Telling Stories with Alexis CheungAlexis Cheung is a writer and copywriter who was born and raised on the easy side of O‘ahu. She made the move from Hawai‘i to Brooklyn, New York City to further pursue her writing career. When she’s not out exploring her local neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, you can find her working on her memoir, No Time to Talk from her cozy apartment. While we visited in the big city, we caught up with Alexis to talk about her inspirations and Hawai‘i roots. Here’s what she had to say.
Where did your passion for writing come from?
As a kid, I spent a lot of time in the local Kailua Library checking out books and reading on the small, circular tables. I loved books, and so did my parents. My mom specifically is also an incredible storyteller. She would share some adventurous yarn about her world travels every night—whether swimming with sharks in the Red Sea or watching a falcon land on a sultan's arm in the desert when she lived and worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia—before bed, so I absorbed some sense of structuring a narrative from her and all that reading.
How does living in NYC inspire you creatively?
New York City is the opposite of Hawai‘i. It’s fast-paced, hectic, and full of strangers. The opportunities and competition here force me to be creative, ambitious, and actually bridge the gap between my ideas and making them real stories. There are so many opportunities here.
How does your Hawai‘i upbringing influence your writing?
Sometimes I'll see a trend or issue about Hawai‘i and believe it needs a perspective that doesn't just depict it as an idyllic, this-is-your-paradise-to-take-inspiration-from place. Even though I grew up on O'ahu, there's still so much history and culture I don't know. Writing becomes a way to learn about and engage with the past in a way that reminds me that the Islands' history actively creates its present.
How do you stay connected to your Hawaiian roots while living here?
My friends! Many of them are from Hawaii but ironically we met while living here. We have similar values and can reminisce about home in ways that ground me.
Have you found any similarities between Hawai‘i and NYC, especially in a creative sense?
Community for sure. Both have very supportive, tight knit ones where everyone wants to help one another. (I'm sure that's not the case for everyone but I've been lucky.) Honestly, the city has incredible sunsets that rival Hawaii's, too!
Can you tell us about the memoir you’re currently writing?
It's a fragmented memoir that traces my dad's family's immigration from Hong Kong to Hawaii. Beyond my personal history, it interrogates what it means to write an Asian American story for the English canon. The title is going to be No Time to Talk.
What makes a great storytelling image?
Any image can be worth talking or writing about. It's how you write about it that matters, not the image itself, which is to say: I don't think something needs to be beautiful or awe inspiring to deserve someone's writerly attention. There's often more beauty and meaning in the mundane, and writing not only teaches you to see that in moments but how to convey it in a way that will convince other people to redirect their attention and gaze to things and/or people society otherwise overlooks.
Any specific places you go when you need to feel inspired or shake off writer’s block?
A walk or run always helps. I'll head to Herbert Von King park by my house, but other favorites when I lived in the city were Elizabeth Street Garden and the West Side Highway. I also love wandering into a library or bookstore: McNally Jackson, Three Lives and Co., Greenlight are some favorites.