Hawthorne-Longfellow Library (H-L) presented its 2023 BIPOC Book Collection display last Friday, October 13. Display curator Hannah Kim ’24 presented the collection while Humanities and Media Librarian Carmen Greenlee moderated a Q&A session following the presentation.
This year’s collection, entitled “Asian America and Asian Diasporas,” featured newly released works across multiple genres by Asian American and Asian diasporic authors. The collection coincides with the yearlong Asian American Reckonings initiative and the launch of RepresentASIAN: Bowdoin’s Asian Alumni Association.
Kim said that her curation, located across from H-L’s main circulation desk, aims to direct focus to the library’s array of Asian-centric works.
“I was interested in expanding the Library’s collections, especially since we already have a good collection of Asian American literature, but oftentimes, we didn’t have the writer’s most recent book,” Kim said.
While curating the collection, Kim found her own experience of engaging with diasporic literature particularly influential. Many of the works focus on marginalized experiences within the Asian diasporic community, including working class, queer, multiracial and adoptee narratives.
“Before coming to Bowdoin, I thought Asian Americans were just rich, affluent, Chinese Americans—the idea traditionally portrayed on movie screens. I’m Korean, and I know that Korean culture is getting mainstream attention, but I hadn’t seen narratives of working class Asian Americans, so I never really considered myself to be Asian American until coming here and taking a class called Asian American Margins with Professor Belinda Kong,” Kim said. “During that class, I have this memory of going to the stacks and looking for a book that resonated with me, and seeing all the other books on the shelf inspired me to go back every other day and read all the books there.”
For Kim, the curation serves as a reminder of the diverse perspectives that encompass the identity, culture and complex tapestry of experiences that comprise the Asian American narrative.
“During the launch, someone asked me what [I learned] about being Asian American after curating the shelf, and I knew that this was going to be a lifelong question. I still don’t know what it means to be Asian American,” Kim said. “These writers, they all offer their own perspective, but I think it’s also important to mention that not all the books are talking about being Asian American or Asian identity. There’s such a plethora of texts that we can just observe and learn from.”
One of Kim’s favorite books within the collection is “Dear Memory” by Victoria Chang, which she believes beautifully explores diasporic grief and longing through an uncommon medium.
“Chang is a poet, but after her mother passes away, she goes through family archives, finding all these documents and wanting to ask what they mean, but having no one to ask because her mom died. She decides to make collages with the documents and materials. Then she writes letters to people she can’t address anymore, and it’s just really beautiful,” Kim said.
Per Kim’s recommendations, H-L Library purchased over 150 new titles. However, Greenlee urges readers to request new titles if they are interested in a work missing from the library’s collection.
“[Kim] has done such an amazing job adding to our collection and enriching the entire community,” Greenlee said. “We’re so proud and grateful.”