Barnard Archives and Special CollectionsAugust 13, 2008May 31, 2018Alums, Biography, student Publications
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Meet the challenge of our newest alumnae pin, Diana Chang ’49. To choose up a pin, protect against by the Barnard Library!

Rediscovering the Self

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Diana Chang beside a Marc Chagall lithograph she to buy in Paris.From the Barnard Alumnae Monthly, October/November 1951, courtesy of the Barnard university Archives.

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Diana Chang was born in brand-new York City to a Chinese father and also a mom of Chinese and also Irish descent. Soon after, her household moved to China, whereby Chang invested the bulk of she childhood and adolescence. She lived in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during human being War II and attended the Shanghai American School before matriculating at St. John’s University, Shanghai in 1941. ~ one year, she left St. John’s to take it a place as an editorial and also feature writer at the English-language Shanghai Evening article in 1943, on the referral of a friend who knew she to be interested in writing. Chang later defined her weekly item in the paper as “chatty, personal, and feminine.” She resigned from the document after eight months for “political reasons,” i beg your pardon she defined as follows in a letter come the author: “I resigned mine ‘position’ … since of the Japanese supervision. No Japanese to be in the office, so in ~ first—in mine naïveté (I to be 17 or 18 at the time)—I thought the file was run by the three or four men I took to be white Protestants engaged in placing out the newspaper.” Her family later reverted to brand-new York City, whereby she gotten in Barnard college in the fall of 1946 as a deliver to the class of 1949.

Chang determined to major in English, concentrating on British and also American poets. Quickly after entering her an initial year in ~ Barnard, Ms. Chang’s city “Mood” was published in the contemporary Poetry Association’s Poetry, the most prestigious poetry journal of the time, i m sorry was established by Harriet Monroe in 1912. Chang’s literature talent was no mystery at Barnard; she was liked in may 1947 to review an initial poem in ~ the Undergraduate Association’s tea in honor of the retiring Dean Virginia Gildersleeve. Her poem “Spring Comes also Intricately” was published in the campus literary newspaper The Bear together the winning entry in a literary contest sponsored by the magazine. In Chang’s yearbook profile, alongside she interests in golf and also yoga, she classmates note her status as a published poet. In might 1949, she graduated from Barnard cum laude, and also she to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa shortly thereafter.

After graduation, Chang traveled to France on a Fulbright Scholarship and studied French symbolist poetry at the Sorbonne. After return to new York, she held editorial positions at assorted publishing firms and also began functioning on her an initial novel, The Frontiers the Love, which was published in 1956 to critical acclaim. She walk on come publish five more novels and also three volumes of poetry between 1959 and also 1991. End the years, Chang maintained her link to Barnard, occasionally publishing posts in the alumnae magazine. “Typewriters and Trees” chronicles her experience in one artist’s colony in new Hampshire, and “I check out the City” is a photo-essay featuring photos by detailed photographer Rollie McKenna and excerpts indigenous Chang’s novel, A mrs of Thirty (1959). She returned to Barnard in 1979 together an adjunct combine professor of English, teaching an innovative writing and also an interdisciplinary course called “Imagery and kind in the Arts.”

In 1995, Chang told the newspaper Multi-Ethnic literature of the joined States, “When i was asked to teach in the English room at Barnard, ns shook in my knee socks since I had actually never teach before. The chairman stated he was looking for a practitioner, somebody who had written novels and poetry and somebody who had an editorial suggest of view. … i accepted and also found out ns loved it. If I had actually known that i would favor teaching for this reason much, I might have gone in for it sooner.”

Chang is considered to be the first published Asian-American novelist, and her works have received a great deal of academic attention. With the growing contemporary interest in Asian-American literature, her novel The Frontiers that Love is now regarded as among the earliest works in that genre. However, categorizing Chang’s occupational is not simple. Just two of her novels, including The Frontiers that Love, attribute protagonists the Chinese heritage, if the others include self-described “WASP” characters. In this respect, Chang’s work-related is similar to that of the African-American novelist James Baldwin, who work attributes protagonists of miscellaneous ethnic backgrounds. Both authors were influenced by their ethnic identity and its function in society, however did no limit us or their occupational on that basis, enabling themselves to explore other inquiries of identity. Baldwin explores his homosexual identity in Giovanni’s Room (1956), which features white protagonists. Similarly, Chang has not let she ethnic identity prevent her from exploring universal problems of identity, eastern or otherwise.

In her introduction to the 1994 execution of The Frontiers that Love, Shirley Geok-Lin Lim writes, “The Frontiers the Love critiques just how the sociopolitical pressure in people to position themselves within a solitary race or country or class or politics identity an outcome in the damage of “feeling selves.” … since knowing, feeling and acting have their origin in individuals’ feelings, the danger raised in the exclusionary propensities the any kind of identification politics is the suppression of feeling in stimulate to come at a fixed identification formation.” This template of assessing identity past labels such together “race” is central to Chang’s work. Her exploration of identity strives to move past the exoticism she sees as an problem to global truths; she is interested rather in the “rediscovery that the self” and also the process of the development of separation, personal, instance identity.

While Chang admits the categorization “seems unavoidable,” she believes that authors don’t have to write because that a certain category or conform come a certain category’s demands. In a letter come the author, she wrote, “Empathy for the human condition, an intuitive awareness the ‘being,’ gift & mysterious, a shared sympathy and imagination that the author brings to what one hopes to create—these traits, fine expressed render united state all much more human, more understanding, & embracing that one another.”

Chang’s city is additionally concerned through the expedition of identity. Because that example, “Saying Yes” deals with the pass out of her very own cross-cultural identity:

‘Are you Chinese?’

‘Yes’

‘American?’

‘Yes’

‘Really Chinese?’

‘No…not quite’

‘Really American?’

‘Well, actually, you see…’

But ns would rather say

‘Yes’

Not maybe,

But both, and not only

The homes I’ve had,

The methods I am

I’d quite say it

twice,

‘Yes’

A similar theme of negotiating one’s identification when caught between two cultures is express in “Second Nature,” from her publication of poetry The Horizon is absolutely Speaking (1982):

The old China muses v me.

I am international to the new.

I sleep top top dead years.

Sometimes ns dream in Chinese.

I dream my father’s dreams.

I wake, get an impression up

And someone else.

I to be the thin edge ns sit on.

I begin to grey—white and black and in between.

My hair is America.

True come form, when Chang provides poetry to research her Asian-American identity, she does not limit herself strictly come this issue. As an achieved painter, she appreciation that the arts moved her to create a arsenal of poetry dubbed The Mind’s Amazement (1998), which functions poems inspired by music, art, and also dance.

Chang has discovered success in the worlds of both prose and also poetry, but in addition to literary success and also praise comes the inevitable criticism. Her critics insurance claim that she go a disservice to the the Asian-American ar by no addressing worries that stem from she ethnic identification and affect members of that community. Chang herself states that she is in some ways “obsessed” through identity, but does not desire to restrict it s her to writing exclusively as an Asian-American. She establish the complexities of the ax “Asian-American” (and “Asian” and “American” and also any other identity label, for the matter), and how inadequately these labels describe her very own identity. She was no doubt influenced by the Chinese society in i beg your pardon she invested her developmental years, however she also attended American schools, and also English was her an initial language. She considers it s her to it is in an American writer with a Chinese background. In response to critics, Chang told MELUS in 1995, “In my own novels, the identification of the personalities is totally different from mine own. In those cases, ns don’t think i am concealing anything—I to be inventing something. I don’t think invention is a kind of dishonesty. Novels are imagined, invented lies which can be more truthful 보다 actual life itself.”

— Katie Portante ’08

Edited by:- Aziza Rahman ’20

Sources

Chang, Diana. The Frontiers that Love. Seattle: university of Washington Press, 1993.

Chang Diana. The Horizon is definitely Speaking. New York: Backstreet version Press, 1982.

“James (Arthur) Baldwin (1924-1987).” critical updated 2002. Retrieved respectable 31, 2007 from the World wide Web: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/jbaldwin.htm>.

Hamalian, Leo. “A MELUS Interview: Diana Chang.” MELUS 20:40 (Winter 1995), pp. 29-43.

Ling, Amy. “Writer in the hyphenated Condition: Diana Chang.” MELUS, 7:4 (Winter 1980), pp. 69-83.

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Nelson, Emmanuel S., ed. Eastern American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical an essential Sourcebook. Westwood, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.