First-Year Seminar: Asian American Literature

Hist & Lit tutors are offering first-year seminars this fall! Catherine Nguyen is teaching one on “Asian American Literature,” and talked with us about the class, her advice for first-year students, and some of her other favorite books! To apply for a seminar, visit here!

What made you want to teach this seminar?

I’m so excited to teach this first-year seminar on Asian American literature! During my dissertation writing years, I was so focused on Vietnamese American and diasporic literature that I didn’t have time to read all the other Asian American literature coming out then. When I finally finished the PhD and got to Harvard, the first Asian American works I picked up to read were Min Jin Lee’s novels Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko. It was thrilling and refreshing to read about Lee’s beautiful prose so much so it got me really excited to teach a Asian American literature class where we can linger on the beautiful storytelling of different Asian American experiences. Unfortunately, Pachinko is way too long for a first-year seminar, but I hope that the readings I chose will speak to students in the way Lee’s writings and other Asian American writing has spoken to me. 

What’s something you’re looking forward to sharing with students in class?

I am so excited to provide students with the opportunity to engage with Asian American artists and activists Rachel Kuo, PhD, Trinh Mai, and Shing Yin Khor. I got the Elson Family Arts Initiative Fund to Support Integration of the Arts into the Curriculum to fund the workshops as well as provide students with a plethora of art supplies. Even though the art workshops will be virtual, I hope that having supplies on hand and being able to interact with the artists and activists that students will have a fun, creative time. I also hope that students will be inspired to take up the opportunity and choose to complete a creative final project.

What advice do you have for a first year student? 

Have fun and challenge yourself! The first-year seminars are graded satisfactory/unsatisfactory, and I would encourage first years to take a class they might not have taken otherwise or have no idea about the seminar topic. It’s a great opportunity to really engage with the instructors and other fellow first years to create a really memorable first-year experience. 

Besides Asian American literature, what else do you like to read?

For bedtime/turn-off-the-brain reading, I often turn to Nordic mysteries because they’re thrilling and reliable (sometimes too much!). I am a big fan of the Brontë sisters, Thomas Hardy, and I also read a lot of graphic novels and was fortunate to offer an HL90 on Asian American comics and graphic novels last year. 

For more information, you can see the syllabus on Canvas or email Catherine!

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University

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