Update Thursday, Dec. 24: The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Justin Chin, an award-winning writer and poet, died today at California Pacific Medical Center, Davies Campus. He was 46.
Chin had been taken off life support on Tuesday after suffering a stroke the week before.
Chin was an award-winning, prolific writer and poet who many considered a star in San Francisco’s literary scene.
Friends say Chin, was found unconscious by neighbors at his San Francisco apartment on Friday, and was taken to the Davies Campus of the California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), where he was put on life support. His family flew in from Singapore to be by his side at the hospital a few days later.
Born in Malaysia and raised in Singapore, Chin first made his way to the United States by attending the University of Hawaii and later ended up in San Francisco. Chin then made a name for himself in the city in the early ’90s as an up-and-comer in the local performance art scene, according to friend and fellow writer Trebor Healey.
“He had a meteoric career, where he got well-known very quickly,” Healey said. “He was someone who performed his writing very well and at that time, poetry was shifting into that spoken word, slam stuff that was heavy on the performance.”
“But he was really good at both. I still see him as a writer primarily,” Healey said.
Chin would go on to write and publish seven books, starting with 1997’s Bite Hard, which saw Chin exploring and commenting on his life as a Gay Asian artist through raw, stream-of-conscious poetry. His 2006 book of poems, Gutted, won the Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award for Poetry and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.
“Justin is my Kathy Acker, my John Waters, my Sandra Bernhard. A person so sharp and transgressive that he can be scary or intimidating, except the way he embraces his own sensitivity also allows him to be cuddly and sweet and so incredibly funny it’s beyond,” friend and fellow writer Beth Lisick wrote in a tribute to Chin on Facebook. “A rare soul displaying true vulnerability, doing the most interesting thing a human can do: constantly showing us how complicated and multifaceted we are through art.”
Since being taken off life support, a steady stream of friends have been visiting Chin at the hospital and saying goodbye, while his mother, brother and ex-partner stand by his side.
“He wasn’t conscious and wouldn’t respond, but I still felt he was there,” said Healey, who visited Chin at the hospital before he was taken off the respirator.
There has also been a chorus of tributes and remembrances of Chin posted on Facebook and other social media sites by friends and fans, including one from Gawker editor Charlie Jane Anders:
Many tributes have quoted Chin’s poem “Grave,” from his 2001 poetry collection Harmless Medicine:
I used to have this theory about how
much life a human body could hold.
It all had to do with the number
of heartbeats. Each human is assigned a number
determined by an unknown power cascading
over the dark waters of the unformed Earth.
For some, it was a magnificently high number,
seen only in Richie Rich comics, and for others,
it was frightfully low, like twenty-six.
No bargaining, no coupons,
no White Flower Day sale, no specials. Once
you hit your number, you croak.
I imagined the angels in heaven
and the demons in hell gathering to watch
the counters turn, like how I enjoyed watching
the speedometer line up to a row of similar
numbers, and especially when the row of
nines turned into
the row of zeros.
Lisick and fellow author Michelle Tea plan to hold a memorial reading for Chin at the San Francisco Public Library’s Koret Auditorium on Jan. 31, which will feature several of his writer friends reading his work.
This story will be updated with new details when they become available.