Interview With a Writer: Chenxing Han

Vince Lim
3 min readJul 10, 2020


Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash

Who are you? What do you do?

I’m a writer, occasional editor, and erstwhile Buddhist chaplain. My first book, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists, is coming out with North Atlantic Books in January 2021.

Also: I am someone who is constantly wondering: Who am I? What do I do?!

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

There was a big gap between when I realized the magical/transformative/living-giving potential of books… and when I dared to admit that I wanted to be a writer.

The first happened at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where I vowed to read all the books, as a young immigrant drunk on the alchemical possibilities of new language and oblivious to the limitations of time.

The second required learning that someone like me (not white/not male/not born in this country) can be a writer. It required admitting that I am miserable (and miserable to be around) when I don’t have a regular writing practice. It required recognizing how badly I need writing to cope with the brevity of life, a recognition that only came starkly into focus in my late twenties, after working for a year as a hospital chaplain on an oncology unit and losing two close friends to cancer shortly thereafter.

What’s the most rewarding part about being a writer?

A year ago, inspired by Joli Jensen’s Write No Matter What, a couple of friends and I started a writing group. Once a week for half an hour, we meet online and discuss our progress (or lack thereof), our processes, our failures and triumphs. I am ever heartened by our willingness to submit ourselves to what one of the group members calls “the samsara of writing.” Satori moments are few and far between, and yet, we persevere. In the words of a writer and translator friend: “Projects like these call for many returns, revisions, re-reads, cycles of hopes and despair, and lots of waiting, so hahahaha bye forwardness.” Ok, so maybe “rewarding” isn’t how most people would describe this situation, but there’s something about sticking with it through — and maybe even for — the laughter and the tears, the loneliness and the companionship…

What topics do you want to explore in your writing in the near future?

I’m currently working on a memoir that explores Buddhist chaplaincy, grief, spiritual friendship, family, karma, and other themes that have yet to reveal themselves to me. Also, I recently started learning Shanghainese, which has me mulling over the (fraught? healing? painful? joyful? ambivalent?) Asian American experience of learning our heritage languages.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Make it a regular practice. Do everything you can to structure your life — physically, emotionally, materially, psychologically, spiritually — to support your writing practice. Create a writing group with trusted others who will hold you accountable to your goals, help you work through challenges, and celebrate with you on your successes. Trust that your dogged impulse to write — that yearning that feels unbearable to live with, but that you can’t live without — has something to teach you. As David Mura writes in A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing: “We start writing a book to become the person who can finish the book.”

Or, ignore the above advice and find what works for the unique being that is you.

This is part of my “Interview with Writers” series on Medium.

To learn more about Chenxing and her work, you can visit her website: