This Writer is on Fire: Cathy Linh Che -The Toast

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“Writing, to me, is an act of anti-erasure. It reaches for the unsayable. Anti-erasure is when the silenced or marginalized object speaks. When it asks a reader to listen to what it has to say. And what it says is the evidence.” —NPM Daily

“I write about my experiences because I’m uneasy with the silence. I’m uneasy with the abject and unfathomable horror surrounding the topic—as if sexual molestation is not something that happens to one in three girls and one in seven boys. At a table with ten folks, several people have been sexually violated at some point in their lives (whether we identify as victims, survivors, or something else), or are perpetrators. So, it’s not ‘unimaginable’—it’s lived experiences that we all share.” —Fireside, A Kundiman Blog

Who she is

Cathy Linh Che is the author of the poetry collection Split (Alice James Books, 2014), winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. She is a poet, teacher, and arts administrator living in Brooklyn, NY.

Why you should read her

Sexual abuse and assault is so difficult to write about and read about, so painful and raw that words seem too much or too little. But Che is fearless for us, using poetry, that thing of words and beauty, to understand this horrible thing we’ve created, to tell the untellable. And we have created it, because beyond the violating act itself, there’s a whole culture insulating that act, telling us how we should and shouldn’t understand it, how we should and shouldn’t feel about it. The thing we are left with is shame, the lens through which we see everything around that abuse, that violence. Not shame for the perpetrators, but for the victims, the survivors.

Che uses poetry to dismantle that lens, to dismantle the entire apparatus of shame and lead us to different ways of seeing, of telling. She writes about the things that happen to us that no one wants to talk about, the things we desperately need to see written in the world so that we know we are not invisible, that we didn’t suffer and endure these things (and everything after) alone. Sometimes painful, sometimes tender, and always shockingly beautiful, her poems reveal without exploiting, without explaining. Che shows us that poetry can be a tool for peering into those raw places (inside us, around us) prose can’t reach.

Where to find her work

“To be a daughter, a survivor, and a poet are all aligned in the need ‘to rewrite everything,’ a need that Che navigates with brutality and tenderness, devastation and irrepressible endurance.” —Publishers Weekly

Split (Alice James Books, 2014)

Links to some of Che’s poems online:

We Begin in Joshua Tree

Language Came to the Door for Me

On Anti-Erasure


Doc, there was a hand




Home Video

Letters to Doc

Self Defense



Object Permanence: the Sea

As it ought to be

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