2019-20 lecture series celebrates new Asian American writing

Written by
Sarah Malone, Program in American Studies
Aug. 26, 2019

In the 2019-20 academic year, the annual Asian American Studies Lecture Series at Princeton University will bring to campus twelve writers, encompassing fiction, poetry, journalism, literary criticism, and writing for theater and film.

Each program features readings by two writers, and opportunity for discussion afterward. The events are free and open to the public.

“In the last several decades, there has been a tremendous renaissance of Asian American letters,” said Anne Cheng, professor of English and American studies, and director of the Program in American Studies. “Creative work by Asian American writers today is multi-faceted in experience — native-born, immigrant, refugee — and diverse in geopolitical and private imagination, and infuses contemporary American letters with exciting new possibilities.”

Cheng said that in recognition of “this amazing phenomenon,” the Program in American Studies “is proud to dedicate our annual Asian American Studies Lecture Series to celebrating these creative voices.”

The 2019-20 series is supported by the Lewis Center for the Arts and the Department of English.

“This series intersects in so many vital ways with the questions of self, nation and culture with which our students and faculty are productively grappling,” said Tracy K. Smith, the Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor in the Humanities and a professor of creative writing in and chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts. “The Lewis Center for the Arts is delighted to collaborate with the Program in Asian American Studies to bring some of the most celebrated and relevant literary and critical voices of our day to Princeton’s campus.”

“I’m particularly excited about what the list of writers suggests about the future of contemporary Asian American writing,” said Paul Nadal, assistant professor of English and American studies, and co-organizer of the series with Cheng and Sarah Malone.

“Where the focus perhaps had once been on affirming the place of Asian Americans in U.S. culture,” Nadal said, “the writers featured in this series seek to explore altogether new points of references — geographical, social, political — thereby widening and enriching the constellation of what we call the Asian American experience.”

Jia Tolentino

Jia Tolentino, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of the current New York Times Best Seller Trick Mirror, reads in the lecture series on December 4, 2019. Photo by Elena Mudd

Programming highlights

  • October 2, 2019: Elaine Castillo and Jessica Hagedorn, in celebration of Filipino American History Month. Castillo’s debut novel, America Is Not the Heart, was named one of the best books of 2018 by NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus Reviews, The New York Public Library, The Boston Globe and more. Hagedorn’s novels include Toxicology, Dream Jungle, The Gangster of Love, and Dogeaters, winner of the American Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Award. She is presently working on a musical play about the pioneering all-female rock band Fanny.
  • November 6, 2019: Ken Chen and Sally Wen Mao. Chen, executive director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop from 2008 to 2019, received the Yale Younger Poets Prize for his book Juvenilia. Mao’s second poetry collection, Oculus, has been has been featured or reviewed by The Washington Post, The New Yorker and others. Her first book, Mad Honey Symposium, was the winner of the 2012 Kinereth Gensler Award, a Poets & Writers Top Ten Debut of 2014, and a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Anticipated Pick of Fall 2014.
  • December 4, 2019: Yiyun Li and Jia Tolentino. Li, a professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts, won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, The Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction for her debut short story collection A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Her most recent book is the novel Where Reasons End (2019). Jia Tolentino, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is the author of the essay collection Trick Mirror (2019), a current New York Times Best Seller.
  • February 26, 2020: Monica Youn and Jenny Zhang. Youn, a lecturer in creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts and a 1993 Princeton graduate, is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Blackacre, which won the Poetry Society of America's William Carlos Williams Award. Jenny Zhang is the author of the story collection Sour Heart and the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find. She received the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.
  • March 25, 2020: Karan Mahajan and Jenny Xie. Mahajan is the author of the novels Family Planning, a finalist for the International Dylan Thomas Prize, and The Association of Small Bombs, which was shortlisted for the 2016 National Book Award, won the 2017 Young Lions Fiction Award from the NYPL, and was named one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2016. Jenny Xie, a lecturer in creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts and a 2008 Princeton graduate, is the author of Eye Level, a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry and the PEN Open Book Award, and recipient of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University.
  • April 29, 2020: Min Jin Lee and Parul Sehgal. Lee’s novel Pachinko was a New York Times Best Seller and a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction, winner of the Medici Book Club Prize, among The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017, and featured on over 75 best books of the year lists, including lists from NPR, PBS, and CNN. In 2018, Lee was named as an Adweek Creative 100 for being one of the “10 Writers and Editors Who Are Changing the National Conversation.” Parul Sehgal is a book critic at The New York Times. Her writing has also appeared in The Atlantic, Bookforum, The New Yorker, Slate, and elsewhere. In 2010 she was awarded the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle. Her TED talk on literature and envy has been viewed more than two million times.

All of the events begin at 4:30 p.m.

Note: due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the March 25, 2020 event with Karan Mahajan and Jenny Xie was reconfigured as an October 29, 2020 virtual event, and the April 29, 2020 event with Min Jin Lee and Parul Sehgal was canceled.