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Rising Star Heidi Wong: “I would love to inspire young people, especially young women of color, to find their confidence again”

So many people spend their youths, for a lack of a better phrase, hating themselves. Sometimes I wonder, when did confidence become equivalent to selfishness and entitlement? When did self love become such a radical idea? If given the chance, I would love to inspire young people, especially young women of color, to find their […]

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So many people spend their youths, for a lack of a better phrase, hating themselves. Sometimes I wonder, when did confidence become equivalent to selfishness and entitlement? When did self love become such a radical idea? If given the chance, I would love to inspire young people, especially young women of color, to find their confidence again. We should all feel secure enough with ourselves to do, say, dress, express ourselves however we want to, given that we aren’t hurting anyone else.


As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing poet, artist, and social media personality Heidi Wong. Since releasing her first poetry collection at age 15 and selling her artwork on national television in China for over $43,000 for cancer research, Wong’s influence has skyrocketed. Now, in her early 20s, she has secured her name in the arts as a force to be reckoned with.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up “in Beijing,” so to say, but I really grew up all around the world. My parents are from Hong Kong and Russia, and during the school year I’d be in Beijing, but I’ve also spent a lot of time in Hong Kong during the year, and New York during the summer. I also went to summer camp in Pennsylvania for a good amount of my childhood. Therefore, I would identify myself as “third culture” rather than from anywhere in particular. Growing up this caused certain identity issues regarding my sense of belonging, but now I really feel like there’s parts of myself scattered around the world, and I’m learning to belong more to myself rather than to any particular place.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always known I wanted to go into the arts. I went to an IB school, but also went to art school on the weekends from ages 6 to 15. Before that I also pursued ballet, figure skating, and piano all quite seriously, but I didn’t feel the same kind of passion I felt for art. I’d find any excuse to create — drawing with my mom’s lipstick on the walls or scribbling on the dinner table. I’d even ask for a dish of vinegar in restaurants to draw on my plate when waiting for my food to come. Art has always just been a part of my life, to a point where it doesn’t seem like a choice anymore. With poetry…it was something that started when I was 15 at a summer camp I went to. It felt natural. The words just came out of me and there was no way of stopping it. Even now there are weeks that I go without a poem, and I can never really predict when a poem will come. But when it does, it just pours out of me. My poems write themselves; I am only their editor. They speak through me; they say what they want to say.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

This might not be the most interesting, but this was definitely the most recent. I was attending a poetry program in NYU this past summer called Writers in New York, and decided beforehand I would not tell anyone in my program about my social media platform or previous published works. I’m not particularly proud of withholding information, but I guess to me it was kind of a personal experiment — I wanted to see if people actually thought my abilities in poetry were able to stand on its own two feet, or if I’ve been persuading others “I can write” merely from my previous success and online following. This lasted about a week, then people started finding out, but to me it was a comforting experience. For a long time I’ve found fulfillment in my own career, but it was nice to be seen as just me. Not Heidi Wong “the poet,” or Heidi Wong “the artist,” but just a normal girl in college who loved to write.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m actually working on making my own signature fragrance! This was a route I had no idea I would take, but I’m so excited. I’ve partnered with Waft Fragrance in New York to create my own fragrance named “dreamgirl,” after a poem I’ve written of the same title. The idea is that oftentimes women especially feel pressured to fit into a mold of what society perceives as beautiful, whether that involves body type, race, or other physical attributes. My fragrance and poem are about being your own dream and your own “love of your life,” and how empowering we can become when we truly love ourselves first.

I’m also working on my senior project at Hamilton College, in which I want to create a permanent installation on campus about memory and legacy. I’m not sure which direction I want to take this yet, but I’m excited to see where it goes. I’ll definitely be updating everyone about it on Instagram!

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

“When I was a kid, I always had to relate to white characters. All the female lead characters in popular films and TV, at least when I was growing up, were white. In some ways this teaches young people of color from a very young age that not only is the white identity the “standard,” but that we need to endure a certain level of erasure in order to relate to popular culture. In short: we did not see ourselves represented, so we felt either consciously or subconsciously like we should be quieter, take up less space, we did not matter as much. This leads the building of insecurities, or even sometimes physically changing ourselves to fit in more with that constructed norm– “white washing.”

Even now I have young Asian girls sending me messages on Instagram saying they’re glad they found my work because of something along the lines of, “I just don’t see people like us making it out there.” I know exactly what they’re talking about. Because I, too, felt that way when I was growing up.

When I started writing and painting, I felt like I was walking in blind. I can only speak for my own field, but when you think about it, how many women of color authors and artists were we taught in school? Hardly any. We’ve always had to fight to have our stories told. So, if I can relieve some of the same anxiety I felt for anyone else out there, that would bring me a lot of peace. Personally at least, I feel like if one of us makes it, we all make it.

Sometimes I put in certain references to my Asian heritage into my poems and find myself worrying if people will understand. For instance, I’ve started mentioning my Mandarin nickname from my childhood, jiāo jiāo. Am I isolating myself by making these references and not explaining them? Am I marginalizing my own work? Whenever I find this worry creeping up, I have to catch myself. I’ve been projecting myself onto white characters in order to relate to them since I can remember. If anything, I want other people of color to know that we don’t have to silence our identities in order to be seen. Not only in film and television, but in literature, in painting, in all forms of media and arts, diversity is crucial and required. Our experiences are just as valuable and should be heard just as loudly.”

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. “What is most personal is most universal.” –Carl R. Rogers
  2. Along those same lines, never erase any part of who you are or how you feel for relatability.
  3. Skills can be acquired. Talent is subjective. Your most valuable asset will always be your mind.
  4. You own your experiences. No one can tell you what you can or cannot make art about.
  5. Somewhat contradictory to the last piece of advice, also remember that regardless of what your art is “about,” every piece of art you’ll ever make is really about you.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Take time to do things just for yourself. Recently I felt really overwhelmed by work, and spontaneously decided to drive to Cambridge, Massachusetts to visit a few friends for a weekend. At the end of that weekend I felt much more rejuvenated and found my focus again. It doesn’t have to be as extreme as leaving your state though, it can be as simple as having a routine that calms you down. For example, at the college I go to I have several places I go to just “to think.” There’s a bench facing the music building, the lawn in front of the arts building, and a pavilion in the middle of a field. I’m actually quite an introverted person, so spending some time in my “thinking places” alone helps me analyze my emotions and straighten everything out. For me at least, having my own persona places and taking time for myself helps a lot.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

So many people spend their youths, for a lack of a better phrase, hating themselves. Sometimes I wonder, when did confidence become equivalent to selfishness and entitlement? When did self love become such a radical idea? If given the chance, I would love to inspire young people, especially young women of color, to find their confidence again. We should all feel secure enough with ourselves to do, say, dress, express ourselves however we want to, given that we aren’t hurting anyone else.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people I owe thanks to. My parents, first and foremost. The older I get the more I see flashes of them in me, and I couldn’t be more grateful. My friends at Hamilton and at Easton who’ve supported me through thick and thin. My incredible professors at Hamilton for inspiring me and exposing me to different paths of thinking. Also, anyone who has ever doubted my ability and in short, wished for me to fail — they have motivated and pushed me much further than I could’ve ever dreamed.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.” ―Mark Z. Danielewski

The act of writing and painting is sometimes beyond painful. It involves digging into the deepest parts of your emotions to reveal what you fear the most. Sometimes I do not want to write, but the poems have a way of making their way out. I wouldn’t say art and poetry make me happy, because the way I feel for my art forms have long surpassed that — they just are a part of who I am fundamentally. All the pain I must endure and all the hardships that come with them are mine as well. It’s never simply positive or negative. We have to embrace both and everything in between — that’s what love really is.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

My favorite living writers are Joan Didion, Warsan Shire, and Ocean Vuong. They inspire me infinitely, and I’m honored to be alive at the same time as they are.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@heidiwongofficial on instagram, and @hwpoetry on twitter! I’m usually one of those handles across all social media platforms.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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