Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, the GLCA New Writers Award, and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. The collection was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and named a Stonewall Honor Book in Literature. Chen is the 2018-2020 Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence at Brandeis University and, with the poet Sam Herschel Wein, edits Underblong.
Here, he talks about a duck extravaganza, late dinners, and soup on the moon.
On his all-time favorite meal:
The first time I had the Peking Duck at Sun Wah BBQ in Chicago—earlier this year! I was visiting my friend Sam Herschel Wein and he was all, “You’ve gotta eat this duck!” So then we did, with a small group of people. You have to call ahead and they’re very strict about showing up on time for your reservation and also knowing what other dishes you want to order in addition to the duck. But god, this roast duck extravaganza was on another level altogether. I just forgot how to spell extravaganza (thank you, Word, for reminding me), that’s how blown away I am by the memory of this meal. I’m salivating.
Plus, I super recently had this meal again, in June, also with Sam and some other lovely folks. It was a different group, and larger, which is really ideal, because you get a whole roast duck, and that gets sliced up in front of you, and then you take these soft, soft buns and you make duck buns, and then they put this giant bowl of duck soup on the table, and then a platter of duck fried rice, and then you are so happy. So full!
I love that I’ll always associate these meals with visiting Sam, who is a profound sweetheart—and has so many friends, in fact many more than I’d like to hang out with on a regular basis, but he cares about each of them with a real joy. And this last time I also found this amazing cat sweater at a thrift store. So whenever I’m feeling down, I know I have these memories and feelings (and the sweater!) to give me some strength.
On what the light looks like during his favorite meal of the day:
It’s dark out. It’s dinner! Usually a late dinner. I’m not a morning person. Sometimes, I try and yes, it’s amazing to get things done in the morning, but I kind of hate feeling like too much of an adult (though I am also like ninety at heart).
On snacking while writing:
I don’t, typically. But if I am, it’s probably Twizzlers. Or chicken tenders.
On his go-to late-night snack:
These days, popsicles. Sometimes, kimchi.
On his food quirks:
I like most everything. And I like variety.
On his final meal request:
A bowl of chilled, sweetened mung bean soup. I am eating it on the moon with all my beloveds. If the moon is not available, then my big green living room sofa works well, too.