Poet Cathy Park Hong, a professor in the MFA in Creative Writing program at the School of Arts & Sciences at Rutgers-Newark (SASN), has been awarded the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography for her memoir, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning.
Minor Feelings, an account of the author’s experience as an Asian American, weaves together personal experience with broader cultural criticism, and has been favorably reviewed and lauded by countless critics since its publication. The Chicago Review of Books called it “an urgent consideration of identity, social structures, and artistic practice,” and said “It’s a necessary intervention in a world burgeoning with creativity but stymied by a lack of language and ability to grapple with nuance.”
This is for all of the Asian women... who have labored and struggled and died in the shadows of American history. Your hardship and spirit will not be in vain.
Hong said she started writing the book when she was pregnant because she wanted a better world for her daughter. In her acceptance speech, Hong was visibly moved and dedicated her award to the eight people murdered in Atlanta, GA recently. “This is for their families, and this is for all of the Asian women, the women in the sex industry, in the service industry, the migrant workers, the factory workers, the mothers and daughters who have come from homelands riven by empire, who have labored and struggled and died in the shadows of American history," she said. "Your hardship and spirit will not be in vain. We will remember you. We will fight for you. Your lives are not expendable. You will be remembered.”
In announcing the award, Marion Winik, the autobiography committee chair, said “This courageous, unblinking, innovative, gorgeous and furious book invites readers to begin to understand the experiences of the completely non-homogenous group of people lumped together as Asian Americans, as well as the singular experience of the author, who is Korean American, the daughter of immigrants, and for whom English is a second language.”
In addition to Minor Feelings, Hong is also the author of poetry collections Engine Empire, 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. She is the poetry editor of the New Republic and teaches graduate level poetry and craft courses for the MFA in Creative Writing program at SASN.
Rigoberto González, director of the MFA Program at Rutgers-Newark, spoke to the timeliness of Hong’s book. “Minor Feelings is a timely and heartfelt book that speaks to the experiences of Asian Americans today,” he said. “Cathy's love and affection for her family and communities are necessarily amplified, especially during this troubled period that has placed such an unjust burden on Asian American lives. Our MFA Program is so fortunate and so proud to have such an important voice and critical thinker guiding our students (and really, all of us) toward the difficult truths that lead to social change.”
Each year, the National Book Critics Circle presents awards for the finest books published in English in six categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Biography, Autobiography, Poetry, and Criticism. In a virtual ceremony on March 26, the NBCC announced its winners for 2020, which included two Rutgers faculty: Cathy Park Hong, of SASN, and Nicole Fleetwod, a professor of American studies and art history at the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers-New Brunswick, who won the Award for Criticism for her book, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration. Read the full story at Rutgers Today.