top of page

Questions & Answers with Angie Kang


"Ultimately, painting and writing just feel like the most natural things to me, and I feel incredibly grateful that I’m able to do both right now."


Last month, we had the great pleasure of asking Angie Kang, a Chinese-American artist and writer, several questions about her work and creative processes.


Angie’s work has been featured widely in literary magazines such as Porter House Review, Passengers Journal, Subnivean, to name just a few. Angie’s short non-fiction piece Some Reassembly May Be Required was published in ‘Tiny Love Stories’ of the NYT’s Modern Love column. In 2019, her poem “how to cook a (perfect) fried egg” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.


Angie is currently working on her debut picture book, Our Lake. At the end of this interview, she kindly shares her inspiration for the story.


You can learn more about Angie and her work here: https://www.angiekang.net, @anqiekanq


We are delighted to share this Q & A with you!



"I’ve always loved painting and writing, and for me, they’ve always come hand in hand—I used to make little picture books and illustrate them with markers."


Can you tell us a bit about yourself? When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist and a writer?


I was born in China but spent most of my childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m an only child—I think a lot about being alone and try to avoid it whenever possible.
I’ve always loved painting and writing, and for me, they’ve always come hand in hand—I used to make little picture books and illustrate them with markers. One of my parents’ favorite anecdotes is the time when I was two and drew silently for two hours in my room. Having never been so quiet for that extended period of time, my mother assumed something had to be wrong!
But as a child, I also had poor eyesight. I got glasses when I was three, and I had to wear an eyepatch for several years because of intense strabismus. To this day, I still can’t see stereoscopic illusions or watch 3D movies. When I told my parents that I wanted to apply to art school, they worried that my eyes couldn’t keep up if I wanted to make art professionally. I had to convince them that I would not only be emotionally dedicated enough to continue, but also that I could physically handle the strain. It came down to a leap of faith on their part. And luckily, though my eyes do tire easily, that hasn’t been a huge problem. Ultimately, painting and writing just feel like the most natural things to me, and I feel incredibly grateful that I’m able to do both right now.

Can you describe for us the place or places where you write?


I wish I could be someone who works in cafes, but I’m so easily distracted! I’ve realized
I need absolute silence to focus. I have this lovely wooden desk in my studio that I’ll use for both painting and writing. When it’s cold, I’ll curl up in bed and type on my laptop. I think there’s less pressure that way, too. Being in a comfortable place makes me feel not like I’m working, but instead like I’m sneaking time to do something I love.


"I’ll have the seed of an idea, but if it’s not in the right pot, it doesn’t grow. I often have to replant the same idea multiple times, and that can take a while."



Angie Kang ©

When you get a new idea, how do you decide whether it will become a painting or a story?



This is such a good question! I’m still constantly struggling with this—I’ll have the seed of an idea, but if it’s not in the right pot, it doesn’t grow. I often have to replant the same idea multiple times, and that can take a while. There have been ideas bounced between poetry, prose, essays, sequential graphic pieces, and individual paintings. Sometimes, I have to just keep rewriting or repainting until I find the one that feels most natural to continue the narrative. Every form offers something that another doesn't, so it’s always a negotiation—which part of this idea can I give up, and which part do I need to nourish? Sometimes I try one medium, change my mind, only to return to the original again, which can be immensely frustrating. However, I’ve found that this shifting between forms allows me to deepen my understanding of the story and gain unexpected details in the process of searching. Instead of seeing this struggle as a waste of time, I’ve reframed the process as iterative.


I love the stories from ‘For Four Hands’, the beauty and brevity of each of them. Many of the characters play the piano. Does classical music play an important part in your life? Do you take inspiration from music?


I used to play piano! I started when I was three, and my mom was my teacher for the first six years of my life before we realized what a bad idea that was and switched teachers. I grew up listening to the classical station and only discovered pop music in fifth grade. My parents played the classical radio in the car, and if we listened to anything at home, it would be from my mom’s collection of Barenboim CDs. I’m sure I had heard other genres of music in stores or on TV, but in my memory, classical music was all I had known.

I channeled—and embellished—a lot of my frustrations about practice, pressure, and failure into “For Four Hands.” The multiple sections of piece actually all follow the same boy as he navigates this whale of an instrument. They’re fractured in the way memories can be—the stories that are most difficult for the boy to remember are done so in the third person, to distance himself from the events he’s recounting. Music has a deep relationship to language, and I love borrowing sheet music notation and other musical structures (such as that of a Sonata)—together, it all feels natural.

Even though I don’t practice piano anymore, classical music will always be important to me. In middle school and early high school, I went and kept returning to a summer chamber music camp where I met many of my closest friends, several of whom I still talk to regularly! It’s funny—most of them are all pursuing music professionally, but I’m just writing about it. I prefer it that way.


"The tiniest shift can lead to a wave of change, and I welcome that. But when the narrative is longer, I worry that I’ll meander too much without a route. When I’m concerned with plot, I do some planning. I jot down beats I want to hit."



Angie Kang ©


Do your stories change form as you write them or do they remain the same as what you first envisioned?


Depends on how long the piece is—for flash pieces, I let the language take over and guide the story. The tiniest shift can lead to a wave of change, and I welcome that. But when the narrative is longer, I worry that I’ll meander too much without a route. When I’m concerned with plot, I do some planning. I jot down beats I want to hit. In actual the process of writing, small details might shift, or unexpected scenes might crop up, but mostly, the resulting story will follow the bones of my original outline.

Do you ever have creative blocks? When you experience writers’ or artists’ block, do you possibly stop creating altogether or do you always have something to fall back on? Like writing when you can’t draw or vice versa?


I definitely have creative blocks, and yes, I do alternate writing and painting when I have them! I used to feel as though I was falling behind in one field if I was pursuing the other, but now I like to think of it as crop rotation—words and art require different nutrients from the same soil. I’ll clear whatever I’m not using from my desk so I can fully immerse myself in each artistic process.

"I realized that sometimes when I feel empty, I need to let myself stop working entirely and just recover. Rest. The creative process—and with it all the ensuing doubt and struggle —can be strenuous and draining."


I also believe it’s productive to have fallow periods. I realized that sometimes when I feel empty, I need to let myself stop working entirely and just recover. Rest. The creative process—and with it all the ensuing doubt and struggle —can be strenuous and draining. During my creative breaks, I’ll handle the boring but important parts of a writing/art practice, maybe apply to a few residencies or submit to magazines. I'll also spend more time engaging with other forms of art, loved ones, and nature. Eventually, those experiences will start to cascade into something I can bring to the page.

"I try not to think of anything as discarded. I have a folder of ideas that I don’t know how to develop yet—but I know I’ll come back to them eventually."


Do you have any discarded works you want to get back to, or are there pieces of short fiction you want to expand into a novel?


I try not to think of anything as discarded. I have a folder of ideas that I don’t know how to develop yet—but I know I’ll come back to them eventually. Some of these notes are instances of weird language that I want to incorporate, conversations had or overheard, and images witnessed or imagined. Some of these notes are sentences or paragraphs that I’ve extracted from “discarded” pieces, but when I use that language in something new, the old piece takes on new life. Nothing is ever never completely abandoned. Except for some navel-gazing stories I wrote in middle and high school about friendship troubles—still, those themes live on.

I don’t know if I would ever expand an existing short story into a book, but I’d love to write a novel someday! Lately I’ve been interested in linked short story collections (which could also be read as a fragmented novel) so perhaps I’ll build up to one eventually.

Can you share some of your favourite writers and artists? Who or what inspires you the most?


Oh, so so many. Some guiding lights are Pierre Bonnard, whose color usage is unparalleled, Lisbeth Zwerger, who creates imaginative, airy compositions, and Kyle Staver, who packs the canvas with lush narrative. I’ve always adored Beatrice Alegmana’s well-observed drawings and picture books, and am also a huge fan of Chris Ware’s brilliant, devastating graphic novels. I’ve found Rosmarie Waldrop’s poetry to be especially compelling. Whenever I’m stuck, she’s the first writer I turn to for inspiration—I've reread her book Gap Gardening countless times. Mostly, I’m inspired by my community. The humans in my life are endlessly funny, kind, thoughtful, and interesting, and I owe so much of my writing to how they’ve shaped my mind and world.

Could you tell us more about your upcoming picture book Our Lake and how you got the idea for it?


Our Lake is a story of two brothers returning to a lake they’ve visited many times before, but this time after losing their father. It’s a story about grief, loss, and healing. The idea actually sang from Milton Avery’s “Quarry Bathers” (1937). I wrote a short ekphrastic poem describing the imagined events leading up to the moment in the painting (three figures, one diving into the quarry and the other two looking on). My partner was actually the one who encouraged me to turn it into a picture book. I had to change a few details to make it into a compelling narrative, but the groundwork was largely there. Avery’s “Quarry Bathers” looms in the background of this book: the quarry is now a lake (much safer to swim in), two adult figures in the original painting have become two children, and the third is now their father, present only in memory.





@anqiekanq

https://www.angiekang.net

91 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comentarios


bottom of page