Jane Wong’s poems and essays unearth silenced histories, immigrant narratives, and intergenerational trauma. The Seattle-based writer’s recent projects consider the social, historical, and political contexts that “haunt” the work of contemporary Asian American poets. For her first museum solo exhibition, Wong draws inspiration from her upbringing in a Chinese American restaurant in New Jersey as well as her family’s experience of hunger and poverty in rural China to consider the ways we reconcile the gaps in our lives and histories.
Engaging gluttony and hunger across multiple generations, After Preparing the Altar, The Ghosts Feast Feverishly conjures food as childhood comfort while throwing into sharp contrast the personal histories of Wong’s own family members. Wong’s mother was born at the end of the Great Leap Forward (1958–1960), a Maoist campaign that implemented agricultural and industrial reforms in the Chinese countryside. The campaign led to the so-called Great Famine, which claimed an estimated 36 million lives between the spring of 1959 and the end of 1961. Wong’s installation is comprised of altars, sculptural poems, and personal effects that provoke deeper understandings of food waste and the realities of low-income immigrant families.
Seeking to honor her family, ancestors, loved ones, and all that sustains life in an otherwise fraught world through writing, Wong implores us to become more attuned to our shared histories. As the final lines of the exhibition’s title poem ask, “Tell us, little girl, are you/ hungry, awake, astonished enough?”
Jane Wong (American, b.1984, Long Branch, New Jersey) is a poet, essayist, and professor who grew up in a Chinese American take-out restaurant. Her poems can be found in Best American Poetry 2015, American Poetry Review, and jubilat, among others. A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Fine Arts Work Center, Hedgebrook, 4Culture, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and The Mineral School. The author of Overpour (Action Books, 2016), Jane is an assistant professor at Western Washington University. Invested in public scholarship, her project on the poetics of haunting in Asian American poetry has appeared as a TEDx talk and a multimedia website.
Jane Wong received the 2017 James W. Ray Distinguished Artist Award, which is funded by the Raynier Institute & Foundation through the Frye Art Museum | Artist Trust Consortium. The award supports and advances the creative work of outstanding artists living and working in Washington State and culminates in a presentation at the Frye Art Museum.