St. Olaf College Associate Professor of English and Director of Race and Ethnic Studies Jennifer Kwon Dobbs received a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council “Next Step Fund” grant to promote her poetry book, Interrogation Room, forthcoming in spring 2018 from White Pine Press.
The Next Step Fund, funded by The McKnight Foundation, provides project grants up to $5,000 to professional artists in any discipline for the purpose of career development and artistic achievement.
After her first book, Paper Pavilion, received the 2007 White Pine Press Poetry Prize and the New England Poetry Club’s 2009 Sheila Motton Book Award, Kwon Dobbs is looking to re-engage and extend her readership’s national reach.
After eight years of research and writing, including travel in northeastern China and across the Korean peninsula, Kwon Dobbs responds to South Korea’s National Security Law (NSL), which prohibits “praising North Korea,” through her poetry in Interrogation Room.
“In practice, South Korea’s enforcement of this law has meant the silencing of writers deemed ‘critical of the state’ and the deadening of the senses to picture what reunification could look like,” Kwon Dobbs says. “I write from my position as a Korean diasporic adoptee to imagine what kind of body might contain all directions — north, south, and the diaspora.”
Original artwork by Korean Danish artist Jane Jin Kaisen punctuates the collection, which thematically aims to remove red.
“This color represents red baiting and a discoloration of sight enforced by the NSL. Juxtaposed alongside these poems, other work in the collection looks at refugees and outlaw kinships beyond a Korean context,” Kwon Dobbs says.
Next, Kwon Dobbs will complete a book tour and additional readings of her poetry.
“Thematically, my poetry seeks to bring feeling and knowing to Korean diasporic pasts that have been erased due to displacement by unending war, gendered poverty, militarisms, and overseas adoption,” Kwon Dobbs says. “These contested histories necessitate border crossings, cultural transgressions, and (mis)translations to stage tentative moments of family reunion and Korean reunification.”