Alexander Chee, award-winning fiction writer, essayist, poet and journalist, has rightly been considered by some as one of the best contemporary literary figures around. His works would best be described as bold and brave; an honest and hard-hitting writer that is not afraid to embrace his roots and sexuality as a means of inspiring a new generation of writer activists. As an Asian-America gay man, Chee frequently draws from his own experiences, mapping out his own personal challenges faced throughout his own life.
Chee’s debut novel Edinburgh, published in 2001, set the grounds for future success as a writer and gave a hint towards the world he wanted to explore. The novel branches into dealing with sexuality at a young age and the stigma around it, picturing the consequences of sexual and physical abuse. The novel certainly deals with some tough topics but feel authentically explored by the strong control of language and imagery. Identity struggles and past mistakes are at the core of this novel, with Chee grasping how homosexuality was considered in a society that largely wasn’t willing to accept it.
His second novel, The Queen of the Night, came 15 years later. And as his debut novel showed, Chee’s bold bravery was very much present and was only further developed in this historical novel. Similarly to Edinburgh the novel largely deals with the past, again showing a life that has moved on but must now face the consequences. Certainly less gritty and uncomfortable, the novel still approaches topics of romance, growth and identity – all trademarks of Chee’s writing, exampled in length within his novels yet more concise and personal in his essays.
His most striking work since Edinburgh comes through his most recent collection. The 2018 publication, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, is a collection of personal essays which innovate the form by individually detailing a small piece of Chee’s life that collectively form an intimate picture of him – from young activist to educated writer and teacher. Each essay is unique in its content and style. ‘100 Things about Writing a novel’ is in list form whilst other essays such as ‘The Curse’ read more like coming of age stories. The essays explore everything in Chee’s life from his first experiences of homosexual relationships to the jobs he got when supporting his writing career. We see Chee’s involvement in AIDS activism, his early days as a Tarot-reader, the friendships formed spending nights dressed in drag in San Francisco clubs – Chee holds no detail back in this honest and brilliant depiction of his life. He acknowledges his struggles, the prejudice faced as a homosexual in 1980s America, and the challenge of forming his own unique voice. The essays on their own are fantastic reads, but collectively they are outstanding. Again romance, identity, and growth are deeply rooted in these essays. Chee again proves he is one of the bravest and boldest current writers out there.
A lot of other forms he approaches more recently such as poetry and journalism, largely deal with LGBTQ+ rights and he persists in being a writer that is highly involved in the political debate, continuing the activism he stood with when he was still a young man. He continues to be a shining inspiration for up and coming LGBTQ+ writers encouraging bravery, acceptance of sexuality and the embracement of identity. He himself uses these proudly, utilising his experience as a gay man to proudly inspire generations and continue to educate on the importance of identity and acceptance.