Ferns and Family History in Wei Tchou's Experimental Memoir, Little Seed

Wei Tchou’s (20) MacDowell-supported Little Seed (Deep Vellum Books) entered the world this May, just as the fiddleheads began unfurling back at MacDowell. Part personal field guide to ferns, part narrative about her family, the book considers botany and the life of plants in relation to her own experience navigating identity and grappling with the mental health of a family member. Hua Hsu, author of the Pulitzer-winning memoir Stay True, called it "a gorgeous, inventive meditation on the passage of time, memory and forgetting, and the ties that bind."

The focus of her winter 2020 residency in our Heyward Studio, Little Seed is an experimental memoir that “cracks open the world and roots out what is invisible, what cannot be classified or named,” traversing “fairy tale, science history, and family lore…” wrote author Sam Cohen (20), whose MacDowell residency overlapped with Tchou’s.

“I wrote some of the most difficult passages of my book,” Tchou told us, “ones about childhood abuse and mental illness, at MacDowell during winter 2020. For better or worse, the snowy campus and short days contributed to my writing mood; I definitely drew emotional inspiration from the isolation and intensity of the season. (In retrospect, maybe I should have chosen to work on sunny Mexico passages, for my own sanity lol!!) But I was in residency long enough for the thaw to arrive and clubmoss and Christmas ferns to begin poking through the snow and ice. That rejuvenation (which I'm not really privileged to witness as starkly in New York, where winters are much warmer) was a special reminder of the power that ferns had in my life, during the period I cover in Little Seed—soothing, sublime, healing, the thrill of life returning and time moving forward.”

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The cover of the memoir "Little Seed" with the author pictured to its right. She sits at a table holding the book and smiling. On the table is a fern.

Author and MacDowell Fellow Wei Tchou is pictured at the launch for her memoir, Little Seed, at McNally Jackson Books in May 2024. On the table to the author's left is a bird's nest fern.