Author Alexandra Chang
Author Alexandra Chang

CULTURE BARRIER

The Challenges of Teaching Asian-American Literature in American Classrooms

March 26, 2022

(PHILADELPHIA) Poetry can be difficult in any language. But when poet Piyali Bhattacharya presented her own work to students, they found it especially difficult to grasp.

 

“We hadn’t spent time in the classroom discussing work that looked like my work,” said Bhattacharya, “so there was no vocabulary, with which to speak about my work.”

 

Bhattacharya spoke at a panel called Teaching and Writing Asian American Poetry in the CW Classroom, at the AWP Conference 2022.

 

“I could speak about everybody else’s work,” Bhattacharya continued, “because everyone else’s work jived with the canon that we had been speaking about all semester, but I felt like the comments I would get in workshop would very often reflect the fact that those people had not read my canon.”

 

The United States is such a diverse country, but it often seems that what we speak about in school doesn’t often reflect the same diversity. Which begs the question of why? Alexandra Chang, another Asian-American writing professor, even made note that her majority white classes always seemed interested in the Asian-American works she presented.

 

However, Chang noted that there have been very few times where she found herself in a program with a second Asian-American writer. If it did occur, it always seemed that she would be pitted against the rare second Asian-American, she said.

 

“If one of you was going to be published, it would only be one,” said Chang. At best, they would be your “Frienemies,” as Bhattachary put it.

 

Bhattachary repeated a question emailed in for discussion by absentee panelist, Jane Wong. The question was along the lines of if any of the present panelists had ever had Asian-American professors.

 

Some of the panelists spoke about that lack of representation. They went on to talk about how many Asian-Americans haven’t really had people to look up to in the creative writing classroom and workshop environment.

 

“I didn’t have this mentorship,” Chang said. “[Not] like mentors necessarily, but like no one who was up there in the class to look up to.”

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