Bodega: Poems

Su Hwang (Author)


Against the backdrop of the war on drugs and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, a Korean girl comes of age in her parents' bodega in the Queensbridge projects, offering a singular perspective on our nation of immigrants and the tensions pulsing in the margins where they live and work.

In Su Hwang's rich lyrical and narrative poetics, the bodega and its surrounding neighborhoods are cast not as mere setting, but as an ecosystem of human interactions where a dollar passed from one stranger to another is an act of peaceful revolution, and desperate acts of violence are "the price / of doing business in the projects where we / were trapped inside human cages--binding us / in a strange circus where atoms of haves / and have-nots always forcefully collide." These poems also reveal stark contrasts in the domestic lives of immigrants, as the speaker's own family must navigate the many personal, cultural, and generational chasms that arise from having to assume a hyphenated identity--lending a voice to the traumatic toll invisibility, assimilation, and sacrifice take on so many pursuing the American Dream.

"We each suffer alone in / tandem," Hwang declares, but in Bodega, she has written an antidote to this solitary hurt--an incisive poetic debut that acknowledges and gives shape to anguish as much as it cherishes human life, suggesting frameworks for how we might collectively move forward with awareness and compassion.

Product Details

$16.00  $14.72
Milkweed Editions
Publish Date
October 08, 2019
5.3 X 0.6 X 8.5 inches | 0.4 pounds
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

Born in Seoul, Korea, Su Hwang was raised in New York, then called the Bay Area home before transplanting to the Midwest, where she received her MFA in poetry from the University of Minnesota. Hwang is a recipient of the inaugural Jerome Hill Fellowship in Literature, the Academy of American Poets James Wright Prize, and writer-in-residence fellowships to Dickinson House and Hedgebrook, among others. Her poems have appeared in Ninth Letter, Water Stone Review, Waxwing, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop and is the cofounder, with Sun Yung Shin, of Poetry Asylum. Hwang currently lives in Minneapolis.


"These poems feel right on time." --Boston Globe

"In Su Hwang's intricate debut, the bodega is a vantage point for 'taking stock of these terrible/ hierarchies' of race, privilege and immigration . . . She asks readers to hear rather than understand 'the gibberish/ of anguish' spilling from dislocation and trauma." --Minneapolis Star Tribune

"These poems demand to be sounded-out and savored . . . the narrative eye and ear is gentle, encompassing, hypnotic." --The Millions

"In this formally dexterous debut, Hwang interrogates language, identity, and cultural inheritance . . . This work succeeds in using the nuances of poetic technique to amplify an already powerful message of cultural identity." --Publishers Weekly

"If we are not in denial, to name one life, one narrative, we must name many. This is a responsibility that Su Hwang steps into with elegant care. Her poems in Bodega are observant and cinematic, tracing the ways our many-languaged lives come up against each other in these united states. I've been waiting for a collection like this, difficult and prismatic as it is."--Solmaz Sharif

"Su Hwang's poems reenergize our communal memories of family and culture. She weaves story with perception and the result is the emergence of a poet whose instinct raises personal language to a fresh level. This unforgettable book places the poet in the forefront of experience and convinces me that Audre Lorde was correct when she stated, generations ago, that 'poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.'"--Ray Gonzalez

"Splashed against a milieu of suspicion, shift, and tumult, these keenly honed narratives--crafted by a poet bristling with unassailable talent--are the testimonies of a child very much within and without a 'home' in the traditional sense. What Su Hwang has done is chronicle a small, utterly necessary life as it stumbles toward its root in a world that both abandons and embraces. You will be pulled relentlessly into these stanzas and you will see yourself here."--Patricia Smith

"If, as Wittgenstein posited, words are probes capable of reaching great depths, then Su Hwang's Bodega is a quarry--mining directly into the immigrant heart, the daughter's heart, the American heart. A Barbie is burned and buried 'without pomp or ballyhoo, ' the earth 'slackens, ' to then reveal a 'map of storied constellations, ' and a mother cleans her daughter's ear with a wood pen: 'a / series of tiny / digs.' Real excavation always rends and breaks and works to bring something new into the light. I am grateful for this book, for all of Hwang's illuminations."--Kaveh Akbar

"Through the poetry of family and community, the collective and the self, Su Hwang's Bodega delivers an unflinching lyric missive to, and for, the complicated hearts that power a city--those whose voices and lives, beautifully and resolutely rendered, defy dismissal."--Khadijah Queen