The verdict is in: Michael Derrick Hudson, you are a motherfucking clown.
If you’ve missed all the fuss about Best American Poetry 2015 (a clause I never expected to find myself typing), let me catch you up: a white poet wrote an exceedingly mediocre poem that got rejected 40 times under his real name (Michael Derrick Hudson) and then 9 times under his cool fake name (Yi-Fen Chou). It got accepted by Prairie Schooner, then crowned Best American under Sherman Alexie’s editorial decision to highlight the work of previously underrepresented populations, which Alexie called “racial nepotism” in a thoughtfully evasive response.
This has been evidence for some white people, as well as for Hudson himself, of a simplistic conclusion that minorities have some incontrovertible upper hand in Social Justice America. The truth is far more complicated, as Hua Hsu wrote beautifully in the New Yorker:
Hudson isn’t solely to blame here. What his case points to is the extent to which our understandings of difference remain superficial. That’s why Hudson’s blasé attitude matters. It makes a mockery of whatever “life story of a Chinese American poet” the name Chou might have stood in for. It ridicules the ambient self-doubt that trails most people from the margins who enter into spaces where they were never encouraged to belong. As though it were all just a game, meant to be gamed. As though it all came down to a name and losing your accent. Maybe Hudson, somewhere within his heart, actually felt less empowered than the imaginary rival he spun into reality, a fictional creation whose Chinese name would deliver him places his own could not. Within that possibility is the most perverse fantasy I have ever read.
Now, the Fort Wayne Sentinel has discovered that Yi-Fen Chou is the *actual name* of a woman that attended the same high school as Michael Derrick Hudson. Her family has come forward, asking him to never use it again. From the New York Times, picking up the story:
The family had emigrated from Taiwan in 1977 and settled in Fort Wayne, where Yi-Fen attended Wayne High School for two years. Mr. Hudson, who works as an indexer in the genealogy department of the Allen County Public Library, had previously told the newspaper that he graduated from the school in 1982.
Yi-Fen Chou now goes by a married name, works as an engineer in Chicago, and does not want to be identified or interviewed.
Cheers, again, to Michael Derrick Hudson, who did that thing where you take your pet’s name and the first street you ever lived on, except he did it with a person he went to high school with in the most hopelessly banal, heart-blind, tone-deaf, now-infamous way.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via CBS