White Writer Makes "Best Poetry" — With An Asian Pen Name

Poet Michael Derrick Hudson was published in The Best American Poetry 2015 anthology under the name “Yi-Fen Chou.” Hudson claims to use this name as a “strategy” for getting poems published.


The poetry world was shocked Monday to discover that Yi-Fen Chou, a poet who appears in the anthology The Best American Poetry 2015, is actually the pen name of Michael Derrick Hudson.

Hudson's poem "The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve" was both originally published in Prairie Schooner and reprinted in The Best American Poetry 2015 under the name Yi-Fen Chou.

Scribner / Via books.google.com

In his bio for the anthology, Hudson admits that he used the pen name of Yi-Fen Chou as a strategy for getting his poems accepted by literary journals:

Saeed Jones / Scribner / Via facebook.com

Many in the literary community took to social media to raise their concerns about the publication of Hudson's poem in light of his nom de plume:

White dude publishing as Yi-Fen Chou in @BestAmPo—this is not what we meant when we asked for more diversity in publishing.

... but this guy appropriates an Asian pen name and gets into Best American Poetry 2015??? ******* unbelievable.

This is in the new Best American Poetry 2015, BTW. How tone-deaf can you be?

Michael Derrick Hudson submits poems as Yi-fen Chou because he thinks it's easier to get published. He's wrong on so many levels.

But Sherman Alexie, guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2015 — and in some sense originally a victim of a hoax — defended his decision to publish the poem, even after learning that Yi-Fen Chou was a pseudonym:

I did exactly what that pseudonym-user feared other editors had done to him in the past: I paid more initial attention to his poem because of my perception and misperception of the poet's identity. Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American.


And, hey, guess what? In paying more initial attention to Yi-Fen Chou's poem, I was also practicing a form of nepotism. I am a brown-skinned poet who gave a better chance to another supposed brown-skinned poet because of our brownness.

So, yes, of course, white poets have helped their white friends and colleagues because of nepotism. And, yes, of course, brown poets have helped their brown friends and colleagues because of nepotism. And, yes, because of nepotism, brown and white poets have crossed racial and cultural lines to help friends and colleagues.

Nepotism is as common as oxygen.

But, in putting Yi-Fen Chou in the "maybe" and "yes" piles, I did something amorphous. I helped a total stranger because of racial nepotism.

I was practicing a form of literary justice that can look like injustice from a different angle. And vice versa.

You can read Sherman Alexie's full response here.

Many praised Alexie's response...

Greatness by the great @Sherman_Alexie, on editing Best American poetry: http://t.co/lsmIq0vNxs

This essay by @Sherman_Alexie on editing BAP and the ensuing controversy is honest and terrific. http://t.co/F890zjfaUF

Alexie's honesty is as refreshing as it is challenging -- his logic as sound as it is (self-admittedly) flawed. #BAP http://t.co/sX8rQa3The

While others were disappointed...

Sorry Alexie, I'm don't agree. You should have kicked him out for yellowface, not any other reason. http://t.co/wjkDeNFaHo

People falling over themselves to applaud Sherman Alexie for "transparency" I still shrug, say "well, you still didn't pull the poem."

Sherman Alexie's explanation explains nothing. A wasted opportunity to say something substantial.

Sherman Alexie took a cowards way out.

And one person took the time to start a parody Michael Derrick Hudson Twitter account:

what? people are angry about my poem? I'm gonna get to the bottom of this or my name isn't Yi-Fen Chou

goddamnit I just realized I might've gotten two poems accepted if I applied as biracial

I wonder who's going to be my chinese translator

Neither series editor David Lehman nor Scribner, the publisher of The Best American Poetry 2015, have issued any statements. Scribner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

You can purchase a copy of the anthology here.