Hua Hsu is best known, these days, for his writing in The New Yorker, telling universal stories of people like Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and the late George Michael, but he’s also a wearer of quite a few different hats: as an associate professor of English at Vassar College, he loves to help young writers learn and improve their crafts. He’s on the Board of Directors for the Asian American Writer’s Workshop. Away from The New Yorker, Hsu’s work has permeated across print and the web, including, but not limited to memorable pieces in The Atlantic, Grantland, and The FADER. It’s simple: there aren’t many writers doing a wider range of work than Hua Hsu.
You’re very active in the media world, with The New Yorker, AAWW, and writing your own book, in addition to your involvement with academia. How do you manage to balance so much?
I’m not sure how well I balance everything. I think having a bunch of different things going on at once keeps my mind busy, and I’m more productive when I feel that way. Plus the horizons for writing, researching, and teaching are so varied—sometimes the deadlines are short-term, and other times there are things I want to do that I won’t finish for years. Having those different things in the background and foreground works for me.
You’ve written so many great pieces, focusing on such interesting people as Justin Vernon for The New Yorker, Hannibal Buress for The FADER, and recently, the great George Michael piece. Do you have a favorite? How do you approach each piece?
I don’t really have a favorite, though I have a lot of things I wish I could have worked on more. I have a great relationship with my editors at the New Yorker and the pieces I have the most fun with as a critic are often ones where I’m free to juxtapose a couple unlikely things that resonate in my mind—writing about Kendrick Lamar alongside Paul Beatty, George Michael and Maggie Lee, and a couple more I’m working on now.
What do you find most fulfilling about writing and reporting?
It rarely happens, but finding the right words to complete a hazy thought, feeling or suspicion in my mind.
What’s been your proudest achievement as a writer?
Probably whenever someone tells me they read my book. It took me a really long time to finish it, and I was probably a little too precious about how I structured it, so whenever someone gets to the end, it feels pretty good.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) in your field in the future?
I’ve been freelancing since the early 2000s, and the quality of writing and perspective and thought etc is so much better nowadays. But the structures that, in the past, made it possible to write for a living continue to dissolve, and that’s a huge problem. I was really lucky to have another professional path for support while I wrote. I want the
Who else would you nominate for this list?
Ken Chen, executive director of the Asian American Writers Workshop and an acclaimed poet (former Yale Younger poet)
Michael Lee, executive director of Apex for Youth
Karen Wong, deputy director of the New Museum
Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.
Photo by Jane Bruce