Interview with Angie Kang: “Sometimes when I’m struggling, I just don’t have much to say.”

Angie Kang is a Chinese-American artist & writer presently based in the Bay Area. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Catapult, The Believer, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She is currently working on her debut picture book, Our Lake, coming out in 2025.

Angie graduated from the Brown|RISD Dual Degree Program with a BA in Literary Arts and a BFA in Illustration. Previously a Design Fellow at Chronicle Books, Angie is currently the Art Editor of Vestal Review.

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Hi Angie, welcome to Famous Writing Routines, we’re so glad to have you here with us today! Your work spans across various genres, including fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, as seen in publications such as The Believer, The Rumpus, and Narrative Mag. How do you approach each genre differently and what draws you to each one?

Thank you so much for having me—it’s an honor! 

I love the flexibility of working between different forms, but lately I’ve started feeling like the boundaries between genres are arbitrary. To me, the only difference between nonfiction and fiction is that I get to make up things in the latter. And even then, so much of my life seeps into my fiction.

Poetry, however, has been a stranger to me for most of my life. The title “poet” feels heavy and important, and I don’t know if I will ever consider myself one. I do, however, love trying to write poems and letting language take the lead. Oftentimes, what starts in the form of a poem becomes a tunnel to a larger piece, fictive or otherwise. 

The distinction of genre I struggle with is actually between art and words. In addition to writing, I have a painting practice, and I’ve been interested in finding that intersection in graphic essays and/or other forms of sequential work. Sometimes I don’t know whether I want to describe or visually represent an image or action.

These days, I’m always searching for the right way to say something, and it’s frustrating when I can’t tell which form would best house it. I’ve moved the same story through different genres trying to find a fit—it can feel like a huge waste of time.

Recently, a writing mentor, Morgan Thomas, told me that shifting between forms, whether be from text to graphic or between poetry to prose, is a type of revision and productive play that allows us to better understand the content. I’ve been trying to hold onto that mindset as I experiment in my work.

Your debut picture book Our Lake is highly anticipated. Can you give us a sneak peek into what readers can expect from the book, and what inspired you to write it?

Our Lake is a story of two brothers returning to a lake they’ve visited many times before, but this time after losing their father. It’s a story about loss and healing, although rather than talking explicitly through and about grief, I try to write around it.

This book actually started as a poem! Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly unmotivated, I’ll write a quick, low-pressure ekphrastic poem to loosen up. I find it easier to create based off of something that already exists. Our Lake was inspired by Milton Avery’s “Quarry Bathers” (1937), a painting depicting three figures: one diving into the quarry and the other two watching. My original poem described an imagined series of events ending with this dive.

After my partner read it, he suggested I turn it into a picture book. In the next hour, I changed the ages of the characters, fine-tuned the language, and started working on sketches. It was a rare instance where everything came together quickly—I wish I could say that the process is always so smooth! 

As a former Design Fellow at Chronicle Books and current Art Editor of Vestal Review, you have had a wealth of experience in the publishing world. Can you share your journey and any advice you have for aspiring writers and artists looking to get their work published?

In some ways, I think I entered the writing world through a side door. By having adjacent jobs in the industry, I learned so much about my own writing practice. When I started with Vestal Review, I was still in undergrad, deeply anxious about the future.

I used to surf Submittable for job postings, and I happened upon this flash magazine that was looking for a web designer. I familiarized myself with VR, applied, and after being hired, I was able to learn the inner workings of a literary magazine. Similarly, the Chronicle Design Fellowship taught me everything from print design to the logistical structures of publishing books. I’m so grateful for the mentorship and the spaces that the folks at Chronicle carefully and deliberately nourished. 

Some trite but true advice that I remind myself of daily: Take your time. The publishing world moves at a glacial pace, and there’s no rush—not only in regards to one’s career, but also with each story. A good friend once told me that they needed to experience years of life before they knew how to complete certain stories. I think it’s easy to become fixated on one idea and want to single-mindedly see it through before starting anything else, but there’s no need to finish anything all at once. Your work will always be there, and you might just bring something new every time you return to it.

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Your work has been recognized through numerous awards and nominations, such as the Subnivean Fiction Award and the Casey Shearer Memorial Award for Excellence in Creative Nonfiction. How does it feel to receive recognition for your writing, and do awards play a role in your creative process?

I’m always so grateful for awards, but receiving recognition can feel dangerously good. While it feels nice to know there are people reading and enjoying my work, I don’t think I’m a good writer when I’m too concerned about how it’s going to be received. That being said, I think it’s important to be able to celebrate yourself and your accomplishments—like everything else, it’s a balance, and I’m working on it!

In your role as the Art Editor of Vestal Review, what criteria do you look for in pieces you select for publication, and how do you balance your responsibilities as an editor with your own artistic pursuits?

Being an Art Editor is so fun! I’m able to uplift and connect with so many artists that I deeply admire. I’m always on the lookout for pieces that are tonally complex and intriguing—I love a painting or drawing that asks questions. I’ve found that the process of searching for artists and describing why I’m drawn to their work helps me distill and understand my taste. What are the constants (colors, subjects, themes) I’m attracted to, and how can I apply that in my own work, visual or literary? 

I think flexibility is the key to balance. I used to love rigid schedules, but I would become flustered when anything unexpected cropped up. Nowadays, I’m a little more relaxed, and I’m happy to move things around as they make sense. Somedays, I can stay up late and work a little longer if I’m feeling inspired; other days, I’ll have an unexpectedly large workload and have to shuffle my creative practice to the side—that’s just the way it goes. 

The writing and revision process can be challenging. Can you share your approach to this process and any tips you have for staying motivated and inspired?

I love writing, but I am often stuck. I used to sit down and try to force the words out, but that’s never really worked for me. Sometimes, stream-of-consciousness writing helps me get going, but what I’ve realized is that sometimes when I’m struggling, I just don’t have much to say.

In those cases, I need to fill myself with art (paintings, books, films) and life (friends, family, strangers). Bit by bit, the ideas start to drip in and after a while, when I’ve saved enough, then I can sit down and pour those collected experiences out in writing. 

I’ve heard of writers who never revise, but for me, writing is so iterative. There are two main types of revision for me: The first includes structural changes, and the other is fine-tuning the words. I think those two kinds can be conflated, and it’s important to know what your story needs. Sometimes, I jump into line revisions when the heart of the story hasn’t been fleshed out enough.

Then, I’ll have to make structural edits and delete things I feel precious about. I’ve learned it’s easier to make changes when everything is new and malleable. Change the large things first! And this piece of evergreen advice has never steered me wrong: give yourself time to edit, and time before you edit.

Can you tell us about your writing routine? What does a typical day look like for you?

Since I freelance, every day looks a bit different depending on what projects I’m working on. Many days are full of work, life, or chores, and I don’t write at all. But when I am in the middle of a long term project, I’m usually excited enough to start the day early, right after I wake up.

I like to write in complete silence, so I either put in earbuds as I work next to my partner (also a freelance artist), or I shut myself away in a dark little nook. I’ll reread and assess what I wrote yesterday, making minor edits as they come.

Then, I start writing. The secret to actually getting started for me is how I end the writing day. I like to stop with one thread still loose, right before I’m completely out of ideas. That lingering thought helps guide me back into the story and it’s much easier to slip into the mindset of writing. The difficult part—starting—is over and momentum propels me forward. 

Lately, I’ve been trying to take more breaks! I know it’s unhealthy for a body to remain immobile for so long. Sometimes, if I have multiple projects I’m working on, I’ll stop writing briefly and move to something else (illustrations, editing, art directing, designing, etc) and then return when I’m tired of that task. It’s like targeting different muscles at the gym—one muscle is getting rest, but I’m maximizing the time I can spend working (out) overall.

I’ve started ending my work days after dinnertime, choosing instead to spend that time actively resting—maybe watching a show, seeing friends, or reading.

If you could have a conversation with any author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be?

Ooh. This is a tough one—there are so many contemporary writers today that I’d love to speak to now, but if it’s anyone throughout history, I’ll choose someone from the past. I think maybe Margaret Wise Brown, most known for the iconic Goodnight Moon! I read a New Yorker article that described her as mercurial and mystical, with an electric life and radical, thoughtful writing. I’d love to chat with her about children’s literature and hear her theories about both shaping and entertaining an adolescent mind.

I’d love to know about the books you’re reading at the moment. What have been some of your favorite recent reads?

I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels lately: I just read Men I Trust by Tommi Parrish, which is a gorgeous book (completely hand-painted!) that examines intimacy through two unhealthy characters who begin an intense friendship. I also recently finished Shubeik Lubeik by Deena Mohamed, a graphic novel following interconnected characters in a world where wishes can be bought and sold. Mohamed constructs an elaborate system for these wishes, complete with a colonial history, religious conflicts, and political organizing surrounding them—an expertly told and deeply fascinating book!

What does your current writing workspace look like?

I have a long, beautiful desk that doubles as my painting space—I like to keep its surface as clear as possible. However, this past winter, I’ve also found myself writing on my laptop in bed, with a water bottle nearby and my phone as far away as possible. 

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