Statement of Teaching

I begin my courses in Asian American literature by distributing a short poem, such as Lawson Fusao Inada’s “Concentration Constellation,” and asking students to familiarize themselves with it on the spot. Working through the poem line by line, I ask students what strikes them about the poem. What kind of language does it use? How is it structured? What kinds of images do they notice, and how are these images extended and varied throughout the poem? Since many of my students are not English majors, this provides an introduction to methods of close reading; for more experienced students, it offers a chance not only to brush up on their skills, but also to use familiar tools on unfamiliar content. In fact, what makes “Concentration Constellation” so useful for teaching is the way it links form and context: the poem’s “constellation” is formed by its evocation of the names of the camps where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. When I ask students if they are familiar with these names, they rarely are, but they also become aware of the way the poem thematizes the problem of historical knowledge. “It’s all right there on the map,” Inada writes. “Find it. If you care to look.” Through their discussion of the text, students realize that the poem echoes their own questions about the history of Asian Americans.

While I do preface some texts with brief historical lectures, I find that students develop a deeper curiosity about and knowledge of historical context when historical questions emerge from their own responses to a reading. For example, I begin my class on Disappearing Moon Café, a novel by the Chinese Canadian author SKY Lee, with a short timeline of major events in Chinese Canadian history. But rather than making the historical links explicit, I ask students to provide the dates of some of the major events in the text, charting their responses on the board alongside my timeline. As the dates go up on the board, students begin to see a correlation between the text’s dates and Chinese Canadian historical milestones, making apparent to them Lee’s efforts to link her novel implicitly to narratives of Chinese Canadian history.

As students grow more comfortable with the material, I introduce brief critical readings—pairing, for instance, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior with a short article on the debate between Kingston and critic Frank Chin over feminism in Kingston’s work. Even when these articles are difficult, I find that students are collectively capable of summarizing the main points of the argument. When I then ask them to apply the critical readings to specific passages, students are able to engage in vigorous debates about varied interpretations, leading to engagement with the text at a high level.

In placing student engagement at the centre of my teaching, I have also made extensive use of electronic discussion boards. In my undergraduate classes, I ask a different section of the class to post brief responses to the reading each week. The posting exercise encourages students to identify something concrete in each week’s reading that interests them. It also allows them to enter into direct discussions with their classmates about the reading, while giving students who might be reluctant to speak in class another outlet for participation. Finally, it provides me with a window into issues that might be particularly interesting or confusing to students, permitting me to address these topics directly in class. I have found discussion boards to be equally successful in my graduate seminars, where they serve as a forum for students’ weekly response papers. By letting students read and respond to each other’s papers, rather than simply submitting them for the instructor’s eyes only, the discussion board quickly creates a learning community that extends beyond the classroom.

My graduate and undergraduate courses share an insistence that students be active participants in their own education. The result, I hope, is that my students come to the task of reading and understanding literary texts, and the critical issues that surround them, as capable equals rather than wary supplicants. With undergraduates, this can be as simple as persuading them, through an emphasis on discussion, that they can understand and even participate in the debates of literary critics around the texts they are reading. In my graduate teaching, I address students as professional scholars-in-training, encouraging them to recognize their potential for original contributions to scholarship. One method I use to pursue this goal is the course conference, which closes the seminar with conference-style papers delivered by panels of students. The students’ excitement that they can, indeed, present their work successfully before an engaged group of scholars is palpable, and the focus and originality of their work is deeply impressive.

The student-driven pedagogy I have described proves useful in all my teaching, from introductory short fiction and poetry courses to advanced classes in American literature. Using discussion and student responses as the foundation for building a more complex understanding of the text and its context creates an engaged, energetic classroom. Students report feeling empowered to make their own critical voices heard in my classes. My hope is that this sense of participation gives students a deeper and more lasting connection to the material they study.

Courses Taught

University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • English 822: Diasporic Poetics, Spring 2014, Fall 2010.

    The concept of diaspora has assumed increasing prominence in literary and cultural studies. For its proponents, diaspora offers a flexible model of transnational migration and cultural influence that is not bound to restrictive or nationalist notions of race and ethnicity. But some critics express concern that diasporic perspectives may weaken the political and historical framework of nation-based and ethnic-studies scholarship. We will explore these controversies by reading widely in current theories of diaspora, seeking a more robust sense of the concept that bridges the gaps between diasporic, postcolonial, and ethnic-studies perspectives. We will further refine our understanding of diaspora through a series of case studies drawn from around the Pacific Rim, focusing on poetry and prose by writers of Asian descent working in Canada, the United States, the Philippines, and Australia. The notion of a diasporic “poetics” suggests the way that transnational movements are registered in poetic and narrative forms.

  • English 169: Introduction to Modern American Literature. Fall 2009, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013.

    An introduction to selected fiction, prose, drama, and poetry written by Americans since about 1914. Authors may include Edith Wharton, Ezra Pound, H.D., T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, Ralph Ellison, Allen Ginsberg, Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, William Gibson, Junot Díaz, Ruth Ozeki.

    For a complete list of required course texts for the current semester, click here


  • English 591: Asian American Poetry. Spring 2013.

    Throughout the history of Asian America, poetry has been the primary vehicle for the creation and exploration of an Asian American voice. Above all, in poetry we can see the continuing struggle over what form Asian American expression will take. Will it follow Asian or European models? Will it employ traditional forms, or experiment in search of new styles? Will it be individual or collective, introspective or political? We will explore these questions through a study of a wide range of Asian American poets from a variety of historical periods and ethnicities, including Janice Mirikitani, Lawson Fusao Inada, Li-Young Lee, John Yau, Myung Mi Kim, and Linh Dinh.

  • Asian American Studies 560: Asian American Graphic Novels and Comics. Spring 2013.

    Comics have often been dismissed as a simplistic medium meant for children, but in the past few decades they have gained increasing respect as serious literature, often under the label “graphic novels.” And the past decade has seen an explosion of comics, graphic novels, and graphic memoirs from Asian American creators. We’ll survey this growing body of work, beginning with the question of what comics and graphic novels are and how they differ from other forms of art and literature. We’ll then examine the distinctive contributions Asian Americans are making to the form, considering how Asian Americans use the medium of comics to narrate history, respond to stereotypes, and tell new stories.

  • Asian American Studies 560: Asians, Aliens, and Others in U.S. Science Fiction. Fall 2012.

    Is the future Asian? Since the dawn of the twentieth century, American culture has often projected its fantasies and fears about the future onto Asia, from the “yellow peril” of the early twentieth century to the rise of Japan at the forefront of technological change in the 1980s to current anxieties about Chinese global dominance. Asians in U.S popular culture are often seen as brilliant supervillains, computer whizzes, or literal aliens bent on conquest—stereotypes that Asian American writers, artists, and filmmakers have challenged and critiqued.

    In this course, we’ll examine these issues by focusing on the genre that most explicitly engages the future: science fiction. We’ll begin by looking at the way Asians figure in popular science-fictional texts of the earlier twentieth century, from Jack London’s “Unparalleled Invasion” to Hollywood and comic-book villains like Fu Manchu and Ming the Merciless. We’ll see how this fear of an Asian future reappears in the 1980s as “techno-orientalism,” particularly in the fetishizing of Japanese technology. Finally, we’ll consider how Asian Americans have responded with science fiction texts of their own, analyzing and appropriating science fiction’s orientalism to develop new approaches to Asian American experience.

  • English 822: Genres of Contemporary American Fiction. Fall 2011.
  • Asian American Studies 560: Asian American Poetry. Spring 2010, Spring 2011.
  • Asian American Studies 560: Asian American Cultural Production. Fall 2009, Fall 2010.
  • English 630: Diversity in Contemporary American Poetry. Spring 2010.

University of Toronto—Graduate

  • ENG5996HF: Race in Contemporary American Literature. Fall 2008.
  • ENG5523HS: The Avant-Garde: Theory and Practice. Spring 2008.
  • ENG5998HF: Theorizing Asian North American Studies: Globalization and Nation. Fall 2005.

University of Toronto—Undergraduate

  • ENG368H: Asian North American Poetry and Prose. Spring 2008, Spring 2009.
  • ENG268H: Asian North American Literature. Fall 2007, Fall 2008.
  • ENG349H: Contemporary Poetry. Spring 2009.
  • ENG213H: The Short Story. Fall 2007.
  • ENG279Y: Asian North American Literature in English. Spring 2005, 2005-2006.
  • ENG359Y: American Literature 1880-1960. Spring 2006.
  • ENG490Y: Senior Essay (individual supervision). 2006-2007.

Graduate Students

University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Member of dissertation committees for Michelle Niemann, Naomi Mercer, Lisa Hollenbach, Rebecca Steffy, Leah Misemer, Seth Abramson, Steel Wagstaff, Hyonbin Choi, Keisha Bowman.

University of Toronto

  • Ph.D. supervisory committee member, Andrew Yang, Department of English; Katherine McLeod, Department of English; Paul Meyer, Department of English.