You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids
Frances Kai-Hwa WangAward Winner
Pages: 118 Size: 5.5x8.5
Illustrations: 17 black-and-white photographs
In the aftermath of a messy divorce, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang writes in the hope of beginning to build a new life with four children, bossy aunties, unreliable suitors, and an uncertain political landscape. The lyric essays in You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids deftly navigate the space between cultures and reflect on lessons learned from both Asian American elders and young multiracial children, punctuated by moments rich with cultural and linguistic nuance. In her prologue, Wang explains, "Buddhists say that suffering comes from unsatisfied desire, so for years I tried to close the door to desire. I was so successful, I not only closed the door, I locked it, barred it, nailed it shut, then stacked a bunch of furniture in front of it. And now that door is open, wide open, and all my insides are spilling out."
Full of current events of the day and #HashtagsOfTheMoment, the topics in the collection are wide ranging, including cooking food to show love, surviving Chinese School, being an underpaid lecturer, defending against yellow dildos, navigating immigration issues, finding love in a time of elections, crying with children separated from their parents at the border, charting the landscape of frugal/hoarder elders during the pandemic, witnessing COVID-inspired anti–Asian American violence while reflecting on the death of Vincent Chin, teaching her sixteen-year-old son to drive after the deaths of Trayvon Martin and George Floyd, and trusting the power of writing herself into existence. Within these lyric essays, some of which are accompanied by artwork and art installations, Wang finds the courage and hope to speak out for herself and for an entire generation of Asian American women.
A notable work in the landscape of Asian American literature as well as Midwest and Michigan-based literature, You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids features a clear and powerful voice that brings all people together in these political and pandemic times.
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang languages desire with a refreshing candor and mischievous wit. She talks story of divorce, of messy relationships, and of enduring humiliating racist and misogynistic microaggressions because she is an Asian American woman. Wang’s prose poems and lyric essays ring with wisdom and hard-earned truths and dream-like reveries in this unforgettable collection.
– May-lee Chai, author of Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories, winner of the American Book Award
‘I do not know if one ever recovers from Kathmandu,’ the speaker in one of Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s poems ruminates, and I don’t know if we ever recover—or want to recover—from You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair is In Braids, which is part of the marvelous linguistic spell that is cast in this book. By turns whimsical, romantic, witty, hybrid, self-deprecating, fierce, intertextual, hashtagged, polylingual, and full of a radiant empathy that connects us to Vincent Chin, George Zimmerman, Sun Ku Wong, Hanuman, and Milan Kundera, this is a collection that astounds, surprises, and delights, which encapsulates much of what a book that leaves an indelible mark should do. Yay Frances for a collection that rocks!"
– Dr. Ravi Shankar, Pushcart Prize–winning author of Correctional
You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids is a great gathering of the many contradictions, the multifaceted multitudes, of Frances Kai-Hwa Wang. Across its pages of aphorism, prose poem, micro-fiction, and lyric essay, we encounter Patsy Cline heartache and AOC outrage, delivered in a humor that is solely Wang’s own.
– Tim Tomlinson, director and cofounder of New York Writers Workshop, author of Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire and This Is Not Happening to You
You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids is an important and enjoyable read as the world opens back up from COVID-19. Wang’s vulnerable writing is awe-inspiring, and her expertise shows easily on the page.
– Kiyomi Kishaba, International Examiner
I confess, I spent no small amount of time ruminating on these questions while reading the first half of Braids, since I would obviously need to describe it in a review. But here’s the thing: Once I let go of trying to figure out what Braids was, exactly — and instead got into the practice of approaching each short piece with an open mind and a curiosity about where Wang might take me next — I unlocked its power.
– Jenn McKee, HOUR Detroit
The book is full of life, a celebration of things that make it worth living — including, but not limited to, food, make-outs, and friendship. While dense with layers of human experience, it’s a quick read because the rhythms of Wang’s direct language draw readers swiftly along. The prose-poetry format allows Wang to skip without preamble straight from one poignant moment to another, with her eyes open to the simple pleasures, profound mysteries, and lurking terrors of the human experience.
– Jay Gabler, The Tangential
As a longtime Asian American activist and musician, I was blown away by how Wang communicated so viscerally the struggle to be oneself. Reading her lyrical and nuanced pieces called to mind that line from the Billie Holiday song, "You don't know what you love is until you've learned the meaning of the blues."
– Francis Wong, cofounder of Asian Improv aRts, lecturer, San Francisco State University, Asian American studies
2023 Eric Hoffer Book Awards - Result: Finalist