Editor: Welcome to UMass, Caroline! You come to us from a faculty position at the University of Illinois. What do you think of New England?
Caroline Yang: I love it! The countryside is beautiful, and I enjoy the feel of the UMass campus. It feels like a small liberal arts college, even though it’s a research university.
Editor: Last term you taught the introductory course to the major, right?
Yang: Yes, I taught two sections of Intensive Literary Studies, which I geared toward my own research in Asian American literature. I designed the course to teach students critical reading and writing skills and challenge them to look at how concepts we take for granted get constructed and revised through literature.
Editor: What are you teaching this term?
Yang: A grad seminar in Asian American literary studies designed around the theme of war.
Editor: Does this course grow out of your research?
Yang: It takes up material that I will use for my second book. In it, I argue that U.S. wars in Asia shape the spaces represented, however obliquely, in American literature. In Toni Morrison’s Home, for example, there is an Asian-owned store that doesn’t get recognized by a Black Korean war vet as having anything to do with what he did in Korea, but at the same time, every landscape at “home” in the novel is haunted by the war. Such a transnational reading forces us to rethink our assumptions of racial identity and coalitional politics in the United States.
Editor: So that’s your second book? What are you doing in your first book?
Yang: My first book is titled Reconstructions Labor: The Chinese Worker in American Literature after Slavery. It examines representations of the Chinese worker in American literature around the time of Reconstruction to see how authors reconcile the meanings of slavery and freedom.
Editor: What got you into this subject?
Yang: Specifically, reading W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in grad school. More broadly, my background probably had something to do with it. I was the first from my family to attend college, and those four years really opened my eyes to the possibilities of literature. Especially after a year of working odd jobs after college — as a temp, a janitor, you name it! — I knew all I really wanted to do was read and think about books and teach. At the same time, I didn’t have professors like me in college, and I wanted to change that.