Ken Chen Departs Position of AAWW Executive Director

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Ken Chen Departs Position of AAWW Executive Director

With deep appreciation for his years of leadership, the Board of Directors of the Asian American Writers' Workshop announces the departure of Ken Chen as the Executive Director of the Asian American Writers' Workshop.

"On behalf of the board of directors, I wanted to thank Ken for his eleven years of service and his hard work building AAWW into one of the most innovative literary arts organizations in the country," said AAWW Executive Committee Member Kirby Kim. "During his time, AAWW has been on the cutting edge of conversations about race, immigration, and social justice and created a community that has nurtured countless young writers of color."

Ken will conclude his term as Executive Director on or about Friday, May 31, 2019. The board wishes him best of luck as he works on his second book after his Yale Younger Poets-winning Juvenilia, when he begins a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library later this fall.

Ken joined AAWW as the organization's only full-time staff member in 2008. Over his eleven years of service, he quadrupled the budget and grew the staff to fourteen full and part-time positions. Ken led a team of dedicated staff and board members over those years and his leadership transformed and reinvented the Asian American Writers' Workshop. A few examples of which include:

  • AAWW moved from its historic Koreatown space to its current space in the Flower District, where AAWW began hosting live readings every week. AAWW also launched PAGE TURNER: The Asian American Literary Festival, which it held in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013.
  • AAWW redesigned its website and launched its online magazine, The Margins (aaww.org) and Open City, which grants fellowships to writers to tell stories about low-income Asian immigrant communities in New York.
  • In 2012, AAWW co-organized a weeklong delegation of 50 writers and artists-such as Favianna Rodriguez, Teju Cole, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Wangechi Mutu-to witness the Arizona/Mexico border. This project grew into CultureStrike, a national arts organization dedicated to migrant justice and narrative change.
  • AAWW revitalized its fellowship program through the Margins and Open City Fellowships. Six recent AAWW fellows received their first book deal shortly after the fellowship.


Ken has raised funding from such supporter of the arts as the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Surdna, the Ford Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, Arts for Justice, the New York Community Trust, the C.J. Huang Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and the New York City Council. Thanks to the generosity of AAWW's supporters, from 2016-2018 alone AAWW distributed about a quarter of a million dollars to writers of color.

During Ken's term, AAWW was invited to the White House by the Obama Administration, given an award by New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and garnered coverage by The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The New Yorker, BookForum, The Guardian, and Poets & Writers, which stated that AAWW has been at the "front lines" of conversations about race and publishing. As Ken said in 2014 on NPR's All Things Considered: "You are constantly marked by how different you are. The point of an alternative art space like the workshop is to continually say: You are fine the way you are. Tell your story or tell a story that has nothing to do with you. And you can tell whatever story you want to tell."

AAWW is excited about moving forward into a new era and with a solid foundation. Over the last few years, AAWW has grown its budget and increased its financial stability. The organization is governed by an experienced board of directors, run by a talented staff, and overseen by a board Executive Committee consisting of Jin Auh, Mariko Gordon, and Kirby Kim.

A Board Search Committee, consisting of Mariko Gordon, Jennifer Hayashida, and Jennifer 8 Lee, have been working to hire an Interim Director to steward AAWW's operations and finances during the transition. AAWW will announce the hiring of the Interim Director and the search for the permanent Executive Director in the coming weeks.

For now, the board simply wishes to express its gratitude to Ken for his work transforming the organization and to communicate its excitement about the future of the Asian American Writers' Workshop as it enters an exciting new phase.



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