2016-06-29 / Features

Local Express

Kimiko Hahn

Kimiko Hahn is the author of seven collections of poetry, including “The Narrow Road to the Interior” (W.W. Norton, 2006); “The Artist’s Daughter” (2002); “Mosquito and Ant” (1999); “Volatile” (1998); and “The Unbearable Heart” (1995), which received an American Book Award.

Hahn is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, as well as a Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, and an Association of Asian American Studies Literature Award. She is a Distinguished Professor in the English department at Queens College/CUNY and lives in New York.

Hahn was born in 1955 in Mt. Kisco, New York, the child of artists; a Japanese-American mother from Hawaii and a German-American father from Wisconsin. She received an undergraduate degree in English and East Asian studies from the University of Iowa, and a master’s degree in Japanese literature from Columbia University in 1984.

QG: Can you tell our readers how you came to love spoken and written language, your English and East Asian studies, Japanese literature, and your later academic career? Was being a child of artists your main impetus?

KH: The first two years of my life were spent in Rome, where my father was on an American Academy Fellowship. My mother taught me English and Italian – of course just the vocabulary for a small child – che bella, che cattiva / how pretty, how naughty. I think it was in this atmosphere that I came to love how words sounded, how meanings differed. Years later, when my father studied art for a year in Tokyo, I went to a Japanese elementary school. So I had to learn Japanese to speak with my classmates. Back home, I briefly studied Spanish in high school. I regret that I am not fluent in any of these languages, but I relate this to give an idea of the flurry of words in my head. Combine this with my mother reading bedtime stories to me. I see that time, not only for the stories themselves, but for her warmth. My mother and I alone, peering into a book. That is a powerful connection. And, yes, when it came to the arts, my parents always encouraged my sister and me.

QG: You grew up outside of New York City and attended college in the Midwest. Was pursuing your master’s degree at Columbia University the first time you lived here in the city? Tell us about your tenure as a distinguished professor in the English Department at Queens College/CUNY.

KH: To escape the suburbs in the ‘70s, I’d hang out in the city with Asian-American friends. This was a huge learning experience, socially, politically, culturally, and of course personally. I consider New York City my home. I consider diversity my home.

Speaking of diversity, I have been at Queens College for over 20 years, and a distinguished professor for 10. I am particularly proud that the English Department now has a master of fine arts degree (MFA) in creative writing and literary translation. In addition to teaching, I have a project, an Affiliation Group that I initiated in 2007. The object is for representatives from the four CUNY MFA programs to meet and share in projects: conference participation for professors and students, a chapbook festival and the “Turnstyle” reading series. I believe that being a distinguished professor comes with additional responsibilities.

QG: We know academia and our local libraries feature poetry events throughout the year especially during the month of April, for National Poetry Month. Where else in Queens would you direct our poetry readers, writers, and lovers of verse to feed their appreciative souls?

KH: There are some book shops and cafe/bars that host readings. Several Queens College MFA alumni have a series called Oh, Bernice!

QG: You’ve been quoted as “wanting to organize and get poetry out to the world, into places where you might not imagine poetry, like the subways.” How would you do this (in the subways) and are there other such unlikely gathering places around the nation to reach the masses with poetry?

KH: I am the new president of the board at the Poetry Society of America. Our signature project is Poetry in Motion – so poetry already exists on mass transit! Imaginative is of course thinking outside the box: there are literary organizations that place poetry on billboards, in zoos, public parks, here in New York in Grand Central Station. My students at Queens College come from every walk of life and they write poetry. This means that poetry is everywhere.

QG: After years of teaching at Queens College, what are your favorite Queens attractions and some favorite restaurants? Do you live in Queens?

KH: My husband Harold Schechter and I are moving to Queens. So far my favorite restaurant is Agora Taverna in Forest Hills. Given that Queens is an international foodie destination, I am sure we will be exploring widely!

Return to top

Copyright 1999-2019 The Service Advertising Group, Inc. All rights reserved.