Meet the Denizens: Ran Zhao

November 20th

This interview is the sixth in our "Meet the Denizens" series, featuring the masthead of Dishsoap Quarterly. For Ran, Bianca, one of our editor-in-chiefs, conducted this interview. Ran is the art editor and a poetry reader.

Ran Zhao

Bianca: Tell us some basics about yourself: where are you from, what are your hobbies, etc.

Ran: My name is Ran, and I’m a student from Hong Kong. In my free time, I enjoy drawing and spending time with cats. I also love playing the piano and falling into Wikipedia rabbit holes, but that’s not my fault. It’s Wikipedia’s fault.

Bianca: Why do you enjoy writing and what inspired you to start doing so? Is there a particular emotion that it evokes?

Ran: I used to write stories with my sister because we both like reading, but lately I’ve also become interested in writing as a means of self-exploration—a way to come to terms with emotions by laying them out and examining them. I think poetry really lends itself to that, since it’s so versatile.

Bianca: Why do you especially enjoy poetry?

Ran: You can do so many things with it! Don’t care about coherency? Don’t bother with it. Want to run your words together? Do it! In that way, I think it’s such a pure embodiment of thought—there are no stylistic constraints to distort one’s ideas, except for self-imposed ones. 

Bianca: Who are your favorite writers? How do you think they’ve influenced your writing?

Ran: I can’t choose! I love Jane Wong, Gabriel García Márquez, Megan Whalen Turner, Ocean Vuong, and I’m probably missing a lot more. I came across Jane Wong’s poems about ghosts and hauntings shortly after the passing of a loved one, and looking back, I can see how much of the same motifs pervaded my writing. I’ve also had the pleasure of reading some of our staff’s writing, which never fails to amaze me. 

Bianca: Are there any specific works that you draw inspiration from?

Ran: ‘The Living Mountain’ by Nan Shepherd is such a nice reminder that writing doesn’t have to be epiphanic—or make any sort of grand realization, really—to be moving. 

Bianca: How has your earlier work informed the work you’re currently creating?

Ran: Some of my favorite pieces are combinations of things I’ve written in the past but never finished. The change in context gives rise to so many unusual ideas. 

Bianca: What is your writing process like? How long do you typically spend on a project? What ideas do you find yourself constantly drawn to?

Ran: I tend to start a lot of things without finishing them, so I try to get all my ideas down before I lose motivation. In terms of revision, I prefer to rewrite poems rather than edit them, as I think starting from scratch allows me to make more organic choices about my work. A theme I find myself exploring a lot is impermanence. 

Bianca: Can you share some of your thoughts on the literary community? Have you created work in response to other artists? If so, what do you think the importance of this communication is?

Ran: Writing, for the most part, is such an isolated endeavor, and to that end, I think it’s so valuable to interact with people who face the same obstacles and find joy in the same things as you. I think discourse is such an incredible force for collective improvement, because to have your ideas and your work challenged is to have them grow, and literary communities do so well to foster this kind of discussion.

Bianca: How do you think editing and writing are correlated? What does it take to be a “good” editor, and what do you specifically look for in a piece?

Ran: I think they definitely complement each other, but I feel that the ability to craft a compelling piece of writing doesn’t necessarily translate to expertise in analysis. I look for pieces that draw me into their flow, and that have purpose beyond nice words.

Bianca: What are your favorite literary magazines and artistic experiences?

Ran: Some of my favorite magazines are Waxwing, Winter Tangerine, and perhappened mag. My favorite artistic experience might be attending a writers’ meetup for the first time. It was so wild to think that writing, something I’d only really done by myself up to that point, was what had brought us together.

Bianca: What projects are you currently working on? What things or ideas do you see yourself exploring in the future? 

Ran: While I’m writing, I frequently find myself tailoring my work to the expectations of an imaginary audience, and in the future, I’d like to move away from that more consciously—to write more for myself than for other people.

Bianca: What advice do you have to offer young writers that are just starting out in the literary world? 

Ran: I’m a horrible hypocrite, but I’d say that you don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike. Look for it instead. If you set out with the intention of writing something, so many things will pique your imagination. “Chance favors the prepared mind” and all that.