White poet used Chinese pen name to gain entry into Best American Poetry

11498642576_fa8d3cdd11_mThe 2015 edition of the prestigious anthology Best American Poetry (BAP) is now on sale. A mainstay since 1988, the American anthology is commonly accepted as one of the most important literary platforms for aspiring wordsmiths.

This year, the publication announcement includes an unforeseen onomastic controversy: Appearing alongside Chen Chen’s poem “i will do/undo what was done/undone to me” and Jane Wong’s “Thaw” is Yi-Fen Chou’s award winning poem “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve”. It looks as if three Asian-American authors made the final cut. However, the name Yi-Fen Chou is a pseudonym for Mr. Michael Derrick Hudson, who has no known Asian ancestry.

When asked why he had chosen this pen name, Hudson replied that he resorted to this tactic after his poem was repeatedly rejected under his real name.

As BAP juror and literary heavy-weight Sherman Alexie revealed in an interview with The Guardian that he only learned of Hudson’s non-Asian ancestry after the poem had been selected. According to Alexie, one of his goals when putting the 2015 anthology together was to make sure that it represented the true diversity of the United States. When he therefore learned the real identity of the author behind the name, Yi-Fen Chou, he was livid.

In an interview with TODAY.com, Dr. Timothy Yu, Director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained that one of the reasons why Hudson’s onomastic subterfuge was so injurious was that it ”fits into a long tradition of […] white Americans appropriating Asian identities and culture.” While poets and pundits will no doubt continue to argue the legitimacy of including Yi-Fen Chou/Hudson’s submission, from an onomastic point of view, this case exemplifies the power of names in forming our opinions and guiding our decision-making.

The poetry foundation offers many reactions to Yi-Fen Chou.