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Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet

Adrienne Su

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238-page paperback / 5.5" x 8.5" / ISBN 9781589881921
Publication Date: 8/6/2024 (available for preorder)

“Seasoned with a dash of [Su’s] meticulously crafted poetry and even a recipe, this collection celebrates words, culture, food, and the human act of making that binds them all together. A literary gourmand’s delight.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Su’s soulful reflections call attention to the complex connections between place, cuisine, literature, and taste, and revealing interviews with Su . . . open a window onto her creative process . . . This provides much to savor.”
—Publishers Weekly

In this enchanting collection of essays and interviews, poet Adrienne Su reflects on her journey as a creative writer and avid home cook, beginning at a neighbor's dinner table in 1980s Atlanta—lingering over poems, poets, and connections between food and literature—and ending in her present-day kitchen in central Pennsylvania.

In Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, Adrienne Su contemplates her own use of food as a recurring metaphor, influential teachers and peers, the push and pull between cooking and writing, changing expectations around English usage, and craft questions such as: Why does some subject matter refuse to cooperate in the creative process, even when it appears close to home? How does one write a good poem about being happy? Why write in rhyme when it's time-consuming and mostly out of style? What is a poem's responsibility to the literal truth?

Su's essays are driven by the tensions between worlds that overlap and collide: social conventions of the northern and southern United States; notions of what's American and what's Asian American; the demands of the page and the demands of the home; the solitariness of writing and the meaningful connection a poem can create between writer and reader. In interviews, often with fellow poets, she discusses a range of topics, from her early days in the Nuyorican poetry-slam scene to the solace of poetry and cooking during Covid-19 lockdown.

While Su’s previous books are all collections of poetry, she has been publishing individual essays for many years. Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet gathers the best of them into one volume for the first time. 

“An engaging investigation of crafts, literary and culinary, that have been refined over decades . . . [A] collection that resonates with authenticity and wisdom."

"As an admirer of Adrienne Su’s poems, I couldn’t wait to read her debut essay collection. Sure enough, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet contains everything I love about Su’s poems: warmhearted honesty, hyper-clear articulation, and a Frostian lump in the throat. Su tells us, 'cooking a meal, like writing a poem, is an act of making.' At their core such acts, she demonstrates, are the same. Her essays move organically from poetics to cookbooks, Maxine Kumin to Julia Child, sestinas to General Tso’s Chicken. Reading Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet is like having a great conversation with a brilliant poet-friend as they prepare a beautiful meal.”
—John Wall Barger, author of Smog Mother

“Adrienne Su’s Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet is a fragrant weave of essays, remembrances, interviews with writer-mentors, and poems (even a recipe or two). Complex nuances are rendered on the page as well as on the tongue (through all the senses, actually). Her Middle Kingdom is a home in the suburban south, where memories of frozen pizza, mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes share equal space with dumplings, Cantonese roast pork, and pickled vegetables. Here are thoughtful and generous tributes to the many kindred forms of creative making—for one thing, there is what the poet does with language and writing; for another, there is what daughter/mother/teacher stirs together and serves up at the table, for sustenance as well as insight and empowerment.”
—Luisa A. Igloria, author of Maps for Migrants and Ghosts

“The essays in Adrienne Su’s Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet illuminate the poet’s journey from the south of her childhood where ‘there was no language for addressing what made me different’ to Harvard University where she began to parse her relationship to Chinese culture, language, and food. They move through time (the first was written in 1996) and allow the reader a glimpse into the evolution of a major American poet. Along the way we learn about her sense of kinship with the poet Adrienne Rich, with whom she shares ‘poetry, feminism, motherhood, the quest for identity.’ Su discovers a passion for cooking and struggles with ‘the dim view that artists and intellectuals tend to take of cookbooks.' Su is honest and intellectually curious and willing to hold two opposing viewpoints at the same time. This volume is an important companion to her poems.”
—Faith Shearin, author of The Owl Question, Lost Language, and 2022 nonfiction winner of The Perkoff Prize

Listen to an interview with Kevin Young on The New Yorker Poetry Podcast (2023)

Adrienne Su
is the author of five books of poems, most recently Peach State, which was named a 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read. Her poems appear in many anthologies, including six volumes of The Best American Poetry. Among her awards are an NEA fellowship and residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Yaddo, and The Frost Place. An Atlanta native, she lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where she is professor of creative writing at Dickinson College.

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