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Jenny Zhang Shares 3 of Her Favorite Sour Bites of Culture

From Mary in "The Secret Garden," to Sharon Horgan's character, Donna, in "Pulling," writer Jenny Zhang shares some of her favorite sour things from pop culture.

Jenny Zhang writes fierce, funny, form-busting poetry and articles for the influential online magazine, ROOKIE. She’s also written for places like New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, and Jezebel and has two published collections of poetry, “Hags” and “Dear Jenny, We Are All Find.” Her debut short-story collection, “Sour Heart,” follows six Chinese-American immigrant families from the point of view of young girls, and is the first book published by Lena Dunham’s new imprint, Lenny.

Below and in the audio above, she shares three of her favorite sour things.


“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Jenny Zhang: I think a lot of young women can relate to this character because, in fact, Mary is a sweet, lovely, curious, imaginative young girl. But, you know, in the modern sense we would say she has “resting bitch face.” And that’s something we level against young women a lot, which is like, “Why don’t you smile?” And, sometimes it can feel like our outsides don’t match our insides, or once our outsides have been deemed as sour we’re not given an opportunity to express our inner world.

So it sounds like a very dark story, but it’s actually a story that’s full of light and truly one of the most heartwarming children’s stories I’ve ever read.


Sharon Horgan I think said in an interview, “I wanted to make a show where the girls get to tell all the jokes, they’re the ones who get to be funny.” I like to say that it’s sort of like a darker and more demented “Sex and the City.”

…Multiple times other characters comment on these women and they’re like, “You’re a horrible woman!” And I kind of really like that we get to follow these women who are horrible, but also very human.

“There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce” by Morgan Parker

There’s like a deep level of sourness that these poems and this poem [“The President’s Wife”] is engaging on, but a lot of the history of how this country was founded is a sour history. It’s like when people who experience racism make fun of racism. I think of that as the highest echelon of sour humor. I love that and Morgan does that in this poem really beautifully.