Grad Student Spotlight: Winniebell Zong

Winniebell Zong (MA ’21)

In reckoning with the confessional silence and blame passed down through my maternal bloodline, I have always understood solidarity through womanhood, whose power slowly churned my world into rhythms and a desire for poetic justice. When Nainai asks me, “Will you stay the night with me this time?” When Ma prays for wrinkles to spare me and go to her, when they both hold me to their core but never spell love on their lips. I seek to gather their words through surprising and meaningful imagery, visual presentation in form and pattern, and intentional word choice. Having spent the past six years in the US, separated from my family and experiencing systemic racism as a Chinese woman, I aspired to read and write about the act of overcoming on foreign land. In understanding my visceral connection with my communities, I want my poems to reach readers physically—a breath in the gut, clenched temples, a furrow of the fist, a crawling on the skin.

Writing helps me to celebrate the unsung songs and the often-invisible progress in healing, to face the complicated struggle of accepting the self and others, knowing that onward often doesn’t look like a straight line, and that’s okay. Socially disadvantaged people often internalize prejudice and denigration out of survival instincts and self-preservation. Or as Toni Morrison puts it, feeling “hated for things we have no control over and cannot change.” Hegel believes it is through both negating and preserving the opposition that one learns to define themselves, and by reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Toni Morrison’s speech on employing narratives to speak the unspeakable, I seek to recover a maternal lineage of writers by centering marginalized voices. Reading inspires me to write, to reclaim my rights, to refuse to fabricate patriarchal femininity for men’s or whiteness’s sake. 

My master’s project is a collection of 15-20 poems on the theme of intersectional feminism and trauma and how they manifest in mother-daughter relationships. My recent poems aim to re-examine the familiar by touching what is raw, and they draw on my experiences with generational trauma, sexual assault, and re-finding/redefining self-love. As Ilya Kaminsky says, “any poet’s language is a private language.” Through my work, I ruminate on the power in familial relationships—beautiful hurt and an unrelenting grip for love. I examine womanhood through personal lenses in the light of who I am, where I am, and what I saw. 

— Winniebell Zong (M.A. ’21)

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