Reprinted by permission of SLL/Srerling Lord Loteristic,Inc. Copyright by Bryan Washington
Sorry about my lateness, as ever—it’s already summer. The weather in Houston is beginning to show it. My dog (her name is Saki, she’s a Shiba Inu) had seemed excited for the longer days outside, but I’m thinking that the humidity has changed her mind. I was in Berkeley when I sent my last letter, and I’ll be returning again this week (for our friend Thu’s wedding!); I heard that you were also in the area not too long ago? I’m hoping it was a pleasant time.
And I was just getting over (what I’m choosing to describe as) a Bad Cold last time we corresponded. I’m mostly feeling better now. Last month, classes ended at the university I teach at, and while masks (unfortunately, disturbingly) weren’t required, my students wore theirs accordingly as we closed out our final weeks. It was bittersweet to think that we’d navigated the semester in the midst of so much strife, but reassuring that we’d found patches of warmth and compassion throughout, really clinging to them when we could.
When I last wrote to you, I was fighting to finish a draft of my next novel—now, I can happily say that it’s mostly completed. I’m working on edits with my editor. It’ll be a while, I think, before I figure out how to talk about the book, but what I can say now is that it’s the most difficult thing I’ve written. And it’s the strangest book I’ve written. And it might be the heaviest book I’ve written. It’s about ghosts, among other things, but it’s also about joy. And it’s certainly my favorite so far. In either case, I did the very best I could, which I’m finding is just about all I can reasonably ask for. (I’m excited to send a copy your way once I have them in hand.)
It’s really interesting—and heartening—to read your words on simultaneity, and the way in which it both expands and contracts our horizons. I wholeheartedly agree. My family, for the past few generations, has mostly worked in agricultural trades, and as someone whose trajectory may not have differed if not for the internet, social media, and the windows onto the world that translation can provide, I’m constantly thinking about how access can serve as a tool for equity and representation. One flip side of that—as we see in the States nearly every day—are the ways in which these access points can also serve as tools to divide, demean, or to destroy. There’s no pure good or bad in any of it—shades of both exist alongside each tool. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to make of it.
To that end, I can’t help but think about the ways in which chance played a part in my own situation: I’ve mentioned this before, but I wasn’t a big reader growing up. I was interested in stories—between friends, in theatres, in verse—but I didn’t believe that prose had a place for me, because I hadn’t seen myself in any of what I’d had access to. It would not have even occurred to me to seek out queer fiction—to say nothing of fiction where queerness wasn’t reviled—because I didn’t even know that a thing like that could exist. I didn’t have the language for it at all. Unfortunately, this is hardly an atypical situation.
But one access point, for me, was literature. That sounds cliché, but it’s exactly what happened. My first summer home from college I worked at a children’s aftercare center and spent my evenings after work between library shelves, mostly reading queer fiction and Japanese fiction in translation (it’s not hyperbolic at all to say that I’d have no career to speak of without translators). One book simply led to the next. I did that just about every day for three months, and when I returned to school in the fall, I kept up the habit.
I wasn’t entirely aware of what I was doing, exactly. I just knew that my sense of the world was opening up. And if someone had told me that this would provide the foundation for my having the chance, years later, to travel across the country reading my own words, or across the word for literary festivals, or to write in newspapers and magazines about the expansiveness of literature, I wouldn’t have believed them. I’d have called it a joke and moved on. But, as tiny as my access point was, these are some of the things it has yielded.
It makes me think of your novels, and the way in which their characters are so often presented at crux points. Oftentimes, it’s unclear which choice is the “best” for them. Their world is changing alongside them—alongside us—and we can’t help but feel implicated in their vertigo. But as they reach for grace—despite not knowing the outcome, or maybe even without having the vernacular for it—it feels like a reminder of the many different possibilities that are present for us in this
world, if we’re lucky, and we’re open to them, and we’re guided along by those who wish us well.
In my personal case, these access points have also led to community. It’s brought me friendships and pleasures that I never would’ve imagined. It’s allowed me to see myself and my experiences in others when, otherwise, I’d only have been privy to a void. And while this is something that I, frankly, could never repay, I’m very invested in ensuring it remains possible for as many folks as possible. That feels like a prescient form of care to me. And maybe providing care is simply another way of trying to create a home, regardless of where you are.
It would be difficult to overstate what your correspondence, and your work, has meant to me—so I’ll simply say thank you. It’s been a reminder of the warmth that’s possible, and the kindness that’s possible, and the bravery that’s possible if we’re open to it. I’m very, very grateful. And I’m ecstatic that, at least at the time of my writing this, it looks like the (literal) borders between us will be opening soon; I’m hoping to visit within the next year or so! The thought makes me really happy.
Until then, I’m wishing you light and warmth—