Behind the Words: Wei He

Posted by on Aug 8, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

You Are the City- He, Wei

Wei He is in the beginning of a long, successful, bilingual writing career. After accepting her short fiction story “You Are the City” for the first issue of Spry, we were shocked to find out that it was her first English publication. You’d think she spoke and wrote English her entire life with the way her words preformed a melody on the page. Her short story was so lyrical and well written, and Spry was honored to be the home for this story. Wei He was kind enough to speak with Erin about the story, her process, and current aspirations.


Erin Ollila: H, the narrator of “You are the City” considers the world (specifically the city) around him in such detail in the letter to his unrequited love. Where did the idea for this story come from?

Wei He: I got the inspiration from an old movie in which a middle-aged man moved to a strange exotic city after his marriage failed and lived there alone until he died. At the end of the movie, this main character buys a piece of cheese everyday on his way home and keeps all the wrappings in a neat pile. I was so touched by the detail.


Do you write only in fiction? How do you come up with your stories?

Actually I started with poetry. I wrote poems in Mandarin for ten years before I started writing bilingual short stories in college. Around the same time I started writing for theater too, in both languages. It’s been six years since I finished my first English story.

I think it could be anything that inspires me to write a story. It could be something I witness in real life, or a book I am reading or read long time ago, or just a sound I catch in wind, or a phrase from a conversation of two passengers on subway, or a scene from a movie.


How much time do you spend reading or researching versus writing?

Ideally, I get up at 6:30 am and write in the morning then read books or catch a movie in the afternoon and get back to writing in the evening. But I’m in school now and spend way more time writing than reading.


Can you offer any advice to writers out there that you might have wished to learned earlier?

This may not work for everybody but I would say forcing myself to write to get over writer’s block has been helpful, instead of taking a long break from writing.


We were so excited to find out the “You are the City” was your first publication in English. We knew that this would be the beginning of a great successful bilingual literary career. I’m always fascinated by writers who speak and write in different languages. Can you tell us more about your process? Do you make a conscious decision to write in one language versus the other, or is it something that just happens?

I’ve been studying English for eighteen years, though I’d never lived an English-speaking country until 2011. I tried to read English novels and short stories in high school and college. I forced myself to memorize the passages I liked which turned to very helpful. After I graduated from college, I wanted to get into a creative program to hone my fiction writing skills, but there was no creative writing program in China yet. So I had to come here for graduate school. I wrote only two stories in English before I came to the United States and picked the slightly better one for the application which got me into the creative writing at Miami University of Ohio.


You recently graduated with your MA in Creative Writing from the Miami University. Now you are an MFA student of dramatic writing at Carnegie Mellon. What inspired you to continue your education and commit to a MFA program?

I’ve always been interested in writing for theater. And also I would like to have a career in teaching, so getting an MFA seems to be a good choice.


What do you hope to gain from your MFA program? Where do you see yourself in five years?

I would like to keep polishing my writing skills and also make professional connections in this MFA program and have a clearer view for my future career.

Ideally I will get to teach fiction writing or playwriting in a college after I get my MFA degree and keep writing in my free time. I would also like to have my own theater company someday.


Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?

It’s very hard for me to pinpoint only ONE great teacher. I would say all the writers I like and their works have been great teachers, as well as my mentors from my college in China and the graduate programs at Miami University and Carnegie Mellon.


What do you do when you are not writing or in school?

I go to theater a lot, and sometimes go hiking with friends. I also enjoy spending a quiet afternoon in a used bookstore.


Erin Ollila is an emotional archeologist who graduated from Fairfield University’s MFA program with a concentration in creative nonfiction. Her writing has been published in (em): A Review of Text and Image, Revolution House, Lunch Ticket, Paper Tape, Shoreline Literary Arts Magazine, The Fall River Spirit, and RedFez. She is the co-founder and editor of Spry Literary Journal. Her blog, Reinventing Erin, is her outlet for ruminating on the minutiae of everyday life.

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