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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., December 20, 2016—A book by Dorothy Wang, associate professor of American Studies at Williams College, which was the winner of 2016 Best Book in Literary Criticism from the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS), was included in The New Yorker in their “The Books We Loved in 2016” list on Dec. 13.
In Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford University Press, 2014), Wang argues that more attention should be paid to the literary properties of minority writing while also making 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. Jim Cocola, writing this year in American Literary Scholarship, called Thinking Its Presence “a major event in the field,” noting that the book had inspired an annual national conference on race and creative writing. The book is currently being taught in undergraduate and graduate classes at various universities, including Harvard, Brown, and NYU.
In “The Books We Loved in 2016,” New Yorker contributor Ben Lerner said, “At the moment, I’m reading Dorothy Wang’s ‘Thinking Its Presence,’ a powerful challenge to conventional ways of thinking (or not thinking) about race and poetry.”
For Wang, the mention is particularly gratifying because it’s rare that academic books make the annual “Books We Loved” list. “I had written the book so that it could be understood by non-specialists and not just literary scholars,” Wang says. “I’m deeply gratified that the book has been well received by poets and other non-academics. My hope is that poetry by racial minorities finds a wider readership and will be taken seriously as literature.”
Wang, who is also affiliated with the Department of English Department, has taught at Williams for 10 years. She holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of California, Berkeley; a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University, a master’s degree in international affairs from Princeton University; and a bachelor’s degree from Duke University.
Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.