Katherine Gan ’22: Asian/American Women’s Poetry to Excavate Afterlives of Empire
This summer, I wrote, analyzed, and taught Asian/American women's poetry.
About the Project
Due to circumstances that arose early in the summer, my project focused on writing, analyzing, and teaching Asian/American women’s poetry. Through the support of the Benenson Arts Award, I was able to dedicate my summer solely to my artistic endeavors and spend critical time developing, drafting, and writing my thesis, which uses Asian/American women’s poetry to excavate the afterlives of empire. I also was able to spend time writing my own poetry and grapple and contend with my own identity and experiences as a Chinese American woman.
With Benenson, I was also supported in my work with Duke Ph.D. Literature candidate Amanda Bennett through Define and Empower, an organization which prioritizes consulting, teaching, and research that centers Black women and people of color. I was a guest lecturer at Define and Empower’s Summer School in June 2021, which is based on Black feminist theory and practice. I led a poetry workshop, presenting work from my thesis chapter that I wrote and worked on this summer, which focused on Emily Yoon’s poetry collection A Cruelty Special to Our Species and linked Korean and Asian/American women’s contemporary sexualization to histories of Japanese colonization of Korean “comfort women” and Korean camptown sex workers during the Korean War to service U.S. soldiers.
Moreover, with Amanda Bennett and recent alum Allayne Thomas (Duke ‘21), this summer, we created a podcast episode through Define and Empower to discuss Asian/American and Black women’s solidarities, particularly with a focus on women of color athletes like Simone Biles, Sha’carri Richardson, Naomi Osaka, and Suni Lee. I also was in conversation with graduate students at a variety of universities who focus on Asian/Americans’ cultural production to think about how my project could expand from beyond written texts like poetry and literature to artistic mediums like film, performance, theatre, and visual culture. The work from this summer has set a foundation for a house course I am co-teaching in the fall with Kalley Huang and Shourya Agarwal: Poetry and Art as Healing.
Reflecting on Arts Amidst COVID-19
Benenson’s support has been incredibly important in order to prioritize art and creativity in the midst of COVID-19. In my present work, I focus on Asian women’s creative production as a method to value Asian women’s lives, in efforts to destabilize Western power over the Pacific Arena. Personally, poetry has enabled me to heal from racial and gendered trauma and to foster community through collective writing. I have turned to poetry as a form of survival during a precarious, deadly pandemic and heightened racialized violence, especially towards dispossessed people of color. By writing my feelings, thoughts, and experiences on a page and experimenting with form in poetry, I am validating my own identity as an Asian/American woman. The process of writing poetry and analyzing Asian/American women’s poetry has been a personal and political reckoning. Literature, poetry, and art are sites of projection, tension, and struggle, capturing the wholeness of what it means for me to be an Asian woman and grapple with longer, traumatic histories while alive.