As its title suggests, your story “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts” is set in a doughnut shop and is about a mother, Sothy, and her two daughters, Tevy and Kayley. Did one of those elements—the family of women or the doughnut shop—come first or were the two entwined from the outset?
I had been trying, and failing, to write a story about a Cambodian-owned 24/7 doughnut shop for three years, before I finally conceived the characters of Sothy, Tevy, and Kayley. Back when I was doing my undergrad at Stanford, my boyfriend and I regularly frequented a doughnut shop, which was, in fact, called Chuck’s Donuts, always between 1 and 3 a.m., always inebriated or stoned. Entirely in my own head, I had developed an intimate connection with the owner, who I was convinced was Cambodian (though he always refused small talk), owing to the Cambodian posters on the wall, and owing to the fact that tons of doughnut shops are owned and operated by Cambodians-Americans, including my uncle. (Also, around eighty per cent of doughnut shops in L.A. are owned by Cambodians, many of these shops by an infamous figure dubbed the Doughnut King.) I was an art-practice major studying drawing, photography, and printmaking, and this Chuck’s Donuts reminded me of an Edward Hopper painting, how the harsh artificial lighting fused with the natural hues of night, that vacant mysterious quality that evoked both alienation and comfort. It felt sublime to me, almost otherworldly, and I was obsessed with claiming this image as part of a Cambodian-American visual language. It felt like this urgent site of meaning that was distinctly Cambodian.
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