I publish a newsletter called Modality Irrealis on Substack. You can sign up to get emails delivered to your inbox using the form below. Please visit Substack to browse the full archive.

Recent Issues

  • How we create narratives of ourselves
  • first published as December Seas As I write this newsletter, my country has experienced its first attempted coup in living memory. Yet, while the Capitol is stormed by nazis and a pandemic rages on beyond my front door, I've remained calm. "Calm" is not mutually exclusive with "angry."
  • I’ve been thinking for a long time about how to represent different rappers’ flows in linguistic terms. Rapping and beatboxing are both fascinating art forms to me, as they focus less on pitch like singing—a craft I’m familiar with—and instead highlight very complex rhythmic patterns that I’ve rarely been able to replicate.
  • I came across the video below of Uyghur musicians on Twitter and thought I’d translate the Chinese in the caption to share its powerful message: We are Uyghurs, our muqams will endure for millennia;We will not disappear, we will continue dreaming of autonomy;
  • I woke up to the kind of orange sunlight that signals there are wildfires nearby. There’s one raging over the mountains right now. But somehow, the apocalyptic feel of it is comforting to me. When I was in Ohio for grad school, there was a single day when I experienced the same kind of sunlight, […]
  • I’ve spoken on many panels about craft, identity, and representation. Inevitably, when the moderator opens the discussion up for questions from the audience, the same kinds of comments come up over and over again: As a White person, is it okay for me to write a book from the point of view of a Chinese […]
  • There's no quick fix for a persistent problem.
  • Back in March, Premee Mohamed shared a favorite sonnet by Jorge Luis Borges, but lamented that their rhythm and rhyme schemes usually aren’t preserved in English translations. So, of course, I had to make an attempt myself at a translation that’s strict on meter and rhyme.
  • 閱讀中文版。阅读中文版。 English translation of speech given at NYU in 2017 follows. Friends: My name is Chen Nianxi. I was born in a small town on the southern side of the Qinling mountains in northwest China. That area continues to be the most impoverished part of China today. My one-and-a-half-year-old son had just begun to babble […]
  • Translating voice with an example from Classical Chinese poetry