“In some ways, immigration is like an apocalypse.” Pete Hsu talks about writing about the consequences of immigration ‹ Literary Center


Rock Hsu is the guest. His award-winning collection of stories, If I was the ocean, I’d take you homeis now available from Red Hen Press.

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From the episode:

Rock Hsu: As an Asian American writer in literary fiction, there have been many great stories told about the immigrant experience. This has been one of our favorite subjects. And I love these stories. That’s what gave Asian American fiction a foothold, and it grew from there. It’s always a very rich subject for me to narrate, but it’s not necessarily the story that I gravitate towards as a writer.

I’m an immigrant, but I immigrated when I was a baby. As an Asian in America, you have a lot of experience of otherness that is not necessarily tied to being an immigrant. So in some ways I deliberately tried not to tell immigrant stories even though I’m an immigrant. My parents are immigrants.

Brad Listi: From Taiwan?

Rock Hsu: Yes exactly. I immigrated in ’72. But there’s a lot of experience around being Asian in America that isn’t directly related to this specific narrative. Of course, that’s going to be at least tangential to a lot of my stories. Many of my characters are either immigrants or immigration has affected their lives in some way. But I didn’t centralize it, and that was a conscious decision on my part. But, again, it was the stories that kind of set the sails for Asian American literary storytelling. Like when Amy Tan wrote Luck Joy Clubhe opened the floodgates of Asian-American fiction.

Brad Listi: It makes things clearer to me, because so many of the lives you describe in these stories are affected in one way or another by the immigration experience. But he feels remote. And so you capture people who exist after that, which is a new space to explore, isn’t it?

Rock Hsu: That’s a great way to describe it because I actually, in my description of this collection, called it post-apocalyptic, in a sense emotionally or relationally post-apocalyptic. In some ways, immigration feels like an apocalypse. It is the end of one world and the departure into another. It’s after the end. So I feel like my stories are about, well, what’s the ‘after’ part? Not necessarily the “during” part.


Pete Hsu is the author of the collection of stories If I was the ocean, I’d take you home, available from Red Hen Press. It’s the official November pick of the Otherppl/TNB Book Club. Hsu is also the author of the experimental chapbook There is a man (Tolsun Books). His writings have been featured in The Los Angeles Review, The Bare Life Review, F(r)iction Magazine, Faultline Journal of Arts and Letters, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and others. He was 2017 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow and 2017 PEN in the Community Writer in Residence. He was born in Taipei, Taiwan and currently resides in the San Gabriel Valley, Southern California.


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