“‘This First Breath’ by Melissa Sipin resonates most deeply with me. This story is, in effect, a story about stories; it is also a story about how we craft stories about survival, and how these new stories inevitably alter the trajectories of our lives. What I am trying to say is that this story says so much in just a few words; in the end, this is what all writers are trying to do.”
— Tope Folarin, Washington Square Review’s Flash Fiction Prize
[ Read the winning story here. ]
“Her writing aches with tenderness and longing as she grapples with concerns of family, language, war, and history. For example, these haunting lines from her poem, “For Lola,” which was published in The Bakery last year: “I think this anger comes from a deeper place / unknown to me like my grandfather, who lost / his leg in the war / so long ago, // along the rocks of Bessang Pass, the ocean / shores of memory.”
There is a palpable sense of searching, of tracing lineage and forgotten or buried histories that is trademark in Melissa’s work. Her short stories approach the larger issues that members of the Filipino immigrant community face: migration, family secrets, taboo, and silence; yet her stories are carefully rendered with an intimacy of voice and specificity of experience, seen in “Walang Hiya, Brother,” which is published in Glimmer Train Stories.”
Mona Washington, playwright and contributor to The Huffington Post, says of her work:
“The first time I read “Walang Hiya, Brother” was immediately after I read a short story in The New Yorker by a famous writer (who shall remain nameless). I remember thinking, Melissa’s story is so much better, by any standard. Of course, “Walang Hiya, Brother” is her award-winning Glimmer Train short story. I’ve read it many times, and recommended it to my literary-fiend friends, as well as writing students as an example of stellar writing. They repeatedly confirm my opinion: Melissa’s writing is extraordinary.
Check out this graceful passage from that short story:
I feel the weight of everything: the sun, the warm air, the cars that rush by our house, the line of cacti that encloses us. The noise and silence of home.
“[T]he line of cacti that encloses us” is the sort of detail that lifts her prose from the ordinary into a more sophisticated realm. It gives the reader a visual to accompany the sensations she’s evoked—the heat, and the warm air. Also, her use of Tagalog throughout her stories is seamlessly interspersed, without italics or asterisks, and forces the reader to approach her writing without subordinating another language to English. […] I urge you to read Melissa’s work more than once. Read it, then let it sit. Then read it again. Her stories haunt my subconscious. I find myself going back to re-read certain phrases, to analyze her language usage, and to study her facility with tenses. As a playwright, I’m drawn to prose which includes realistic, believable dialogue. Melissa’s writing constantly delivers on that front as well.”
“‘Write what haunts you,’ Sipin says in her poetics statement in Glimmer Train. Having followed (traced) her work for some time now, it is easy to see she does just that. Her characters move through grief and transgenerational, matrilineal trauma: “[My Mama] beat the center of her chest” then “My grandmother beat her chest” then “I held her hands and beat my chest.” […] What is it about personal stories and social history? What is it about the need to articulate grief? What is it about mothers and love and hope and abandonment? What is it to die on the page? Sipin’s characters yearn and dream. Traumatized, they refuse to remember, want to remember and re-member their bodies through a rhythm adeptly built into each sentence and paragraph. Sipin is careful in how she weaves her words and she is honest. I love how, after reading, I need to sit silently. How, after reading, I’m not exactly sure what moved me, or what my body understood. Perhaps it’s presence. Or longing. Or simply, the rawness of being human.”
— Halo-Halo Review, September 2015