Author Peter Ho Davies visits U-High

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Author Peter Ho Davies visits U-High

Ryan Clark, Reporter

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“We don’t have to be either-or. We can be both,” author Peter Ho Davies said Nov. 1 to U-High students who had read his 2016 novel “The Fortunes.” 

The book, which considers the Asian-American experience through multiple different narratives, was added to the English 2: Literary Analysis curriculum last year. 

“Being Asian-American is an identity in its own right, it’s not being slightly less Asian, or slightly less American — it is its own thing that has its own validity,” Davies said.

During his visit, Davies spoke about his books, the process of writing, and the nature of identity. He cited his own ethnic and cultural background as an impetus to write “The Fortunes.”

“I’m Chinese by blood, much less than that culturally, and I grew up in Britain. I felt that imposter syndrome, that loneliness,” Davies said.

For English teacher Ian Taylor, Davies’s consideration of identity made the book relevant to U-High students.

“We have a really large population of East Asian students, and we didn’t really have any literature that reflected that population or school,” Mr. Taylor said. “We think that it’s important to try to have our literature reflect our student population.”

Students from each section of Literary Analysis attended an afternoon session with the author in which he answered questions. Some students who completed Literary Analysis the previous year but wanted to meet Davies spoke to him after school.

Sabrina Chow, a student who attended the afterschool meeting, said Davies’s discussion of being Chinese-American resonated with her.

“I agree that I am living on the hyphen because I am Chinese-American. I’m not Chinese, and I’m definitely not Chinese enough for my relatives in Hong Kong,” Sabrina said. “But then I also don’t feel very accepted by Americans a lot of times, even though I was born American.”

The author also explained his interest in reappropriating racial slurs like the word “slant” as used against Asians. Davies said he previously intended the title of his novel to be “Tell It Slant” until a large bookseller objected. Nonetheless, one of the book’s Asian narrators repeatedly uses the word in a way that Davies believes recontextualizes it. 

“They take it back, they take that power away from your oppressor,” he said. 

In addition to having authored “The Fortunes,” Davies published two short story collections and another novel, “The Welsh Girl,” and is now a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Michigan.