Northside Festival: Q&A’s with Stephanie Foo and Connie Fu

Interview with This American Life producer Stephanie Foo

Stephanie Foo is a radio producer on the weekly public show This American Life, which broadcasts to over 500 stations and reaches an audience of approximately 2.2 million. Last month she made a guest appearance on the Reply All podcast to talk about online dating experiences for Asian-American Pacific Islander women. A link to the podcast is below.

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Kollaboration New York: Did you have a specific moment or inspiration for pursuing a career in journalism and ultimately radio?

Stephanie Foo: I’ve always really been passionate about writing, and when I was in high school I started my own zine. It was this complete non-sequitur and I ran around interviewing various street performers in our neighborhood and kids at school.

I loved how journalism gave me the excuse to talk to anyone and ask anything to them. It sorta validated my inclinations to be nosy and curious. I was really hooked from there. I didn’t consider radio until after I graduated from college.

Kollaboration New York: You recently partnered with the team from Reply All and released a podcast about online dating titled The Fever. Do you wanna give us a brief summary of the podcast and why you thought it was important?

Stephanie Foo: It addresses the issue of Yellow Fever. In terms of the personification of Asian-American women in our culture. I thought it was based heavily on my own dating experiences, and my Asian girlfriends dating experiences. I think that it’s something that people aren’t really aware of.

I got a lot of messages afterward, that were talking about how, “I’m a white-male, and I didn’t understand this was a thing, and thank you for educating me.” That’s why I thought it was important ― essentially educate people how difficult it is for Asian women to date without feeling interchangeable. And also for people who do exoticize Asian women, or have a certain idea of Asian women in their mind ― as submissive or appear stereotypical in any way ― essentially to question those ideas or to challenge [ideas].

Kollaboration New York: Do you have any advice for AAPI women looking to produce content via radio or podcast?

Stephanie Foo: Just be true to your own voice. Just because you hear Ira Glass speaking a certain way, or the host of All Things Considered speaking a certain way ― it doesn’t mean you necessarily have to adopt anyone else’s voice in order to make it.

In audio, there is a sincere need for a diversity of voices. And I really really really want to see that. Or hear I guess.

Kollaboration New York: Like [the podcast] Serial?

Stephanie Foo: Sure, but even like The Read or The Heart. I wanna hear more women. I wanna hear more people of color. I think being true to your voice ― being honest and authentic ― and telling your own stories and experiences is really important. Because I want to hear more Asian-American stories. I want to hear more stories of people of color in general.

Do what you like. Do what you wanna do. Don’t do what you think a public radio audience wants you to do.

Kollaboration New York: Do you have any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?

Stephanie Foo: No. No spoiler alerts for you. I’m working on a bunch of really exciting stories for This American Life and probably one more video out of Videos 4 U.

Stephanie Foo at the Northside Festival

NEW YORK, NY – June 14th: Stephanie Foo speaking on a panel at the Northisde festival with Ari Kuschnir and Bianca Inga Giaever. (Photo by Robby Regal/KollabNY)

Interview with visual artist Connie Fu

Connie Fu is a dedicated visual artist, graduate of Harvard University and current employee of Microsoft. The following week, after the Northside Festival, she delivered a more in depth interview via e-mail all the way from China. She was able to share some of her experiences growing up in the Midwest and future artistic plans.

Kollaboration New York: You spoke of growing up in Michigan. As an Asian-American were there any differences between life in Michigan and life on the East Coast? Was there any artistic inspiration from growing up in the mid-west?

Connie Fu: Yes; I grew up in Northville, a suburb of Detroit. It was a safe and nurturing place to grow up, but not the most culturally rich or forward-thinking. And we very rarely went downtown when I was in high school—only baseball games, lab research, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, really. So when I visited NYC for the first time at 16, I was amazed and completely intimidated. Once I started college in Cambridge, I started going to the city all the time for internships (Opening Ceremony) and to visit friends and familiarize myself with the city I already knew I was in love with and would move to someday. One difference I would mention as an Asian-American is that NYC is so much more diverse than Northville. I was never uncomfortable in Northville, but I was aware that my parents had created a network of Asian-only family friends within a greater community that was about 1.86% Asian in 2000 and 2.6% Asian in 2010. This is compared to 9.4% Asian in Manhattan in 2000 and 12% in 2012 (stats from Wiki).

Kollaboration New York: You spoke of graduating from Harvard, and traveling for your job at Microsoft, but art (mainly painting) was your weekend passion. Do you plan on pursuing art full time or are you trying to keep it as a hobby?

Connie Fu: I studied Art History (focus in early modern French painting; my undergraduate thesis was on Degas’s representations of movement and dance) with a minor in Economics at Harvard. Now I am on the Events team at Microsoft, which actually has equipped me with many of the logistics and planning skills necessary to pull off a cross-country event like the Williamsburg Walk. I have a studio in Seattle that I work in in the evenings after work and on the weekends, but I do aspire to an MFA program in New York next year. Afterwards, I will continue making work while also maintaining a steady income through freelance projects or a day job. In fact, I enjoy the structure of a job and feel as though I can have a job that I love and also pursue art projects wholeheartedly. I’m always open to opportunities to share work with the community, and will always dedicate ample time to doing so.

Kollaboration New York: What was your favorite experience or take away from your first Northside Festival?

Connie Fu: Oh so many good experiences at the festival this year. I was humbled to have the opportunity to drop a big orange box in the middle of Bedford alongside other artists and groups so ready to connect and share the work that they do. I would do it again in a heartbeat. The offbeat organic conversations that I witnessed in the structure made me incredibly happy. People were so curious and open to participating, which I was hopeful for but not relying on coming into the event.

I loved interjecting and asking participants to elaborate on their work; blurring the visual conversation into spoken on the spot. I loved having conversations that broke below the surface immediately between strangers, briefly, for the sake of learning a slice of a person’s experience and not necessarily for any reason beyond that. One woman elected not to paint but rather was keen on sharing a very personal sucky experience from her childhood with me (prompt was “Wow, that really sucked!”). She thanked me for the chance to share and I thanked her for doing so. It felt so pure—communities need more venues for connecting and sharing in this way, I think.

Connie Fu in the Orange Box

NEW YORK, NY – June 14th: Connie Fu [on right] enjoying her interactive art booth called “Welcome to the Conversation” at the 2015 Northside Festival. (Photo by Robby Regal/KollabNY)