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Sally Wen Mao
I’ve tried so hard to erase myself.
That iconography—my face
in Technicolor, the manta ray
eyelashes, the nacre and chignon.
I’ll bet four limbs they'd cast me as another
Mongol slave. I will blow a hole
in the airwaves, duck lasers in my dugout.
I’m done kidding them. Today I fly
the hell out in my Chrono-Jet.
To the future, where I’m forgotten.
—from “Anna May Wong Fans Her Time Machine”
In Oculus, Sally Wen Mao explores exile not just as a matter of distance and displacement, but as a migration through time and a reckoning with technology. The title poem follows a girl in Shanghai who uploaded her suicide onto Instagram. Other poems cross into animated worlds, examine robot culture, and haunt a necropolis for electronic waste. A fascinating sequence speaks in the voice of international icon and first Chinese American movie star Anna May Wong, who travels through the history of cinema with a time machine, even past her death and into the future of film, where she finds she has no progeny. With a speculative imagination and a sharpened wit, Mao powerfully confronts the paradoxes of seeing and being seen, the intimacies made possible and ruined by the screen, and the many roles and representations that women of color are made to endure in order to survive a culture that seeks to consume them.

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A brilliant second collection by Sally Wen Mao on the violence of the spectacle

About the Author

Sally Wen Mao
Credit: Cream/Jilian
Sally Wen Mao is the author of a previous poetry collection, Mad Honey Symposium. She has received fellowships from the New York Public Library Cullman Center, the George Washington University, and Kundiman.
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Upcoming Events

Heid E. Erdrich and Sally Wen Mao appearing as part of the University of North Dakota Writers Conference

University of North Dakota Writers Conference in Grand Forks, NDview map
"Visions of the Future," a panel with Kiese Laymon and Patrick Martinez. Location:UND Memorial Union, 2nd Floor, Ballroom.

Sally Wen Mao reading as part of the University of North Dakota Writers Conference

University of North Dakota Writers Conference in Grand Forks, NDview map
Location: UND Memorial Union, 2nd Floor, Ballroom.

Sally Wen Mao reading at Elliott Bay Book Company

Elliott Bay Book Co in Seattle, WAview map
Reading with Jane Wong.


  • “In her stunning second collection, Mao stages a searing ventriloquy act. . . . These depictions speak and fight back against the white gaze that has framed them.”—
  • “By telling [Anna May] Wong’s story, and those of other women of color who have been defined by images in popular culture, [Oculus] explores the ramifications of being seen and objectified but never truly known.”The Washington Post
  • “Hauntingly perceptive. . . . An homage to pioneering Chinese Americans and an indictment of Asian representation in American culture, which never for a moment shies away from the difficult tasks of taking on race and history and technology all at once.”Vulture
  • “Mao’s kaleidoscopic verse scrutinizes our obsession with onscreen spectacles—and includes a tour de force sequence that imagines silent-film actress Anna May Wong time-traveling to star in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sixteen Candles: ‘Cast me as that girl who rivets center stage / or cast me away.’”
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