Critical Literary Consumption
By Anna Nguyen
Find me on Instagram and Twitter @anannadroid .
Critical Literary ConsumptionAug 16, 2023
Reading Trauma in Colonialism and Being Misread (with Dr. Noreen Masud)
In her debut book, A Flat Place: A Memoir, Dr. Noreen Masud traces the longstanding impacts of colonialism in flat places and landscapes while sharing intimate stories of her formative years in Pakistan, her family, trauma and therapy, and her sojourns to Orford Ness, Morecambe Bay, Newcastle Moor, and Orkney. In the interview, we also address the two different subtitles in their respective U.K. and U.S. contexts, the possibility of being misread as reparative, and much more.
Resistance and 'Radical Intimacy' (with Sophie K. Rosa)
What would resistance against capitalism and neoliberalism look like in the intimate sphere is one of the major questions Sophie K. Rosa reflects upon in her debut book, Radical Intimacy. Thinking through many social movements (Black Lives Matter, climate justice, FreeBritney, political scandals in the U.K.), she shares her thoughts on using theoretical language (e.g., Sophie Lewis’s work on abolition in family and Dr. Kim Tallbear’s scholarship on anticolonial perspective on kinship, love, and relationships) while being attuned to their local and global contexts.
The Making of a 'Modern' Thailand (with Mai Nardone)
Mai Nardone talks about his first book, the story collection Welcome Me to the Kingdom, which spans four decades and traces urbanization of the late 1980s, the financial crisis of 1997, and the current landscape in Thailand. He talks about his studies in economics and how this perspective shaped the focus on labor and the many industries (tourism, sex), racialization, travel, religious communities in Thailand, and writing against the global imagination of the country.
Extrapolating Geographies and Intertextuality (with Lamya H.)
Lamya H. speaks about writing an unapologetically queer and Muslim text in her debut work, Hijab Butch Blues: A Memoir, which chronicles her formative years in a Middle Eastern country and her continuing education in the United States. She recalls writing “Hajar” as a standalone essay, and how she formed and shaped a narrative arc that shaped the memoir extrapolating foundational texts like the Quran to share stories about her upbringing, relationships, academia, critical nostalgia, geographies, and intertextualities.
The Pleasure of the Text In the Kitchen, In Domestic Spaces, In Theories of the Body (with Rebecca May Johnson)
Rebecca May Johnson charts her writing and thinking processes in what became her first book, Small Fires: An Epic in the Kitchen, a text that embodies and challenges notions of language and form, recipe writing, domestic spaces, performativity, and the body and labor, all of which gestures to the possibilities and pleasures of the text. She shares how writing her dissertation on The Odyssey is an allegorical, shadow text to the epic in Small Fires, memoir vs./or epic, her travels in Arkansas, and more.
‘Monetary Authorities’: Racial Capitalism and Unconditional Decolonization (with Dr. Allan E. S. Lumba)
Dr. Allan E.S. Lumba (Concordia University), author of Monetary Authorities: Capitalism and Decolonization in the American Colonial Philippines, discusses critically examining the seemingly quotidian object of money to write about the history of the Philippines by engaging questions of racial capitalism and hierarchies, imperialism, unconditional decolonization, and materialism. In the interview, he also shares insights on the evergreen topics of interdisciplinarity, narrativizing the archives, expertise, and more.
Technocapitalism, Nostalgia, and Pop Culture (with Jinwoo Chong)
In anticipation of his debut novel, Jinwoo Chong shares the genealogy of writing Flux, an ambitious novel told through multiple perspectives. Chong talks about being inspired by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, and weaving them into a complex novel that examines multiple discourses, including technocapitalism, overblown promises of technology, nostalgia, pop culture, representation, and much more.
‘How Do the Living Come Back to Life?’ (with Morgan Talty)
Morgan Talty’s debut story collection, Night of the Living Rez, poignantly contemplates, examines, subverts idealized understandings of community, intergenerational trauma, and life on a reservation in Maine. In weaving the story collection together, he shares his writing practice, a desire to write sparingly and to gesture to the importance of omitted details without fetishizing pain and trauma.
Symmetry/Asymmetry of Language and Translation (with Su Cho)
Su Cho’s debut poetry collection, The Symmetry of Fish, examines the stories of language through relationships, food, space, and places. She shares how she resisted the urge to be concerned with accuracy when including Korean characters and words; instead, she chose to portray being stuck in language, to capture the symmetry and asymmetry of language and translation.
Untangling 'Trauma, Tresses, & Truth' (with Lyzette Wanzer)
Lyzette Wanzer ruminates on the events leading up to the conception of her edited volume Trauma, Tresses, & Truth: Untangling Our Hair Through Personal Narratives. As she breaks down the four sections of the anthology, she discusses the historical and ongoing racism through the policing of natural hair, racial justice, intergenerational trauma, the creation of Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (C.R.O.W.N. Act), collaboration, and writing across genres.
'Sonic Memories' and Silences (with Cija Jefferson)
Cija Jefferson reflects on her experiences in an MFA program, craft, community, and revision. Her MFA project, Sonic Memories and Other Essays, is her first book, in which nine essays capture different stages of the writer as she frames sounds and silences to capture adulthood, grief, loss, and time.
An American Education Through Illness and Nourishment (with Dure Aziz Amna)
Dure Aziz Amna talks about writing her debut novel, American Fever, using tuberculosis as a motif to explore questions of who is responsible for high school exchange student Hira’s health and nourishment in the alleged land of opportunity and abundance. She shares how she was interested in interrogating how culture -- and food -- are formed and deformed when transported from Pakistan to the United States.
Black German Studies and Transnational Collectivity (with Dr. Tiffany N. Florvil)
Dr. Tiffany N. Florvil (University of New Mexico) shares how her research on the history of social movements, subculture activist archives, Germany, and Black Studies shaped her monograph, Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German Women and the Making of a Transnational Movement. As she discusses some of the topics explored in her book - collectivity, quotidian intellectuals, and Germany's erasure of its own colonial history - and how voices in the diaspora in their regional/local contexts belong in robust trans(inter)national collectivity.
Translation As Literary (Co)Creation (with Nguyễn An Lý)
Nguyễn An Lý talks about her experiences as a translator, especially in reference to Thuận’s atmospheric Chinatown. Using the novel as a focal point, she also elaborates on readership, audience expectations, the idea of cultural tourism, Chinatown as a physical and metaphorical space, and her work with Zzz Review.
Afro-Brazilian Media and Antiracist Visual Politics (with Dr. Reighan Gillam)
Dr. Reighan Gillam (University of Southern California) discusses how her fieldwork and research on media producers in Brazil shaped her first monograph Visualizing Black Lives: Ownership and Control in Afro-Brazilian Media. She speaks on how her work in anthropology intersects with media and race studies, antiracist visual politics, alternative media in Brazil, Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) and the question of ethics in research.
Mapping As Revision of Life Stories (with Belinda Huijuan Tang)
Belinda Huijuan Tang recollects how emotionally resonant family stories inspired her debut novel A Map for The Missing and connects the gaokao (the standardized college entrance exam) with the years 1977, 1982, and 1993 as major historical and cultural moments in China. In the episode, Belinda also discusses the ideal of education as upward mobility, the politicization in education, and how the idea of citizenship can change in the course of one’s life.
Poetry, Migrancy, and Domestic Life (with Eileen Chong)
Eileen Chong reflects on her eight poetry collections and the multiple worlds that arise out of relationships, language (translating, speaking, food, numbers), and domestication, women’s labor, and her migration from Singapore to Australia. In tracing her writing trajectory (specifically, “translating” degree program requirements between countries), she discusses how her poems capture a moment in time, how she rewrites memories and narratives, and co-creation as praxis between reader and poet.
(Dis-)Orientalism in the Academy (with Elaine Hsieh Chou)
In this interview about her electric debut novel Disorientations, Elaine Hsieh Chou discusses her inspiration for writing a fictional account of academia. She traces how the storyline and characters changed as she followed the many publicized controversies in academia (sexual assault, white scholars claiming and faking marginalized identities). She also addresses whiteness and white logic, burnout culture in academia, and the anachronistic recitation of “the death of the author”.
Mythologies as Communally Owned Stories (with K-Ming Chang)
In both Bestiary and the upcoming story collection Gods of Want, K-Ming connects Victoria Chang’s practice of “language first, then ideas” with her own playfulness in writing and digression as storytelling. She also elaborates on myths and mythologies as communally owned stories and her own aims of rewriting them to recenter intimate matriarchal and matrimonial diaspora.
“The Body as a Series of Questions” (with Susan Nguyen)
In her debut poetry collection, Dear Diaspora, Susan Nguyen examines how the physical and social body is a site where language, diaspora, and the image of the American Dream are resurrected through questioning. In the conversation, we return to this idea of language in translation, whether language(s) can be shared, the preservation of language, and how sensorial imagery helps supplement what cannot be contained.
Anti-Colonial Practices as Research Methods (with Dr. Max Liboiron)
Dr. Max Liboiron (Memorial University of Newfoundland St. John’s, NL) discusses their book Pollution is Colonialism, CLEAR, science and technology studies, and how not to reproduce colonialism in the lab and beyond. They make nuanced distinctions between Western science/dominant science, community peer review/academic peer review, and universalism/place-based, distinctions which if recognized can support anti-colonial action.
Unreliable Narrators, Knowing and Unknowing (with Soon Wiley)
Soon Wiley simultaneously deconstructs and critiques the mystery plot in his debut novel When We Fell Apart. In thinking about the two different perspectives as told through the two narrators, Soon reflects upon unreliable characters, their testimonies, lived experiences, and spatial and geopolitical spaces (specifically between Seoul and the United States).
Indigenous Internationalism, Indigenous Futures (with Dr. Nick Estes)
Dr. Nick Estes (University of Minnesota) discusses the writing of his book, Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance and critiques ahistorical narratives told through the Western framework of time. In the interview, he also gives important overviews on Indigenous internationalism and futures, how law is interpreted, and shares upcoming writing projects.
Reclamation Project: A Preview of Enjoy Me Among My Ruins (with Juniper Fitzgerald)
Juniper Fitzgerald talks about her upcoming book, Enjoy Me Among My Ruins published by Feminist Press. Viewing her story as a reclamation project, she talks about playing with structure and writing against the progressive linear timeline by sharing fragments of her experiences as a sex worker, an academic and a mother, the significance of Lolita, journal entries, and letters to Dr. Scully.
Countering the Borderlands for New Origin Stories (with Ariana Brown)
Ariana Brown discusses the genealogy of her debut full-length poetry collection, We Are Owed. Reflecting on her research on Texas history, what was taught in the classroom, studying the archives of slavery, anti-blackness, and how to avoid the tendency to be nostalgic for a heritage country, Ariana considers a different origin story that moves beyond the concept of Borderlands, nations, and nation-states.
Absences and Things Left Unsaid (with Jennifer Huang)
Jennifer Huang discusses their debut poetry collection, Return Flight, and how it is a sort of travelogue on diaspora as they reflect on the idea of home, their departures and returns, and research on Taiwanese martial law. In the interview, Jennifer connects additional themes of languages, what cannot be said or translated, erasure as form, Taiwan and the United States, food, and ancestral altar tables.
The Concept of a Person and Care Work in Undocumented Motherhood (with Dr. Elizabeth Farfán-Santos)
Dr. Elizabeth Farfán-Santos previews her upcoming book, Undocumented Motherhood: Conversation on Love, Trauma, and Border Crossing, a creative text based on her research on the health impacts of political, racial, and medical exclusion of undocumented immigrant communities in the United States. In the interview, she shares the genealogy of the project, the limits of theoretical language that obscures human stories and complexity, and the concept of a person and care work.
Craft and Life Writing: On Work, the Model Minority Myth, and Covid (with Weike Wang)
Centering Weike Wang’s essay, “Notes on Work” published in The New Yorker, we discuss how her views on work in Chemistry and Joan Is Okay intersects with the model minority myth, craft writing/workshopping, and her experiences as both a doctoral student in an epidemiology program and an MFA student. Wang also shares why she revised Joan Is Okay to include Covid and whether her future writing projects will allude to the ongoing pandemic.
Disaporic Languages of Migration, Food, Nature, and Colonial Histories (with Nina Mingya Powles)
Poet and author Nina Mingya Powles (Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai and Small Bodies of Water) shares how language learning and playing with texts are a core focus of her written work, which examines critical placemaking and geographies, food, the natural world and climate change, migration, and colonialism. In this illuminating conversation, Nina reflects on her ongoing research process in colonial structures and her “in-betweenness” in multiple and complex spaces.
Thinking Across Texts, Thinking Across (Inter)disciplines (with Dr. Katherine McKittrick)
Dr. Katherine McKittrick (Queen’s University) talks about interdisciplinarity, citations and footnotes, geographies, curiosity, and radical storytelling through creative texts. In the conversation, we discuss her two monographs, Dear Science and Other Stories and Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle, as they connect to broader conversations about Black Studies, critical race theory and biological essentialism, and the relationship between poetics and the sciences.
Poetic Lab Notebooks and the Artistic Lives of Scientists (with Jenny Qi)
Jenny Qi reflects on the process of grief and how her scientific and artistic lives merged in her debut poetry collection Focal Point. Jenny, who wrote much of the book during her Ph.D. program in cancer biology, thinks about life in the lab, the language and communication of science, different disciplinary writing genres/methods, the emotional immediacy in poems, and trying to make sense of the world.
Fever Dreams: Subconscious, Poetic Experimentation (with Kelli Stevens Kane)
Poet, playwright, and oral historian Kelli Stevens Kane is the author of Hallelujah Science. Kane shares her process of writing and structuring her debut poetry collection as a time capsule, and how the themes and visions of science are imagined in experimental and numerical language, in the body, in fever dreams, and in nature. We also discussed the complementary aspirations of science and oral history, rather than the conventional (and “modern”!) view of them as opposites.
Writing Intergenerational Trauma Through Food Memoir (with Grace M. Cho)
Grace M. Cho (College of Staten Island, CUNY) discusses her hybrid text Tastes Like War: A Memoir (a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction) and how her framing of memories and the geopolitical context of her mother’s life are sociological investigations. Topics discussed include the biological gaze on schizophrenia, writing to uncover unspeakable and unknowable traumas, hearing voices as an experience that gives insight into the past rather than a symptom of pathology, and food as a form of resistance in her mother’s life.
Writing About Food: Somewhere Between “Theorizing and Imagining” (with Sun Yung Shin, V.V. Ganeshananthan, and Roy G. Guzmán)
I discuss the anthology What We Hunger For: Refugee and Immigrant Stories about Food and Family and its motivations with editor Sun Yung Shin and two contributors, V.V. (Sugi) Ganeshananthan and Roy G. Guzmán. Sun Yung was inspired by an article written by Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote about “narrative plentitude” in response to a world of “narrative scarcity”, and how they conceived of the project as a way to think about the everyday person who might happen to write about food. Following Sun Yung’s call, Sugi and Roy reflect on their own essays, how centering Minnesota is not merely a local perspective, and the collapse of academic and creative writing in what Roy calls “somewhere between theorizing and imagining”.
Empiricism, Collaborative Research, and Accountability (with Dr. Jelani Ince)
Dr. Jelani Ince (University of Washington) shares thoughts on research and how he sees it as both a form of collaboration and a way to be held accountable, avoiding the reproduction of harm and exploitation. In the conversation, he reflects on his past research on communities and social movements, his role as a professor during this critical moment for educators in the university, what is good data, who determines what is good data, and much, much more.
Reflections on Racialized Organizations in Society (with Dr. Victor Ray)
Dr. Victor Ray (University of Iowa) discusses his academic work and theory of racialized organizations, the connection between empirical sociology and social theory, the racial politics of citations, and the current debates on critical race theory. He ends with a nod to scholars who also write for the public, for the possibility of provoking society to reflect on itself.
Reclaiming Language, Reclaiming the Body (with Khalisa Rae)
Poet and journalist Khalisa Rae discusses her beautiful debut poetry collection, Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat, which examines race and racism, temporality, geography, ancestry, spirits and ghosts, language, body, trauma, and the genre and craft of poetry. She shares that specific poems reference particular people and topics as a way for her to contend with the current social moment and to foster a critical perspective through poetry, and calls her collection a mixture of prose and poetry or poetry in verse.
Traveling Across Concepts, Countries, and Kitchens (with Ming-Cheau Lin)
Ming-Cheau Lin is the author of the cookbook Just Add Rice: Stories and Recipes By a Taiwanese South African and memoir Yellow and Confused: Born in Taiwan, Raised in South Africa and Trying To Make Sense of It All. We discuss her two texts, with particular emphasis on displacement, relocation, and unlearning, how language and references travel, the difficulty of translating to both white communities and our families, and how her cookbook was a primer for introducing Taiwnese food and culture in South Africa.
Beyond Carceral Imaginaries and Logics (with Dr. Tamara K. Nopper)
Dr. Tamara K. Nopper, a sociologist, writer, editor, and data artist, discusses her scholarly work, public essays, and editing of Mariame Kaba's We Do This 'Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice. In this conversation, we reflect on social media and (alternative) data in a scored society, the language of abolition and racial justice, and the possibility of imagining healthy public policy that attends to community needs and not criminalization.
Disordered Science (Studies) In Society (with Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein)
Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (University of New Hampshire) discusses her experience writing her book, The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred and offers wonderful insights on being a theoretical physicist and Black feminist scholar. We situate her book and arguments in academia and in a broader society that reveres science despite its limitations.
Nuance as Antithetical to Binaries (with Deesha Philyaw)
Deesha Philyaw, author of the story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, discusses the simplicity of binaries and proposes nuance as an alternative. The concept of nuance is a running theme throughout, as Deesha and I examine the growing interest of reading Black authors in the current climate, the lack of moralizing judgments in her nine stories, the interaction between the church and religion, science, and self-understanding, and the sociality of food.
Narratives of Empire and Inheritance (with Asako Serizawa)
Asako Serizawa, author of The Inheritors, and I talk about her approach in writing and ordering her story collection which spans multiple centuries. In the process, we situate themes of colonization and recolonization in the context of nationalism, American empire, postcolonialism, and science and technology as critical narrative building.
The Social World of the Book Review (with Dr. Phillipa Chong)
In Inside the Critics’ Circle: Book Reviewing in Uncertain Times, author and sociologist Dr. Phillipa Chong (McMaster University) asks us to consider the labor of book reviewers, when the review has changed alongside “traditional” institutions of the newspaper and print media. The question of inclusion and representation (in literature and in the actual book reviews) remains despite the new “institutional uncertainty” landscape.
The Matter We Call Food (with Dr. Kyla Wazana Tompkins)
Dr. Kyla Wazana Tompkins (Pomona College) and I discuss her monograph, Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century, and explore the ongoing binaries of exploring food as a topic of academic investigation: subject/object, personal/disciplinary; humanities/sciences, and materialism/humanism. She expresses the possibilities of new materialism in her second book, which continues to look at “the matter we often call food”.
Book Reviews as Dialogue (with Dr. Rosemary Deller)
Dr. Rosemary Deller, book review editor for London School of Economics Review of Books, and I talk about the analytical book review, its purposes, the editorial process, and the possibilities of better academic peer review.
Affect and Other Turns (with Dr. Ashley Barnwell)
Dr. Ashley Barnwell (University of Melbourne) discusses her new book, Critical Affect: The Politics of Method, which I reviewed for the London School of Economics Review of Books. Extending her reflections on the academic turn to affect, we also discuss the pedagogical practice and ethics of critical reading.
Abundance and Revision (with Kiese Laymon)
I talk methods, community, and the blurring of authorial and personal selves with Kiese Laymon, author (Heavy, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America) and Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. We address Laymon's concepts of abundance and revision, and citations as capital in academic and narrative writing.