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Claire Light

Claire Light

I was born in Hong Kong in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, but (unlike my sister) not in the middle of a riot. I grew up in upstate New York, Arizona, Hong Kong, Ohio, Beijing, China, and Michigan. Sort of in that order. I am a multiracial, transnational faculty brat, with all the concomitant privileges and advantages. And the "j" in "Beijing" is not French, please.

I went to the University of Arizona for creative writing and studio art, a big mistake. Never do a creative writing major as an undergrad: you're too immature to write and don't have anything yet to write about, but it keeps you from learning anything solid. During my six years in Germany—most of the Clinton era—I had to make up for this lack of solids by going to the Humboldt University of Berlin for contemporary history and cultural studies. That was fun. I didn't get a degree but I sure did party a lot. The jobs were fun too: translating and tutoring and tour-guiding and working in galleries.

It was the last one that convinced me that I wanted to go into a support role in the arts. I had discovered early on a small facility with drawing and painting, coupled with absolutely the wrong personality for manipulating physical materials on a regular basis. I loved art, but making it bored me to death, and that seemed an unsolvable problem until I got to actually work in the arts a bit. I had no idea curating could be so interesting. At the same time, living as a foreigner in a foreign country was starting to seem very familiar. It was just like living as an Asian in America: always an exotic, always an outsider. It may sound strange, but I had my racial reckoning in Berlin, not at home.

When I returned to the States, it was to the San Francisco Bay Area—golden gate to the East, crazy port town—where I still live. Since I've been here I've worked primarily in ethnic community arts and cultural nonprofits, becoming a sort of generic nonprofit professional along the way. I worked for four years as a program manager for an Asian American arts organization, where I helped found an annual festival for emerging artists that is now in its eleventh year (!); co-founded and was a senior editor, blogger, and development director at national Asian American magazine Hyphen (I still blog there); and have worked in fundraising, curated, written arts criticism, and freelanced in a variety of nonprofit areas (which I'm still doing.) I also went and got an MFA in creative writing, which I DO recommend doing, if only to give you time to write, and opportunities to teach.

I came to SF late. I read YA fantasy as a child, and dipped into the occasional dystopia or thought experiment as an younger adult (especially The Dispossessed,) but didn't actively pursue the genre until my thirties, when a friend turned me on to Octavia Butler. Reading Ursula Le Guin made me want to write SF, but I couldn't do it until Butler showed me how to dramatize issues of race, gender, and power dynamics altogether. My first SF story, "Pigs in Space," got me into grad school, into Clarion West (where Nancy Kress helped me finish it,) and was my first publication and audio recording (in McSweeney's.) At Clarion West I also met K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl, who both influenced me to become active in SF POC communities; I joined the Steering Committee of the Carl Brandon Society in 2006.

I'm also a blogarian. I blog at Hyphen, and keep my own personal blog SeeLight, as well as a mapping, landscapes, and urbanism blog called atlas(t).

Slightly Behind and to the Left