Family speaks out against white poet who allegedly used their daughter’s Chinese name to get published

Poet Michael Derrick Hudson caused controversy this week when it was revealed that he published under the name “Yi-Fen Chou” in “The Best American Poetry 2015.” He was denounced by many in the poetry community, on social media, and now, by a family who says he used their daughter’s name.

Yi-Fen Chou emigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1977 from Taiwan, according to the News-Sentinel, who first reported the story. She attended middle and high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, from 1977 to the early 1980s, including two years at Wayne High School. Hudson graduated from Wayne High School in 1982, according to the Sentinel.

Yi-Fen Chou now works as a nuclear engineer in Chicago, uses a married name and does not want to be identified, according to her sister Ellen Chou. Chou demanded an apology from Hudson and told the News-Sentinel the name was an uncommon one, with a particular meaning to their family:

“Chinese names are typically unique, and most people do not have the same first names, unlike many American names. The combination of characters generally means something to the family. In this instance, Yi-Fen (two separate characters), is unique to our family and given to my sister by our paternal grandfather.”

Hudson, who is based in Fort Wayne, used the name Yi-Fen Chou to submit his poem “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” to literary magazines after it was rejected 40 times. Eventually, it was published by the literary magazine Prairie Schooner, and Native American writer Sherman Alexie selected it for “The Best American Poetry 2015.”

On learning that he had been selected, Hudson wrote to Alexie to confess that he was a white man using a female Chinese pseudonym. Alexie explained in a blog post that he chose to include the poem anyway — to do otherwise would not have been “honest” and would have raised the suspicion that he only chose poems based on an author’s identity, he wrote.

Hudson explained in his bio that he had used the same “strategy” whenever poems under his own name were repeatedly rejected, drawing criticism from people who said the move was disrespectful and a violation to poets of color who are still published less frequently than white men.

Chou said it was unlikely Hudson had invented the name. “I just find it interesting and a little too convenient that my family resides in Fort Wayne, both my sister and I attended school there, and that Mr. Hudson works in the Genealogy Department at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne and uses a name that he supposedly ‘invented for the publication for his poetry,’” she told the News-Sentinel.