Most Influential

Most Influential, Arts: Shin Yu Pai

Poet, author, podcaster

By Nat Rubiolicht March 4, 2024

Shin Yu Pai

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

First and foremost, Shin Yu Pai is a writer.

Growing up the child of Taiwanese immigrants, she came into creative writing as a means of connecting with her mother. She lived between “two cultures and two languages,” and felt a disconnect between the two. So, poetry and literature became her “beautiful, imaginative (and) liberatory space.”

“I dreamed of (poetry) as being a place in which I could connect across language and culture to find a common language in which my mother and I could meet and connect,” she says.

Pai is an award-winning author, podcaster, and the city of Seattle’s 2023-24 Civic Poet. She has spent more than two decades in the literary field, penning 13 books, her most recent being No Neutral, which debuted in September with Empty Bowl Press, and Less Desolate from Blue Cactus Press, which hit the shelves in November.

Her works have appeared in publications both nationally and internationally, including The New York Times and YES! Magazine. She’s received awards from Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture, 4Culture, and The Awesome Foundation, and spent two years as poet laureate for the city of Redmond, from 2015 to 2017.

She has also taught creative writing at the University of Texas at Dallas and Southern Methodist University, and served as assistant director for the MFA writing and publishing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Her writing often dives into issues of culture, identity, and activism. “I am inspired by my various identities as an Asian American woman,” she says. “My cultural heritage has been very important to me, and rich in terms of how it has shaped my own writing, but those identities are intersectional and complex. I’m also a Buddhist, (and) I’m also a mother to a young, mixed-race child.”

No Neutral explores the idea of who gets to have a voice, diving into themes such as social unrest, conflict, and solidarity. Less Desolate, a haiku graphic novel created in partnership with artist and sign painter Justin Rueff, focuses on Pacific Northwest living amid the pandemic.

Pai’s podcast for Seattle’s NPR affiliate KUOW, Ten Thousand Things, explores artifacts and objects that symbolize different things within Asian American life. In one episode, Pai talks about a childhood stuffed animal passed from her to her son, and the lengths that people will go to preserve childhood mementos. In another, she speaks with a nonbinary poet about the power that lies within names themselves.

Pai initially considered the idea for the podcast as a creative writing work. But when KUOW put out a public call for submissions for podcast ideas in early 2021, she connected with Jim Gates, who leads podcast development for the network’s AudioShop, and decided to throw her hat in the ring to develop it as a show. Out of around 75 applicants, Ten Thousand Things was one of four chosen, and the pilot was put together in the fall of 2021.

Working on the show taught her a new style of writing that she hadn’t had the opportunity to previously explore: scripting for broadcast. “Initially, there was this real learning curve for me,” she says. “The narrative shape of radio stories was something that I had to learn by doing very quickly on the job.”

Since the first season launched in 2022, Ten Thousand Things has surpassed 200,000 downloads. The show also received two Golden Crane awards from the Asian American Podcasters Association, and a silver Signal Award for the diversity, equity, and inclusion category.

“That project for me is about bringing light to stories that may seem underrepresented,” she says, “sometimes seemingly ordinary, but are actually quite extraordinary.”

This passion for curation extends to her work as the city’s fourth Civic Poet. In this role, Pai offers a platform to showcase the work of Seattle-based poets, acting as an ambassador for local artists, rather than her own work. “The aspect of discovery, finding new voices and connecting to community is a big part of what continually delights and inspires me,” Pai notes.

Pai says creatives shouldn’t limit themselves, but rather approach the process from all angles. “Being open and conversant in experimenting across disciplines is something that can teach oneself a lot about your primary discipline, and to shake things up and expand your practice.”

Follow Us

Movers & Shakers

Movers & Shakers

Profiling the people who shaped Seattle

Back in April 1968, Seattle magazine published a feature similar to our Most Influential issue, focusing on those who "truly call the shots."

Most Influential, Sports: Kalen Deboer

Most Influential, Sports: Kalen Deboer

Former University of Washington football coach

He started out small, leading Sioux Falls to three NAIA championships in his five years as head coach. He then worked his way up the NCAA food chain with stops at Southern Illinois and Western Michigan... Photo by Scott Eklund / Redbox Pictures

Most Influential, Arts: Jose Iñiguez

Most Influential, Arts: Jose Iñiguez

Educator, musician

Jose Iñiguez discovered the art of opera through a PBS special. As a teenager, he came across a program featuring a tenor singing an aria while watching TV with his dad... Photo by Ashley Genevieve

Most Influential, Education: Quinton Morris

Most Influential, Education: Quinton Morris

Artist, educator

I’m committed to educating and helping students transform their lives through Key to Change. My goal is to expand the program to reach more students... Photo by Sung Park