April Naoko Heck

Interview with April Naoko Heck

A Nuclear Family
By April Naoko Heck

Cathy Linh Che: Your book A Nuclear Family came out this spring. Congratulations! Could you talk a little about the book's title?

April Naoko Heck: Thanks!

The title A Nuclear Family works on several levels: My Japanese great-grandmother was a survivor of Hiroshima, and on the day the bomb fell, my mother was in the womb about twenty miles away in Hiroshima prefecture. My mother later went on to marry my white, American father––who, ironically, worked for a nuclear power plant through the 1980s. During that time––during most of my childhood in Ohio––my little sister, our parents, and I made up a "nuclear family," in that utterly romantic sense of the term.

It occurs to me how new the word “nuclear” is––I just checked the etymology for “nucleus,” which I will share for my fellow word nerds: “1704, "kernel of a nut," 1708, "head of a comet," from Latin nucleus "kernel," from nucula "little nut," . . . .  Modern atomic meaning is 1912.”

Yes, “A Nutty Family”––that’s accurate too.

Cathy: We attended all three Kundiman retreats together and graduated together. Why did you apply, and what have you found there as a fellow?

April: In the months leading up to the retreat, I felt lost and demoralized as a writer in New York City. My manuscript was getting rejected from a million places. At the same time, I was working with literary stars, in proximity to, but not part of the glitterati. (Of course, that term is smoke and mirrors; I only had to talk to my non-writer friend to realize how distorted my perspective was, because he hadn’t even heard of writers I envied!)

At my first retreat, I cried as much as I laughed, often in the same breath. The retreat’s workshops were the first time I’d ever studied writing with Asian American faculty. And even though all of us poets came from different places, the common patterns in our histories and struggles to assimilate made for richer conversations and deeper sense of belonging than I’d ever experienced in an academic setting. Kundiman was super vitamin to my creative spirit. It was reinvigorated courage and motivation. It was detox, adrenaline, recovery. It was, and is, my poetry home.

Cathy: What advice would you give to a poet who wants to publish a first book?

Take your time, be patient, and aim high. Everyone should send poems to The New Yorker. Everyone should send their manuscript to the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. Over time your best poems will find the right homes, and your manuscript will find the right press. Don’t compare yourself to others. Just do your work with as much joy as you can muster, trust in the process, and, maybe above all, help your friends. The rewards of the latter continue to surprise and delight me.   


April Naoko Heck was born in Tokyo and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was seven. A Kundiman Fellow, she has been awarded residencies from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Vermont Studio Center. A Nuclear Family, her first collection of poems, was released by UpSet Press in spring 2014 and is available on Amazon. Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths; book cover by Bianca Stone.

March 19: AALR Local/Express Brooklyn Book Release with Cathy Linh Che, April Naoko Heck, Eugenia Leigh, R.A. Villanueva, and more!

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014, 7pm

Dumbo Sky
10 Jay Street #903
Brooklyn, New York

Jaishri Abichandani
Tina Chang
Cathy Linh Che (AALR A Lettre Fellow)
Curtis Chin
April Naoko Heck
Eugenia Leigh (AALR A Lettre Fellow)
Ed Lin
Swati Marquez
Peter Ong
Zohra Saed
RA Villanueva (AALR A Lettre Fellow)

& Nancy Bulalacao, hosting the mic

"They were out there all around us: a startling array of offbeat, outspoken, and idealistic Asian American artists, activists, entrepreneurs, and organizers who converged [in] New York City in the '90s—most of them, like us, a double "second generation," the children of immigrants and students of the first wave of Asian American Studies.... This collection is a relief map of unexplored history. But it is also a first draft of the future." - Jeff Yang from foreword of Local/Express: Asian American Arts and Culture 90s NYC.

Come celebrate the release of a new anthology by The Asian American Literary Review that captures some of the voices, reflections, and energy of Asian American NYC in the 90s with artists active then and now!

The Facebook event is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/214988622034254/

Feb. 18 NYC Word for Word Poetry Reading with April Naoko Heck, Purvi Shah, and Ocean Vuong

Word for Word Reading Series at Bryant Park


Join Word for Word Poetry in partnership with Kundiman for a reading by April Naoko Heck, Purvi Shah & Ocean Vuong. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014, 6pm
Kinokuniya Bookstore
1073 Avenue of the Americas
(Between 40th & 41st St)
New York, NY 10018

Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1458238237721872/

Jan. 28 After the Fire: New Poems for Hiroshima--April Naoko Heck, Cynthia Lowen, and special guest Lee Ann Roripaugh

Please join us for readings from two new poetry collections about Hiroshima and the atomic age by April Naoko Heck & Cynthia Lowen, with special guest & Kundiman faculty member Lee Ann Roripaugh traveling from South Dakota to read, reflect, and moderate a conversation with the audience.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014
KGB Bar & Lit Mag
85 East 4th Street
New York, New York 10003

This reading has been made possible in part by funds from Poets & Writers with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Nov. 21 Natalie Diaz, April Naoko Heck, and Ocean Vuong read at the Asian American Writers' Workshop. Moderated by R.A. Villanueva

Event Details

Asian American Writers' Workshop
112 W 27th St
New York, NY

Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/552519674824154/

It's Decorative Gourd Season around here, as McSweeney’s famously declared — a time to look back at all the hard work that’s gone into producing the fruits we now collect and devour in gluttonous revelry.

To mark the season, we’re inviting poets, writers, and readers alike to join us in celebrating the fruits of three poets’ labors. April Naoko HeckNatalie Diaz, and Ocean Vuong will share their work and talk with R.A. Villanueva about their obsessions and preoccupations as the days get shorter. 

In A Nuclear Family, her first collection of poems, April Naoko Heck contemplates a lineage passing through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to the world of nuclear power outside of Cleveland. Born in Tokyo, she relocated with her family to the U.S. when she was seven. A Kundiman Fellow, she has been awarded residencies from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Vermont Studio Center. She works for the NYU Creative Writing Program and lives in Brooklyn. 

Natalie Diaz delves into life on a reservation in the American Southwest in When My Brother Was an Aztec, where family collides with conquest and empire. She is a member of the Mojave and Pima Indian tribes and attended Old Dominion University on a full athletic scholarship. After playing professional basketball in Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey she returned to ODU for an MFA in writing. Her work was selected by Natasha Trethewey for Best New Poets, and she has received the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. She lives in Surprise, Arizona.

Ocean Vuong’s work examines love, longing, and family memory against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. Born in 1988 in Saigon, he was raised by women (a single mother, aunts, and a grandmother) in Hartford, Connecticut, and received his BA in English literature from Brooklyn College. He is the author of two chapbooks: No and Burnings, which was an American Library Association’s Over The Rainbow selection. A recipient of a 2013 Pushcart Prize, other honors include fellowships from Kundiman, Poets House, and the Saltonstall Foundation For the Arts, as well as an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Connecticut Poetry Society’s Al Savard Award. He lives in New York, where he reads chapbook submissions as the associate editor of Thrush Press. 

R.A. Villanueva is the author of Reliquaria, winner of the 2013 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He is also the winner of the 2013 Ninth Letter Literary Award for poetry. A semi-finalist for the 2013 "Discovery"/Boston Review Prize and a finalist for the 2011 Beatrice Hawley and Kinereth Gensler Awards, additional honors include fellowships from Kundiman and The Asian American Literary Review, and scholarships from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. 

Seats are limited! Reserve yours here: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/decorative-gourd-season-a-poetry-reading-tickets-9290410869?aff=eorg



Michelle Chan Brown, April Naoko Heck, Mia Ayumi Malhotra, Chris Santiago, & R.A. Villanueva published in Kartika Review

Congrats, dear fellows and alums!

We’re excited to announce the release of our latest publication, Issue 16, Fall 2013.

In This Issue: Michelle Chan Brown, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, April Naoko Heck, Susan Ito, Mia Ayumi Malhotra, Minh Pham, Danny Robles, Chris Santiago, R. A. Santos, Shubha Venugopal, R.A. Villanueva, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang.

Interviews with Li-Young Lee, acclaimed poet and author of four books of poetry and a memoir, including Behind My Eyes (W.W. Norton, 2008) and Shin Yu Pai, author of eight books of poetry, including Aux Arcs (La Alameda Press, 2013).

APIA Commentary by David Mura: The Student of Color in the Typical MFA Program.


Go here to check out their work! http://kartikareview.com/?p=558

Sept. 27 Kazim Ali, April Naoko Heck, & Srikanth Reddy at NYU

Kundiman Reading at NYU


September 27, 2013 5:00 p.m

Facebook event here: