St. Olaf English professor wins award for outstanding achievement in poetry
St. Olaf College Associate Professor of English Jennifer Kwon Dobbs has won the 2020 Association for Asian American Studies Book Award for Outstanding Achievement in Creative Writing: Poetry for her book Interrogation Room.
The AAAS was founded in 1979 to advance the highest degree of excellence in teaching and research in Asian American studies. Part of this goal includes facilitating conversation between students, teachers, and scholars within the field by recognizing authors annually for their merit in categories such as History, Creative Writing in Poetry, Creative Writing in Prose, and many more. Award recipients receive acknowledgement from the AAAS Board and gain general membership to the organization.
Interrogation Room is Kwon Dobbs’s second collection of poetry and explores Korean adoptee post-reunion kinship, as well as the ongoing Korean War. Through the interaction of imagery and text, Kwon Dobbs creates a haunting story of resilience and strength.
She says she is honored to be recognized by this international community whose work has inspired her own. “To receive an award that puts my poetry in conversation with distinguished recipients such as Frank Chin, Jessica Hagedorn, Kimiko Hahn, Wang Ping, Karen Tei Yamashita — just to name a few — is deeply humbling,” Kwon Dobbs says.
The award committee selected Kwon Dobbs’s work for its depiction of a feminist Korean diaspora and complex rendering of alternative histories. “A timely book, and a needed book, Kwon Dobbs’s second collection, Interrogation Room, is a tour de force of documents, images, handwritten notes, erasures, and poetry that provides a diasporic healing through its haunting lyrical experimentalism,” the committee notes. “As lyric interrogations, the poems transform the limits of history, the personal, poetry, and the family. In doing so, this innovative poetry collection by Kwon Dobbs will invigorate and move poets and readers in Asian American Studies and beyond for generations to come.”
‘Interrogation Room’ is a tour de force of documents, images, handwritten notes, erasures, and poetry that provides a diasporic healing through its haunting lyrical experimentalism.Award Selection Committee
Despite being described as “timely” by the New York Times, the publication was written over a 10-year period of transnational research and travel, which helped Kwon Dobbs create a better understanding of Korean diasporic and peninsular contexts. “During that time period, I began a sustained study of the Korean language on my own,” Kwon Dobbs says. “Learning Korean language to write translingually helped me to imagine forms of kinship and ways of being together in Korean bodies currently blocked by nation-state borders.”
Kwon Dobbs hopes that her work inspires others to investigate the themes prevalent in Interrogation Room and explore other Asian North American writers’ work.
“I hope that readers are inspired and provoked to want to learn more about the topics that I tackle in Interrogation Room,” she says.
I hope that readers are inspired and provoked to want to learn more about the topics that I tackle in ‘Interrogation Room.’Associate Professor of English Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
In addition to being awarded the 2020 Association for Asian American Studies Book Award for Outstanding Achievement in Creative Writing: Poetry, Kwon Dobbs has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and Metropolitan Regional Arts Council’s “Next Step Fund.” More recently, she was given the prestigious Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship in Literature in 2019. This included a reward of $40,000 over two years in support of advancing artistic or professional development in creating new work.
At St. Olaf, Kwon Dobbs is the director of the Race and Ethnic Studies Program. Her teaching interests include poetry, poetics, creative nonfiction, Asian American literature, and critical ethnic studies.
Her other works include the poetry collection Paper Pavillion and chapbooks Notes from a Missing Person and Necro Citizens. She is also the editor of Multiverse: New and Selected Poems by Bulgarian-German poet Tzveta Sofronieva and poetry editor at AGNI (published by Boston University). Currently, she is co-translating Sámi poet Niillas Holmberg’s Sole, a finalist for the 2020 Nordic Council Literature Prize, with poet-scholar Johanna Domokos.