Playwright David Henry Hwang discusses Asian identity at ATASK event
By Ling-Mei Wong
Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang spoke about Asian Americans and the creative process at the Wheelock Family Theater on Dec. 8. The “Onstage with David Henry Hwang” event was hosted by ATASK, a provider of services for Asian families affected by domestic violence. The event was emceed by WGBH reporter Jared Bowen.
ATASK president Linda Chin and community activist Leverett Wing welcomed Hwang. “He is so inspirational to young people,” Chin said.
Wing showed an article on Hwang he saved from the January-February 1982 edition of the Sampan.
Hwang discussed his evolution as a writer and the changing role of Asians. “A few things have changed radically since I was a kid. Asians were the stereotype for the poor lobby man. Now we are making too much money, have too much influence and raise the math scores. The other thing is the centrality of China in the mainstream American consciousness.”
Hwang’s exploration of his Chinese roots are recurring themes in his work. “I happen to be Asian American, so the stories I write end up in that story world,” he said. “When things interest us as artists, they interest other people. Sometimes they don’t, but it’s not the goal for other people to like it.”
His 2011 play “Chinglish” is written one-third in Chinese, for which he got help from a Hong Kong playwright. “I do not speak Chinese, for all intents and purposes,” Hwang said.
However, Hwang understands enough Mandarin to play with it. He knew enough to play with “I love you” in “Chinglish.”
Writing is intensely personal for Hwang. “You should just write what’s interesting to you,” he said. “Write what you like and explore some issues, questions or emotions you need to explore. If you do, you’ve already succeeded for the experience.”
David Henry Hwang plays
• The Dance and the Railroad
• Family Devotions
• The House of Sleeping Beauties (from Yasunari Kawabata’s novella)
• The Sound of a Voice
• As the Crow Flies
• Rich Relations
• M. Butterfly
• Face Value
• Trying to Find Chinatown
• Bang Kok
• Golden Child
• Peer Gynt (based on Henrik Ibsen’s play, with Stephan Muller)
• Jade Flowerpots and Bound Feet
• Tibet Through the Red Box
• The Great Helmsman
• Yellow Face
• A Very DNA Reunion