Chen Chen

Acclaimed Chinese American Poet
T. Gunn Award for Gay Poetry
A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize-winner
National Book Award Longlist

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Self-Portraits: Describing, Naming, Transforming
  • An Evening with Chen Chen

“Chen Chen is a poet of Whitman’s multitudes and of Langston Hughes’ blues, of Dickinson’s ‘so cold no fire can warm me’ and of Michael Palmer’s comic interrogation. What unifies the brilliance is a voice desperate to believe that within every one of life’s sadnesses there is also hope, meaning, and—if we are willing to laugh at ourselves—humor. Chen is a poet I’ll be reading for the rest of my life.” —Jericho Brown

“Chen Chen muses his way through the idea of inheritance (specifically, what it means to inherit things like love and family), a concept that is central to his identity as a queer Chinese-American immigrant.“ —Literary Hub

“Visually vivid, erotic, and intimate.” –Library Journal

Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, which won the A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize, Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, and the GLCA New Writers Award. His most recent collection Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency is forthcoming from Boa Editions in 2022.

Longlisted for the National Book Award, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and was named one of the best of 2017 by The Brooklyn Rail, Entropy, Library Journal, and others. About the collection, Stephanie Burt says,“As Chen’s younger self had to escape from constricting familial expectations (become a lawyer, marry a woman, buy a house), the adult writer has to escape from the constrictions of autobiography, into hyperbole, stand-up comedy, fairy tale, twisted pastoral. It’s easy to imagine a young reader seeing himself here as he had not seen himself in poems before.” He is also the author of two chapbooks, Set the Garden on Fire (Porkbelly Press, 2015) and Kissing the Sphinx (Two of Cups Press, 2016).

In an interview with NPR, Chen explained, ““I felt like I couldn’t be Chinese and American and gay all at the same time. I felt like the world I was in was telling me that these had to be very separate things.” As someone who was struggling with his sexuality and thinking about identity— with immigrant parents and wondering how to come out, “Poems were a way for those different experiences to come together, for them to be in the same room.”

His work has appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Tin House, Poem-a-Day, The Best American Poetry, Bettering American Poetry, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. Recently, his work has been translated into French, Greek, Spanish, and Russian. Poets & Writers Magazine featured him in their Inspiration Issue as one of “Ten Poets Who Will Change the World.” He has received fellowships from Kundiman, Lambda Literary, and the Saltonstall Foundation.

Chen earned his MFA from Syracuse University and is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing as an off-site Texas Tech University student. He lives in frequently snowy Rochester, NY with his partner, Jeff Gilbert and their pug dog, Mr. Rupert Giles.

Chen is the 2018-2020 Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence at Brandeis University.

Chen Chen’s Website

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 Thom Gunn Award, among other honors, and Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency. His work appears/is forthcoming in many publications, including Poetry and three editions of The Best American Poetry (2015, 2019, and 2021). He has received a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from Kundiman and the National Endowment for the Arts. With a brilliant team, he edits the literary journal Underblong. He teaches at Brandeis University as the Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence and lives in Waltham, MA with his partner Jeff Gilbert and their pug, Mr. Rupert Giles.

Description forthcoming…

GESUNDHEIT! (Poetry Chapbook, 2019)

“An ecstatic capitalized blessing, GESUNDHEIT! examines what we can’t suppress — ‘head to wall collisions. Stuttering, pre-thought words’ — and so must celebrate, interrogate and bring to light. This co-authored chapbook is a tour de force of radiant interconnectivity, (trust me on this) entire-body laugh out loud confession, and incisive social critique. Most of all, these gorgeous poems hold high the cherished intimacy that is activated in deep friendship. ‘We are busy listening to friendship in the softest part of our pelvises.’ Don’t miss this jewel of a book.” — Sarah Gambito

In this ferocious and tender debut, Chen Chen investigates inherited forms of love and family–the strained relationship between a mother and son, the cost of necessary goodbyes–all from Asian American, immigrant, and queer perspectives. Holding all accountable, this collection fully embraces the loss, grief, and abundant joy that come with charting one’s own path in identity, life, and love.


music of the word “callipygian,”
which means the having of well-shaped buttocks.
I will miss the particular cruelty

of tongue twisters in my first tongue:
“Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.”

I will miss the particularly high volume
YES of correctly completing this tongue twister,
even once. & the deadpan ditty

of the English translation: “Mr. Shi, the poet
from a stone den, likes to eat lions. He pledges
solemnly to eat ten lions. Regularly

he goes to the market to look at the lions.”
I will miss the roar of those lions,
hungering for freedom

while Mr. Shi hungers for them. & outside
the market, on a nearby street, the bright
ding-ding of a bicycle bell. & the messenger

singing, A telegram, a telegram
from overseas . . .
& the sound of the sea.

The sound the sea makes at night,
delivering its own telegrams—
a sort of sensual

moo. I will miss the particular quiet
of my body, your body, opening
a window to listen.