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Xian Mao

Xian Mao

Xian Mao is a queer, non-binary Chinese American, born in Chicago and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, who now calls the East Coast their home.

From a young age, storytelling has been a way for them to connect with others. From the exploits of Sun Wukong told to them by their grandmother, to grimdark science fiction scribbled in middle school notebooks, writing has been their way of exploring their race, gender, and sexuality, not to mention traveling to worlds yet unseen and lives yet undiscovered.

During their time at Yale, their creativity and burgeoning social consciousness was developed in Jook Songs, an Asian American spoken word collective that sought to tell stories in a genuine and unpretentious way. This journey took them to New York City’s Asian American Writing Workshop, where the troupe held a one-night performance.

Speculative fiction has always been Mao’s home. At the end of their college career, and the precipice of the 2016 election, their first short story, “Silk Moth,” was published in Dirty Birds Press’s Undercities anthology. Another short story, “Carry the Ocean,” was published in Strange Constellations.

Apollo Weeps was written while finishing a post baccalaureate research program at the National Institute of Health. Following multiple rejections from medical schools, Mao wrote in their free time while waiting for gel electrophoreses to run and for flies to mate and hatch. Another work to come out of this time is “Fantasy Roadtrip,” a 10-minute play that was produced in the DC Queer Theater Fest 2018.

Both reflect their love of the theater, something they were always in the periphery of, as stagehand in high school and dramaturg in college. Upon watching the 1989 Original Broadway Cast Recording of Into the Woods, Mao proceeded to watch the video five more times in the span of a week, touched in equal part by the humor in the first act and the humanity in the second. Despite writing something ostensibly based on an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, it is Stephen Sondheim who they hold dearly as a composer beyond compare, his works like intricate puzzle boxes grounded by sharp insights into humanity.

Living proof that third time’s the charm, Mao now attends Johns Hopkins Medical School and is somehow still finding time to write, whether it is a poetry chapbook about their experiences as a non-binary medical student, or leading writing workshops as a part of the Primary Care Leadership Track.

Their poetry has appeared in Aqueduct Press’s Climbing Lightly Through Forests, a poetry anthology celebrating the life and works of Ursula K. Le Guin. She, along with Terry Pratchett, Lawrence Yep, and Octavia Butler, are major influences in their writing, which often focuses on isolation, generational trauma, and contending with history.

Being queer and Asian American are inexorable parts of their identity and their writing, and a major motivating factor is writing stories that a younger version of them would ravenously devour. They hope that their writing reflects how they experience the world in a queer and Asian body, and that even if their experience is unique to them alone, others, especially young queer Asian Americans, may find solace in a voice that has had similar struggles.

When not writing or working in the medical field, Mao can be found knitting shawls for their friends' weddings, playing Pokemon and Tetris, and enjoying their pet rats. Despite living near the sea, they will always hold the Rocky Mountains in their heart.