Professor Dorothy Wang Publishes Book That Rethinks How We Read American Poetry

Media contact:  Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: Noelle.Lemoine@williams.edu

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., December 5, 2013—In her new book, Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford University Press, 2013), Associate Professor of American Studies Dorothy Wang says works by racialized poets should stop being viewed as a secondary subject within the field and instead be read the same way as the works of white poets.

While Wang’s book focuses on close textual analysis of poems of five contemporary Asian American poets and argues that more attention should be paid to the literary properties of minority writing, it also makes the broad claim that aesthetic forms are inseparable from social, political, and historical contexts in all poetry—by minority and white poets alike. Wang argues for a rethinking of how poetry is read and discussed and how our unconscious racial views and assumptions guide our reception of poetry.

Wang said she noticed the double standard critics used when discussing poetry by minority writers, namely that critics rarely discussed the aesthetic or formal aspects of minority poetry and tended to focus on content. “I wanted to think about what was motivating this double standard and why it is problematic,” said Wang, who is also a faculty affiliate in the English department and in the Comparative Literature program.

In a review of the book, Michael Davidson, of the University of California, San Diego, writes, “Dorothy Wang provides an extraordinarily rich reading of minority discourse among experimental Asian American writers…. It is a brilliant effort, theoretically sophisticated yet grounded in focused readings of individual works.”

David L. Eng, of the University of Pennsylvania, calls Wang’s book a “fearless” defense of poetry, race, and reading: “Wang’s passionate meditation on the inseparability of aesthetics and politics in poetry and poetics will fundamentally transform the ways in which we think about racial difference and form in the literary.”

In April 2014, the University of Montana’s English department will host a conference based on Wang’s book titled “Thinking its Presence: Race and Creating Writing.” The two poets who are organizing the conference and who teach in the graduate writing program, Prageeta Sharma and Joanna Klink, felt that the topic of race and creative writing needed to be addressed and decided to use Wang’s book as a springboard for their conference. Wang will be the conference’s keynote speaker.

Wang’s research interests include contemporary poetry in English, experimental minority poetry, Asian American poetry, 20th-century poetry, poetics, and Anglophone Chinese diasporic literature. She has published essays in The Journal of Asian American Studies and in the volume Diaspora: Negotiating Asian-Australia. At Williams since 2006, Wang teaches courses on twenty- and twentieth century poetry and poetics; experimental minority writing; American Studies; and Anglophone Asian diasporic writing.

Wang received a B.A. from Duke University, an M.P.A. from Princeton University, an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

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