2012 Symposium: Asian American Portraits of Encounter Between Image & Word

Edgar P. Richardson Symposium:

Asian American Portraits of Encounter Between Image & Word

Saturday, April 14, 2012
11:15 AM to 5:00 PM
Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Eight and F Streets, NW, Washington, DC

Asian American art and literature offer a collective portrait of Asian American identity and culture, one that reflects on lived experience and its various textures.   The Asian American Portraits of Encounter: Between Image & Word symposium brings these critical efforts to light by staging encounters and conversations between acclaimed Asian American writers and the National Portrait Gallery’s groundbreaking exhibition “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter.”   The Image & Word will feature original work that explores the themes and feelings raised by the exhibition.   Come hear readings by writers David Henry Hwang, Garrett Hongo, Bao Phi, Marianne Villanueva, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Kazim Ali, and Anna Kazumi Stahl.   Curators from the National Portrait Gallery will give a guided tour of an exhibition that includes the work of artists CYJO, Hye Yeon Nam, Shizu Saldamando, Roger Shimomura, Satomi Shirai, Tam Tran, and Hong Chun Zhang.   The symposium and tour are both free and open to the public.

Edgar P. Richardson Symposium: Asian American Portraits of Encounter Between Image & Word is a joint project between the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, The Asian American Literary Review, and the National Portrait Gallery.   The Edgar P. Richardson Symposium was established at the National Portrait Gallery with the generous support of Mr. Richardson’s longtime friend and fellow former National Portrait Gallery commissioner, Mr. Robert L. McNeil Jr.   Named in honor of Edgar P. Richardson (1902 — 1985), this symposium pays tribute to Mr. Richardson’s significant contribution as a scholar and National Portrait Gallery commissioner.

Edgar P. Richardson Symposium:

Asian American Portraits of Encounter Between Image & Word

Featured Pairings

My Call to Arms, by Tam Tran.   Digital print, 2009.

Response by David Henry Hwang, author of numerous plays, screenplays, musical scripts, and operas, including M. Butterfly, winner of Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards; FOB, winner of an Obie Award; Yellow Face, winner of an Obie Award; and most recently, Chinglish.   From 1994-2001 he served by appointment on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and in 2012 he was honored with the William Inge Distinguished Achievement in American Theatre Award and the Asia Society’s Cultural Achievement Award.


Itch, by Satomi Shirai.   Digital chromogenic print, 2006.

 Response by Garrett Hongo, author of the poetry collections Yellow Light, The River of Heaven (a Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets), and Coral Road, as well as the memoir Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai’i.




Cat and Carm, by Shizu Saldamando.   Gold leaf and oil on wood, 2008.

Response by Anna Kazumi Stahl, author of the novel Flores de Un Solo Dia (Flowers for Just One Day).   Born in the Southern U.S. to a Japanese mother and a father of German descent, she now lives and writes in Argentina.


Shimomura Crossing the Delaware, by Roger Shimomura.   Acrylic on canvas, 2010.

Response by Bao Phi, spoken word poet and community activist, author of the poetry collection Sông I Sing and several poetry CDs, including Refugeography and The Nguyens EP.


The KYOPO Project–240 Portraits, by CYJO.   Digital pigment print, 2011.

Response by Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody’s Daughter, co-founder and former Board President of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.







My Life Strands, by Zhang Chun Hong.   Charcoal on paper scroll, 2009.

Response by Kazim Ali, author of two books of poetry, The Far Mosque (winner of the Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award) and The Fortieth Day;   one book of translation, Water’s Footfall, by Sohrab Sepehri;   the novel Quinn’s Passage;   and the essay collections Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence and Fasting for Ramadan.





Self Portrait by Hye Yeon Nam.   Single-channel video, 2006.

Response by Marianne Villanueva, author of the short story collections Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila and Mayor of the Roses: Stories and co-editor of the anthology Going Home to a Landscape.






11:15 AM

Tour of “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter” by National Portrait Gallery Curators


12:15 PM


Martin Sullivan, Director, National Portrait Gallery



Konrad Ng, Director, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program


12:30 PM—1:30 PM

Reading: Iterations of Identity 1:

Bao Phi (Shimomura Crossing the Delaware by Roger Shimomura)

Marianne Villanueva (Self-Portrait by Hye Yeon Nam)

Marie Myung-Ok Lee (The KYOPO Project by CYJO)

Moderator: Terry Hong


1:45 PM—2:45 PM

Reading: Iterations of Identity 2:

Kazim Ali (My Life Strands by Zhang Chun Hong)

Anna Kazumi Stahl (Cat and Carm by Shizu Saldamando)

Moderator: Gerald Maa, Editor, The Asian American Literary Review


3:00 PM—4:00 PM

Reading: Iterations of Identity 3:

David Henry Hwang (My Call to Arms by Tam Tran)

Garrett Hongo (Itch by Satomi Shirai)

Moderator: David Ward, Curator, National Portrait Gallery


4:00 PM

Closing Remarks

Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis, Editor, The Asian American Literary Review


4:15 PM-5:00 PM

Book Signing


Credit: Lia Chang

David Henry Hwang’s  M Butterfly  rocked American Arts and Letters, helping him become the first Asian American to win the Tony Award for Best Play.   An investigation of how race, sexuality, and nationhood press up against each other, it changed forever how we understand each and their complex crossings.   The works that precede and follow M Butterfly shine as well, forging a career central to contemporary American literature.    From his first play, Obie-award-winning  FOB, to his most recent,  Chinglish, Hwang has focused on worlds American, Chinese, and Chinese American with bravery, aplomb, wit, and, ultimately,  compassion.   His worlds prize words from people and people grown from words, reminding us how conversations and narratives undergird communities.    Hwang’s characters show us that stories, ones we make and ones we hear, are our best compass needles.   In addition to FOB, M Butterfly, and Chinglish, he has authored numerous other plays, screenplays, musical scripts, and operas.   From 1994-2001 he served by appointment on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and in 2012 he was honored with the William Inge Distinguished Achievement in American Theatre Award and the Asia Society’s Cultural Achievement Award.   Born in Los Angeles, he now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Born in Volcano, Hawai’i, and raised on the island and in California, Garrett Hongo is a groundbreaking poet, memoirist, and editor who stands at the fountainhead of Asian American arts and letters.   His work persistently explores the dynamic between person and place, the songs belted from a labored life, the chorus belted from an ever-evolving community.   The Open Boat, a poetry anthology he edited in 1993, appeared in the infancy of Asian American poetry and changed the way readerships understood that body, the way Asian American poets understood what their individual and collective poetry might become.   Hongo’s own poetry, including the seminal collections The Yellow Light (1982), The River of Heaven (1988), the latter the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets, pushed similar boundaries, redefining the terrain of Asian American poetics.   His most recent collection is Coral Road (2011).   He is also the author of Volcano:  a Memoir of Hawaii (1996).    His numerous awards include fellowships from the NEA, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.    He lives in Eugene, Oregon, and teaches at the University of Oregon, where he was the first-ever Asian American director of a Creative Writing Program, serving from 1989 to 1993.

Kazim Ali is no stranger to the nuances of displacement: he was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian descent who emigrated first to Canada, then to the United States.   In hybrid poems, essays, and novels, Ali traverses not just oceans but the self, reminding us to honor our unearthly histories as much as we do the quotidian artifacts of our day-to-day lives.   Whether drawing our attention to his father’s steel comb, explicating an excerpt of the Qur’an, or enacting a moment of quiet meditation, Ali’s tireless pursuit of the question “Why do I believe what I was taught?” across multiple genres reminds us that the path to revelation must be paved with language–language as rejuvenated as it is elemental, as particular as it is expansive.   Kazim Ali is the author of three collections of poetry, two novels, and two volumes of critical writing.   He has taught at the University of Southern Maine and the Culinary Institute of America and currently teaches at Oberlin College.   The founding editor of Nightboat Books, he is the recipient of an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.

Credit: M. Digiovanni

Whether writing about a Japanese man’s encounter with a Tango lyricist in 1940s Argentina or a biracial child experiencing her parents’ spiraling marriage, Anna Kazumi Stahl is always attuned to the subtlety and dynamism of life.   Born to a Japanese mother and a father of German ancestry at a time when the state of Louisiana did not recognize interracial marriages, Stahl is particularly attuned to the peculiar displacements of history–including the post-Internment migration of many Japanese Americans, her family among them, to the American South.   Following an undergraduate career in New England and a series of research trips to South America, Stahl moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she now lives and writes.   She pens work in both Spanish and English that re-imagines the arcs of immigration, the currents of transnationalism, and the complexities of multiraciality.   She is the author of the short story collection Catástrofes naturales (Natural Disasters, 1997) and the novel Flores de un solo día (Flowers for Just One Day, 2002), nominated for the Rómulo Gallegos Prize.

Performing on HBO Presents Russell Simmons Def Poetry, helping on the Justice for Fong Lee Committee, or programming at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Bao Phi reminds us of the possibilities of engaged art.   His award-winning slam poetry confronts us with the anger, tenderness, and wisdom of an urban griot’s music.   Or as scholar Greg Choy writes, “Bao Phi’s poetry is unabashedly and unwaveringly all about being Asian American in the old activist sense of the term.”   Born in Saigon and raised in the Philips neighborhood of South Minneapolis, this self-proclaimed “geek of color” melds together childhood memories, popular culture, and current events to reveal new angles and insights into the human condition.   He is a two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist whose poem “Race” was anthologized in Best American Poetry 2006.   In recognition of his community work, he was nominated for a Facing Race Ambassador award, and his Equilibrium series for the Loft Literary Center won the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Anti-Racism Initiative Award.   He has released several CDs of his poetry, including Refugeography and The Nguyens EP, and his first collection of poetry,  Sông I Sing, was published by Coffee House Press in 2011.

Credit: Miriam Berkley

Marie Myung-Ok Lee is an acclaimed novelist and essayist whose writing mines landscapes of difference for common humanity.   A pioneer in Asian American young adult fiction, she wrote Somebody’s Daughter (2005) after a Fulbright Fellowship in Korea, for which she recorded the oral histories of Korean birth mothers.   Somebody’s Daughter follows a 19-year old Korean American adoptee who returns to Korea in what becomes a journey to find her birthmother, a journey to gather up, to reassemble, a fragmented identity.   Lee has described growing up in all-white Hibbing, Minnesota, as living in “a racial petri dish,” and that imperative, to make sense of difference (in all of its many incarnations) and the fractures it creates, appears throughout her work.   Her essays on such diverse topics as medical marijuana and autism, cosmetic surgery, and immigration have been published in The Atlantic, Witness, Slate, The Kenyon Review, Newsweek, and The New York Times.   Lee is a former founder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and has served as a judge for the National Book Award and a visiting lecturer at Yale University.   She is currently a writer-in-residence at her alma mater, Brown University.

Marianne Villanueva’s fiction searches for truths both universal–jealousy, anger, grief, insecurity–and particular to the immigrant experience–idealism, fragmentation, and disillusionment.   Born and raised in Manila, Villanueva was 17 when she was accepted to the University of the Philippines Writers Workshop and 25 when she entered the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University, where she later received a Stegner Fellowship.   Her first collection, Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila (1991), short-listed for the Philippines’ National Book Award, pictures characters amid the urban violence and crushing poverty of the late Marcos years.   In 2005, she published Mayor of the Roses: Stories, a collection that, unlike earlier literature by Filipino Americans, “leans toward a more feminist framework as it highlights instead the cracks surrounding the lives of immigrant women and the traces of interaction among families,” according to the Pacific Rim Review.   Villanueva’s work has also been anthologized widely, including in Charlie Chan is Dead (1993), and she co-edited Going Home to a Landscape (2003), an anthology of Filipina women’s writings named a Notable Book by the  Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize judges.   Villanueva lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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