Christine Hyung-Oak Lee’s 8 Emerging Writers Over 30

Today, the term “emerging writers” feels equivalent to 20-somethings, but so often it takes a lot longer than that for a writer to emerge. As women, we’re programmed to take care of others at the sacrifice of our own dreams and goals, whether it be by raising children, investing in marriage, trying to make a living, or coming to terms with our own importance. These eight writers, with the exception of one poet, have yet to publish a book, so they are emerging writers in the purest sense of the word. They’re also all over the age of 30. These women never gave up on their dream, and whether they came to writing later or waded through their earlier years, they are writing. They are an inspiration.

Below is a mix of prose writers and poets. Nicole Chung’s memoir is forthcoming from Catapult in 2018. Eugenia Leigh is a poet whose poetry collection, Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows, is some of the best work I’ve read; each poem is a gut punch. And then there are undiscovered writers, like Vanessa Mártir who navigates battlefields. All write about marginalized identities and experience, which further excites me—because literature is how we learn about the boundaries of humanity. Their work, as a consequence, is of great urgency and need.

It gives me great pleasure to share with you writers that many people, including agents and editors, have yet to discover.

I read whatever it is each of these women write. And I hope you will, too.


1. Jamey Hatley

This is a writer who will someday be asked where she’s been all this time; Jamey Hatley’s writing a novel–and winning awards while doing so. She has won a Bread Loaf Fellowship, the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, and is a 2016 NEA Fellow in prose. I’m waiting for her novel. She is southern gothic writing embodied; her stories are expansive and her language is an exquisite song. Her stories will blow your mind.

An example of her writing can be found at The Account, which published her story, “The Drummer.” Here are a few lines from that story that exemplify why I love her:

A thin wall of lazy fog closed across Third Street like a curtain. The Deacons split up to inspect the fog. It was only about the width of a cinderblock, but almost opaque. They laughed and stuck their hands through the fog, grabbing for each other and making rude hand gestures. One poked his head through to the other side like he was peeking in a window. Another danced across the street, letting the fog consume his center until he was just wiggling arms and legs on either side of the fog.


2. Yalitza Ferreras

This Steinbeck Fellow is best known for her short story “The Letician Age,” which appears in The Best American Short Stories 2016 anthology edited by Junot Díaz. Yalitza Ferreras is a unique combination of talent and humility, and it shows in her fiction. The craft element I most admire about “The Letician Age” is her treatment of time; the protagonist is a rock collector, and she skillfully weaves history, geology, and time throughout the narrative. The line, “Leticia believed that when she was dug up one day, there would be a visible stripe in her bones marking the moment she fell in love,” intersects all three elements. This attention to craft without sacrificing narrative is one of the reasons you should read her.


3. Karissa Chen

I’ve watched Karissa Chen’s writing evolve over the years; this is a writer who challenges and tests herself. Each experience in her life—whether it is her work as fiction editor of Hyphen Magazine or living out her Fulbright fellowship in Taiwan, crystallizes her writing and message further. Likewise, as a writer, she squeezes all the juice out of each word. She writes with a social consciousness that I admire. I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Check out an excerpt from “Pomegranate,” in Guernica:

Laila holds the wedge out to me, a honeycomb of jewels. Winking in the summer light. Capsules like love, like blood, like angry tears. Here, Grandpa, she says. Her chubby fingers slick with juice. Her chin dribbling.


4. Nicole Chung

Nicole Chung’s nonfiction is unblinking and riveting, whether it is with charming wit in her short humor pieces like “If John Cho Were Your Boyfriendor her essays about adoption in The Atlantic and The Toast. She goes all out with hilarity or all out with heartbreak. Her range is impressive. Her work is important work. Even John Cho and Kristi Yamaguchi think so. An adoptee, her memoir is forthcoming from Catapult.

On Kristi Yamaguchi in the New York Times:

The first time I saw her she wasn’t even skating. I was flipping through the handful of channels our TV could pick up with its rabbit-ear antenna when I glimpsed her waving from the tallest podium at the 1991 World Figure Skating Championships, dazzling in rhinestone-studded hot magenta, with her hair-sprayed bangs and million-watt smile. She’s Asian, I thought. There’s an Asian girl on television, and everyone is cheering for her.


5. Vanessa Mártir

Vanessa Mártir and her writing are the definition of torque and horsepower. She is a single mother. Gritty. Unblinking. In her essay entitled “The Danger Of Being a Woman,” in The Butter, she writes, “I’m the woman who always fights back.” If you need strength, read her fiction and nonfiction, written with bold, unapologetic truth and compassion. We need more writers like her in the world.

This excerpt from “Dollhead,” in Smokelong Quarterly, gives you an idea of her unflinching prose:

The last time she saw me talking to Ramon, she caught me in the shower that night and beat me with the thick leather belt she got on her last trip to Honduras. She called me puta over and over. The Ho from the Honduras lettering stayed red on my thigh for days.


6. Eugenia Leigh

When people ask me for new poet recommendations, I point them to Eugenia Leigh. Her work knocks me off my feet every time. Every. Time. If Mary Oliver and Sylvia Plath’s work had a baby, it would be Eugenia Leigh’s poetry. Her work flips beauty on its back, revealing a dark and jagged underbelly rife with hazard. This knowledge of danger isn’t heavy-handed though, because her poetry reflects an extreme alertness that leaves me wide awake. Eugenia Leigh has a poetry collection entitled Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows, a finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

Check out this excerpt from “We Called it the Year of Birthing”:

God handed me a trash bag bloated with feathers. Turn this
into a bird, he said. He threw me a bowl of nails. And make with this,
a new father. God gave some people
whole birds. Readymade fathers with no loose bolts.
The rest of us received crude nests. Used mothers.


7. Arielle Bernstein

Arielle Bernstein’s cultural critique flips convention on its side and back. She writes about American norms and pop culture from a Cuban American and immigrant perspective, which I deeply appreciate. From Fight Club and what it means to male feminism today to the privilege of clutter in the wake of Marie Kondo’s popularity, she writes from the margins as a woman, as a Cuban American, and for immigrants.

From “Marie Kondo and the Privilege of Clutter,” in The Atlantic:

To my mother, the KonMari method isn’t joyful; it’s cold. ‘Americans love throwing things away,’ she tells me, ‘And yet they are fascinated by the way Cubans have maintained their houses, their cars. Yes, growing up we took great pleasure in preserving things. But we also didn’t have a choice.’

Kondo says that we can appreciate the objects we used to love deeply just by saying goodbye to them. But for families that have experienced giving their dearest possessions up unwillingly, ‘putting things in order’ is never going to be as simple as throwing things away. Everything they manage to hold onto matters deeply. Everything is confirmation they survived.


8. Lizz Huerta

Lizz Huerta’s is a voice that is fresh yet assured. She writes mostly short fiction, and her down-to-earth language is both easy on the eyes and a challenge for the mind—the best of marriages. Her story “I, Succubus,” selected by Roxane Gay as winner of the Lumina fiction contest, is replete with lines like: “We were a manless home growing up, all aunts and girl cousins sharing eye infections through community makeup. We were howlers at the full moon, all bleeding at once, the neighborhood cats desperate at our trash cans.” Read her.

The opening lines of “Birds” in the Portland Review:

My brother Oscar’s burning sage again. Some new white girl must be over, feeling like she’s about to be one with the sacred wheel of the fucking universe. I look out the window, there’s a hybrid parked out front. This one will be stupid easy; a dream-catcher hangs from the rear-view mirror. ‘Some people’ Oscar’s told me, ‘Need to feel they’re more than what they are.’



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