The Kingdom of Surfaces Launch Party
In The Kingdom of Surfaces, award-winning poet Sally Wen Mao examines art and history—especially the provenance of objects such as porcelain, silk, and pearls—to frame an important conversation on beauty, empire, commodification, and violence. In lyric poems and wide-ranging sequences, Mao interrogates gendered expressions such as the contemporary “leftover women,” which denotes unmarried women, and the historical “castle-toppler,” a term used to describe a concubine whose beauty ruins an emperor and his empire. These poems also explore the permeability of object and subject through the history of Chinese women in America, labor practices around the silk loom, and the ongoing violence against Asian people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At its heart, The Kingdom of Surfaces imagines the poet wandering into a Western fantasy, which covets, imitates, and appropriates Chinese aesthetics via Chinamania and the nineteenth-century Aesthetic movement, while perpetuating state violence upon actual lives. The title poem is a speculative recasting of “Through the Looking-Glass,” set in a surreal topsy-turvy version of the China-themed 2015 Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala. The Kingdom of Surfaces is a brilliantly conceived call for those who recognize the horrors of American exceptionalism to topple the empire that values capital over lives and power over liberation.
Sally Wen Mao is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection The Kingdom of Surfaces (Graywolf Press, 2023), and the debut fiction collection Ninetails (Penguin Books). She is also the author of two previous poetry collections, Oculus (Graywolf Press, 2019), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014). The recipient of two Pushcart Prizes and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, she was recently a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library and a Shearing Fellow at the Black Mountain Institute.
Na Zhong is a fiction writer and literary translator based in New York and co-founder of Accent Society. She also co-hosts a Mandarin literary podcast. Zhong is a Pushcart nominee and 2021-2022 Center for Fiction Emerging Writer Fellow. She has published with Guernica, Carve, A Public Space, Lit Hub, The Margins, and The Millions, among others.
Haolun Xu is a Chinese-American poet, fiction writer, and filmmaker based in New Jersey. He was born in Nanning, China, and raised in New Jersey. He holds a B.A. in English and Political Science from Rutgers University. His writing has appeared in literary journals such as Electric Literature, Narrative, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Joyland, jubilat, and more.
Jia Sung is an artist and educator, born in Minnesota, bred in Singapore, now based in Brooklyn.Her paintings and artist books have been exhibited across North America, including the Knockdown Center, RISD Museum, Wave Hill, EFA Project Space, Lincoln Center, Yale University, and MOMA PS1. Her work has been published in The Paris Review, Emergence Magazine, Hyperallergic, Jacobin Magazine, and Asian American Writers Workshop, and collected by the Met, SFMOMA, and the Special Collections at Yale, SAIC, and RISD. She has taught at organizations like the AC Institute, Abrons Arts Center, Children’s Museum of the Arts, and Museum of Chinese in America. She was a 2018-2019 Smack Mellon Studio Artist and Van Lier Fellow, and is currently an adjunct professor at RISD, where she received her BFA in 2015.