, advocacy, direct services, and direct action. Do check out VOCAL-NY's tremendous work for disadvantaged communities.

I don't do this often but I will toot my own horn. My first hybrid work of fiction Snow at 5 PM: Tr…

The Ghost of Sakthivel Kumarvelu

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Introduction to the 2020 Singapore Literature Festival in NYC (Oct 1-3)

I am haunted by the ghost of Sakthivel Kumarvelu. As an economic migrant, he found his way from India to Singapore in the hope of a better life. His dream was crushed in 2013 when he was killed by the private bus that whisked him and his fellow workers away from downtown to distant dormitories, out of the sight of Singaporeans. He died of a traffic accident, some say. It is more accurate to say that he died of a world of social and economic inequities. Or as Bangladeshi poet Muhammad Sharif Uddin, also a migrant worker in Singapore, puts it in his powerful elegy for the dead man, “Velu was trapped in a labyrinth of laws.”

Velu’s death sparked off—what should we call it? The official version of events calls it a riot. We might call it something else—an uprising. Certainly the violence was caused by deep and justified grievances. Also cert…