A lifelong fan of professional wrestling, Mike Chin initially doubted the idea of capturing the garish sport in the kind of refined fiction he hoped to write. Would sophisticated readers even be interested in it?
Meanwhile, a similar question had formed in his mind about a woman whom he had recently befriended: Would she be interested in me?
Chin’s graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins and Oregon State prepared him well for a successful career in academia, but the clue for answering those two questions came from an unexpected source: leaping from an airplane.
Now, as an assistant professor-in-residence in the Honors College, Chin inspires students to take risks in their own creative writing and explore literature through courses in sci-fi and historical fiction.
Inspiration to become an English professor
I had always toyed with the idea of teaching, but didn’t take the most direct route to get here. After earning my bachelor’s, I took a job in residence life at Syracuse University, where I taught a non-credit class to RAs (resident assistants) and a seminar on leadership skills. I later took a job designing curriculum for teachers and volunteered to teach creative writing to ex-offenders (formerly incarcerated) in Baltimore. I enjoyed each teaching experience more than the one before it, and was thrilled when my MFA at Oregon State included a teaching assistantship. It was in that experience, teaching first-year composition and creative writing courses, that I fully fell in love with teaching and had a hard time imagining pursuing any other career.
Why UNLV and the Honors College?
The Honors College was a wonderful fit for my past life working with academically advanced youth and the career I was building as a college educator. From the teaching demonstration I gave when I came to campus to interview, I felt an immediate connection and chemistry with this crop of students and was thrilled when I did get the opportunity to join this community full time.
Las Vegas also had personal significance for my wife and me. When we started dating, she lived in Southern California and I lived in Maryland. Las Vegas became the best spot for us to meet since traveling here was so easy. The opportunity at UNLV gave us a chance to work and raise our son, Riley, in a place we already knew we loved.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a lifelong, serious fan of professional wrestling. It’s a generational interest, passed down from my Chinese grandfather who immigrated from China (and) never learned to speak more than the most rudimentary English. Wrestling offered easy-to-understand stories told in physicality, giving us a chance to cheer together for the good guys and boo the villains.
As a shy kid, my interest in wrestling helped me make friends. I grew up in the heyday of relatively family-friendly legends like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, then grew into my teenage years just as Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock took flight. I was hooked for life.
Advice you’d offer your younger self
Like many of us, I have had insecurities thinking that no one will care about what I have to say or dismiss my esoteric fascinations. Particularly as a writer, I’d advise myself to get over these doubts and write about subjects that most interest me. The most compelling and memorable stories are often those about quirky people in arcane situations, where you get to see how they live in the world and pursue their passions.
My most recently published book, The Long Way Home, is a collection of short fiction about professional wrestling. It’s 230 pages of stories I always wanted to tell but was largely hesitant about publishing because wrestling can carry stigmas of being “low-brow” or “juvenile.” To date, it’s the book that’s started the most conversations for me and provoked the highest volume of personal notes from readers who appreciate it.
A time in your life you were daring
I celebrated my 30th birthday by going skydiving. At the time, I was still a bachelor, not yet a father. The week before my skydiving experience, I developed a crush on a woman I had met in California. After surviving the 10,000-foot fall, I figured there was no rational reason to be scared of asking this woman on a date. Once my jumpsuit was off, I sent her a text message. We went on that date a few days later, and a few years after that we got married.
Best thing about working with UNLV Honors students
I often joke about this with my friends from other universities, but it also is true: I love that students actually do the reading!
I have a number of teaching experiences in my past in which it was clear that students did the minimum to earn the grade they wanted. Honors College students certainly want good grades, but I’ve been genuinely inspired by the vast majority of students who complete all of the readings thoughtfully enough to not only answer the questions I have planned but raise their own questions and insights that hadn’t occurred to me. One of the great joys of being an educator is learning from my students, and I’ve found that that happens almost every day I teach Honors students at UNLV.
Favorite ice-breaker question
What is the longest line you’ve ever waited in? Answers tend to reveal a lot about a person: what they are willing to wait for, whom they waited with, and how they chose to pass that time.
Three books everyone should read
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. I’ve never encountered an author who better grapples with and melds personal experience, philosophy, and research.
Citizen by Claudia Rankine. This collection of poetry is a profound commentary on what it means to be an American citizen — and all the more so a woman of color — in modern times.
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill. Some of the most imaginative short stories I’ve ever read, completely re-envisioning the world around us and the rules it operates under.
Silver lining of the pandemic
Without question, my silver lining has been the extra time spent with my son. Getting to see him in-between classes and meetings, I have easily doubled how much time we previously got together. He recently turned 3, and I’ve been there as his vocabulary expands at a rapid rate, as he tries new foods — the kid loves biscotti, of all things! — and as he grows by just about every dimension.
Obviously, working from home with a toddler can also be challenging — when he bangs on the door while I’m recording a video lecture, when he presses the buttons on my laptop while I’m grading. Still, I’m grateful for this time with him, especially since I know he won’t always want to spend time with his dad!