Event Recap – A Portrait of the Self as Nation: Poetry and Diaspora

On September 26th, USCET hosted a webinar discussion on how poetry addresses contemporary socio-political issues. The discussion featured two speakers: Marilyn Chin, an acclaimed poet and Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and King-Kok Cheung, USCET’s Special Advisor, a renowned literary critic and Professor of English at UCLA. The conversation was moderated by Wai Chew Sim, an expert on Asian diaspora literature and associate professor of English at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. 

The webinar featured Marilyn’s discussion of her poetry compilation, A Portrait of the Self as a Nation, which she described as a “best hits” album showcasing 30 years of her work. She shared how poetry has shaped her, mentioning the struggles of being a Chinese American female poet trying to craft poems using the English language in a style that suited her writing. In her case, this meant inventing a fusion aesthetic of bilingual and bicultural hybrid forms that allowed her to connect to both her Chinese and American heritage. King-Kok offered her literary expertise by analyzing “Summer’s Leap,” a poem she had selected from Marilyn’s book. King-Kok highlighted the double meaning of Marilyn’s poems, and  explained how the English version portrays one perspective; yet the underlying cultural meaning connects to her Chinese heritage. Throughout the discussion, Moderator Wai Chew also prompted Marilyn to share other poetry selections from her recent book, Sage. Marilyn closed the webinar with a captivating presentation of her poem, “You Go, Me Stay, Two Autumns.” Poetry is a universal, timeless language. Marilyn’s book, A Portrait of the Self as a Nation, exemplifies this, capturing the full spectrum of her lived experiences and identity expression.


Marilyn Chin is an award-winning poet and author. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon, her works have become Asian American classics and are taught in classrooms internationally. Marilyn Chin’s books of poems include Sage, A Portrait of The Self as Nation, Hard Love Province, Rhapsody in Plain Yellow, Dwarf Bamboo, and The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty. She also published a book of magical fiction called Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen. Chin has won numerous literary awards including the Ruth Lilly Prize, United Artist Foundation award, and the Waynesfield-Wolf Book Award.

Chin’s work is also featured in a variety of anthologies, such as The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women,The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century Poetry, and The Best American Poetry. She has conducted workshops across the world and is Professor Emerita at San Diego State University. Chin presently serves as a Chancellor at the Academy of American Poets.

King-Kok Cheung is UCLA Research Professor of English and UCLA Professor Emeritus of English and Asian American Studies, and Special Advisor of the US-China Education Trust (USCET). Born and raised in Hong Kong, she received her PhD in English from UC Berkeley; she was also the UCEAP Study Center Director in Beijing (2008-2010) and Shanghai (2015-2017) and Chair Professor at Renmin University of China (2018-21). She is author of Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa (Cornell UP,1993; Japanese edition, 2015; Chinese edition, 2022) and Asian American Literature without Borders (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017; Chinese edition, 2023); editor of important works on Asian American literature, including Words Matter: Conversations with Asian American Writers (U of Hawaii Press, 2000), and Asian American literature: An Annotated Bibliography (MLA, 1988).  

Professor Cheung has received an ACLS fellowship, a Mellon fellowship, a Fulbright lecturing and research award, and a resident fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford. She is the 2012-2013 Recipient of the UCLA Hoshide Teaching Award in Asian American Studies and recipient of the 2023 AAAS (Association of Asian American Studies)’s Lifetime Career Achievement Award.


Wai Chew Sim is Associate Professor of English in the School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He obtained his BA (Honours) from the University of East Anglia, UK, and his PhD from the University of Warwick, UK. He has published in the areas of British-Asian, Postcolonial, and Comparative Literature. In 2019, he published an English translation of a Singapore Sinophone novel titled Exile or Pursuit. He is currently translator-in-residence (virtual residency) with the National Centre for Writing, UK.