In her recently published chapbook, "Chinatown Sonnets,” Dorothy Chan ‘12 reflects on her experiences growing up, the influence she felt from Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood near her hometown, and from Chinatowns all over the world. Using her identity as a Chinese-American woman, she also considers the influence of Hollywood and westernization on the idea of Chinatown.
Chan submitted the collection of 28 sonnets to Louisiana State University’s MFA-run literary journal, “New Delta Review,” and won its sixth Annual Chapbook Contest, which was judged by poet Douglas Kearney.
"Chinatown Sonnets" is a “take on romanticizations of Chinatown depicted by mainstream media and reductive depictions of the ethnic enclave,” explains Chan.
While at Cornell, Chan took several classes with Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, associate professor of English, including a poetry workshop where Van Clief-Stefanon challenged the students to write sonnets, and then a final sonnet crown.
“I learned that [sonnets] are boxes of tension and relief – enclosed spaces wherein writing you excise everything that is unnecessary,” Chan said. “The first six sonnets have their roots in Cornell.”
The challenges of creating a chapbook, Chan said, included using the sonnet form itself and making each sonnet fresh.
Chan's family is from Hong Kong and some of her strongest memories are of going to Philadelphia on weekends, especially to buy special food with her parents from seafood and meat markets. She often traveled to Hong Kong during the summers.
In "Chinatown Sonnets," many of the poems are about food, which Chan said is a major symbol of family and love for her, because it brings people together and was a big part of her childhood.
Chan received her MFA from Arizona State University and is currently working on her Ph.D. in creative writing at Florida State University. She has also completed a full-length book of poetry, “Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold,” which was selected by poet Richard Siken for publication with Spork Press, to be released in March 2018. This book focuses on her identity as an Asian-American woman in the world.
Anna Carmichael ’18 is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.