Dickson Lam’s dazzling debut memoir, Paper Sons, which came out in March from Autumn House Press, traces Lam’s journey from a teenage graffiti writer growing up in a housing project in San Francisco, to a high school teacher working with underserved youth. As Lam does his best to unravel the tangled threads of violence in his family’s past, his richly rendered narrative pulses with life as he explores what we owe to one another, if we’re ultimately destined to repeat the mistakes of our parents, and whether there can be such a thing as redemption.
Alison Hawthorne Deming, who selected Lam’s book for the 2017 Autumn House Nonfiction contest, cited the way that Lam combined memoir and cultural history, the quest for an absent father and the struggle for social justice, naming traditions in graffiti and Chinese culture: “This is an important book, beautifully crafted, rich and poetic images and juxtapositions, that offers insight and compassion for a nation struggling to make sense of its immigrant nature.”
Lam, whose work has appeared in the Kenyon Review Online, Hyphen magazine, and The Rumpus, teaches at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California. Recently, he and I spoke about the writing advice that transformed his approach to his book, the role of taggers in the graffiti hierarchy, and the duty of a memoirist.
To read the full interview in The Rumpus, click here.