Working On a Novel in Verse and Finding Community Thanks to a Scholarship

Nov 10, 2023 | Asian American Voices, Scholarship Stories

With the support of our Asian & Asian American Storyteller Scholarship, Đenise Hạnh Huỳn attended our 2022 In-Community Retreat for AAPI Kidlit Creatives. Below she shares some of her highlights from the retreat.

Đenise’s Story

Đenise is a poet, educator, and researcher. Her work is motivated by opportunities we create to learn about our ancestors and ourselves, investigating creative efforts we make as we reinvent and remake culture. Ðenise is currently a PhD Candidate in Education at the University of Minnesota with majors in arts, culture and teaching. She also holds a Master of Public Policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and a Bachelor of Arts from Macalester College. Her poetry has appeared in publications such as Coffee House Press, diacritics, and Public Art Saint Paul.

She was delighted to have the chance to work on her novel in verse draft while in community: “I’ve never shared space with so many creative AAPI women writers all at once before! I’m grateful to have found another generous, kind, and supportive community. On the last night of the retreat, we each wrote down a goal, a hope, and a dream on small slips of paper. We each threw our slips into a fireplace and wished for one another’s goals, hopes, and dreams to come true. Each person was cheered on by the collective after each piece of paper was burned.”

“As the slips of paper caught fire, Grace Lin said, ‘In this industry, as Asian American women, they will pit us against each other. They will tell us there can only be one. When I first started out, I was rejected; they told me they were already publishing one Asian American writer, so they didn’t need me. I really internalized that, and it took a long time to work through it… but we have to say no. We are here to support each other.'”

Đenise continues: “I learned more about how to navigate the children’s literature publishing industry. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to work in person with my co-writer and illustrator, Cassey Kikuchi Kivnick. She lives in NYC, and I live in MN, so this retreat was an amazing opportunity for us to do our writing together in person.”

She shared a sweet story about taking the good vibes home with her, too: “After the retreat and on the flight back to MN, a little Asian American girl toddled down the plane aisle and stopped at my row. She waved hi to me, so I tried to smile brightly from beneath my mask before asking her, how are you? She quietly put her hand on my armrest and stared at me shyly for what seemed like a good minute when her mom called her back, interrupting her from talking to random strangers on the plane. She was adorable, and I was inspired to write another 5 pages/poems before the plane landed. This means that our children’s novel in verse draft has officially reached 100 pages following the retreat.”

“All of this was a helpful reminder of how art is relational. As writers, we talk a lot about writing for ourselves now and for our younger selves then, but we are also writing for this little girl in the not-so-distant future.”

Find out more about Đenise:
@hanybee – instagram
@hanhybeeswax – twitter

Photo of author Đenise Hạnh Huỳn
Photo of author Đenise Hạnh Huỳn
Book cover: Sophie Washington Vol 1
Book Cover: Sophie Washington v 13

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