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Christina Catches Us Up

In this next installment of our Alumni Interview Series, I got the chance to talk to Christina Yu (2008). We discussed her development as a writer and her thoughts on balancing professional and creative ambitions.

MaunaLaniChristina Yu (2008) is a Marketing Manager at Knewton, a global leader in adaptive learning technology. Yu has fiction published or forthcoming in New Letters, Fence, Gargoyle, Indiana Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, New Delta Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, 34th Parallel Magazine, and the anthology Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories. Her fiction has been nominated and cited for several Best American anthologies. She is currently a part-time MBA candidate at the NYU School of Business and is specializing in Marketing, Strategy, Media Entertainment & Technology.

1) Why did you want to become a writer? What’s the story behind your storytelling desire?
I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I don’t really have anything special to say about it. I just enjoy putting words together. It doesn’t have to be fancy words for a fancy purpose–I like writing letters, blog posts, copy for a website, articles, essays, and stories of course. I just loved being an English major in college–writing essay after essay after essay. Those were some of the best days of my life. I get lost in the act of making sentences, and I like thinking about people and what makes them tick. That’s all there is to it.

When I was younger, I probably had more ego wrapped up in it. And loftier, more pretentious ideas around writing. Now that I support myself, in part, by writing, I have a much more professional attitude (which I think is better).

Of course, though, I think it’s important to maintain some of the romantic, emotional feelings around the craft. Once when I was in college, a famous writer (forget the name) came to visit and said: “I write to make people fall in love with me. I write to prove I am special.”

That made complete sense to me back then. I think a healthy dose of both mentalities is about right–the professional-9-5-no-ego-writing-mentality and the romantic, sexy one.

2) Along the way, have there been people who’ve helped you form your writerly identity?

English teachers in high school and of course my favorite professors in college and grad school. I had one prof who told me I was a “Romantic” with a capital R. That completely changed my life. From that day forward, I felt like I knew who I was. From that day forward, I did everything with a certain code or spirit in mind.

You know, it is sad but I don’t think I fully appreciated the MFA program while I was there. I miss workshop now, of course. The time there was precious. There were so many exquisite afternoons–of writing and playing DDR and board games. It was a very special time.

3) Are you working on any big creative projects right now? If so, what’s your elevator pitch on any one of them?
I do have several book-length projects complete or nearly complete, but my policy is to never talk about a project. It’s fun, but it feels like cheating. It’s too easy.


4) What are you doing for a living? Do you find yourself wearing multiple hats each day?

I work as a marketing manager at a tech company in New York. It’s an unbelievable opportunity. The people are brilliant, the technology is mind-blowing, the social mission excites me on even the toughest days, the business opportunity is once-in-a-lifetime, etc. The culture of the company is also quite special. Everyone is charming and irreverent.

I do find myself wearing multiple hats, and I thrive on it. My life right now demands everything that I have. Each day is a cognitive work-out, and I go to sleep exhausted. I work, write, read, study econ and stats, attend industry gatherings. Basically, I’m not satisfied each day unless I wear myself out.

I’m also doing a part-time MBA right now and specializing in Marketing, Strategy, Media & Entertainment, so my life is REALLY crazy. I was actually a bit nervous before I started this, but then thought to myself, “Sheryl Sandberg says women over-plan, and that you shouldn’t think too much. Just do it.” Plus, I’m interested in stories about overreachers. It helps to be in an atmosphere that is charged with ambition, urgency and striving.

5) How do you balance your creative life with your professional one? Are the two separate in your mind or do they permeate each other?

They definitely permeate each other. I love the pace of New York, the “mad and willful humanity” here. It really suits my temperament. I could go on and on about this forever. But ultimately, I think it’s important to know what works for you, if you’re a creative person. Some people prefer isolation and long stretches of quiet. Some need constant stimulation and excitement. Everyone has different needs and a different trajectory. Me, I’ve always loved Flaubert’s quote: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” I do things in a very methodical and comprehensive way. I like models and frameworks and algorithms and a certain analytical rigor in my life. The creative spontaneous stuff cuts through that and gives things an interesting texture.

Basically, I want to live a paradox. I like being on the edge between art and business. I think it creates a productive tension. Sometimes I approach art the way you would approach business (with personal output quotas, processes, strategic thinking, frameworks for analysis) and business the way you would art (intuitively, with a design-and-metaphoric sensibility). Of course I understand the limits of this approach as well.

6) Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring writers?
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work”–Flaubert



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