Pinewood School junior Samantha Hsiung earned an honorable mention at the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum Literary Contest for her poem “chinatown pt. 2,” one of only six entries to receive an award from a pool of submissions from across the country and abroad.
Hsiung’s winning poem is based on the true story of a 94-year-old Asian woman who was fatally stabbed last summer in San Francisco. Hsiung read the story while attending a creative writing summer program. Although she had already started working on the piece before she learned of this year’s competition theme, “The Radiant Hour,” which honors F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Beautiful and the Damned,” Hsiung said. that his poem aligned with the theme because it illuminated a story that may have gone unnoticed by many people.
Written in a non-traditional structure, “chinatown pt. 2” uses slashes in place of typical line breaks to depict the violence of the subject matter. The lines towards the end of the poem that follow the description of the violent incident are not interrupted by punctuation.
“It’s like the poem itself is stabbed in some way,” said Hsiung, a Cupertino resident who works as an intern for the town crier. “At the end, I wanted the reader to feel like a hurricane was crashing down on them. And then at the very end, when the slashes come back, I want the reader to slow down and really absorb whatever he reads.
Hsiung admitted that she wasn’t too familiar with “The Beautiful and the Damned” before submitting her poem to the contest, but while reading her poem – which contrasts the beauty of San Francisco’s Chinatown with the horrific fate facing the one of its inhabitants was subjugated – invokes an almost literal interpretation of the title of the book, an interpretation that associates itself with Fitzgerald’s 1922 meditation on disillusionment after the First World War. Where Fitzgerald’s characters are bored in the face of adversity and violence, Hsiung’s protagonist is emboldened by it, vowing to set the city on fire until it can be recognized as something entirely new, free from hatred.
The teenager’s literary inspiration comes primarily from contemporary Asian-American writers Ocean Vuong and K-Ming Chang. She said she wasn’t interested in writing poetry until she discovered Vuong’s “prosey” work, which exposed her to an entirely new style. Hsiung, who is Taiwanese and Chinese, has also found inspiration in Chang’s work which explores mixed origins.
Although he has only been “serious” in writing for two years, Hsiung has already been published several times. In fact, “chinatown,” the companion to her contest-winning poem, was published in the Rising Phoenix Review in March 2021. She is also president of the Pinewood Creative Writing Club and will serve as editor of the journal of the school, La Vivace. She has contributed several stories to the Town Crier as an intern.
Beyond high school, Hsiung is torn between majoring in English, creative writing or journalism, but for now she plans to continue submitting work to competitions and encouraging others to write. She said she was excited to be teaching writing workshops to elementary school students with her creative writing club in the coming months, with the aim of inspiring a love for English, a passion that she didn’t find out until she was almost a teenager.
“I think at a certain point you start to dig deeper and know a lot more about the text, beyond the technicalities,” she said.