This semester we were pleased to welcome Cathy Park Hong to the UC Berkeley Department of English as Professor and Class of 1936 First Chair in the College of Letters and Science. We spoke to her about poetry, AI and UC Berkeley as an intellectual homecoming.
Cathy Park Hong’s New York Times bestselling book of creative nonfiction, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, was published in Spring 2020 by One World/Random House and Profile Books (UK). Minor Feelings was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography, and earned her recognition on TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 list. She is also the author of poetry collections Engine Empire, published in 2012 by W.W. Norton, Dance Dance Revolution, chosen by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Translating Mo'um. Hong is the recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her prose and poetry have been published in the New York Times, New Republic, the Guardian, Paris Review, Poetry, and elsewhere.
You recently described coming to Berkeley as an “intellectual homecoming.” Could you say a little more about what UC Berkeley means to you as the site of this homecoming?
I’m a California native by way of Los Angeles so that was partly my motivation for calling Berkeley an intellectual homecoming. But also, Berkeley has long been the mecca of Asian American excellence—a pantheon of scholars, writers, artists, and activists have attended or taught at Berkeley such as Theresa Cha, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Jeff Chang, to name just a few. It’s where “Asian America” was first coined after all—as a call-to-arms—rather than an identity marker to stand for solidarity and anti-imperialism.