Yifan She, ‘23, and Khurram Hussain participating in the first group discussion in the Humanities Center on Sept. __. The group’s theme for the year-long group is “The Year of Asian Imagination...Dreams Past, Present, Future.” (Keilly Kirkpatrick/ B&W Staff)

Asian studies faculty members start culturally-inspired reading group


The Asian studies department and the Humanities Center are co-sponsoring the Asian Studies Sci-Fi Reading Group with the goal of bringing students and faculty together under the theme of “The Year of Asian Imagination… Dreams Past, Present, Future.” 

Hosted in the Humanities Center, located at 224 W. Packer Ave., the attendees have the ability to have academic, yet informal conversations about the readings, without having to pay for the reading materials themselves. 

Annabella Pitkin, director of Asian studies, said the group is open to anyone and plans to meet seven times over the course of the year. Pitkin said the idea is to have fun, eat and discuss different ideas without the pressure of extra work like a typical class. 

“We want people to connect and explore, and maybe discover some aspects of Asian studies and Asian American studies that they might not have known about and they might be psyched about,” Pitkin said.

The group came to fruition after a committee of Asian studies faculty members including Pitkin, Shellen Wu, Thomas Chen, Constance Cook, Nobuko Yamasaki and Kiri Lee brainstormed about programming related to the theme of imagination. 

With additional support from Khurram Hussain, director of the Humanities Center, the committee discovered they shared a mutual love for science fiction, which drove the faculty members to start the group. 

Pitkin said the faculty debated how they could tie together imagination with Asian studies, but it was Wu who suggested they create a science fiction reading group and bring in the author after everyone has read their work.

The group decided on author Ken Liu to be their featured author this spring. Liu is well known for his short stories, novels and translations of Chinese science fiction novels to English. He will meet with students at Lehigh on April 4 to discuss his work, with a location to be determined. 

Liu is an interesting author choice to Pitkin because Liu not only writes about technology, but he also covers topics like history, colonialism, violence, cross-cultural encounters, thrillers and many other themes related to the reading group’s focus. Further, she said Liu is an incredibly generous man who gave the committee suggestions of other authors for the group to read. 

Pitkin said, with the awareness that most Lehigh students are interested in interdisciplinary fields — technology, engineering, science and how that applies to human life — the committee wants to show them how “open and exciting” these connections can be within the field of Asian and Asian American studies.

Zena Meighan, ’24, Shellen Wu and her daughter, and Annabella Pitkin, Director of Asian studies, participating in the first group discussion. The faculty bonds over a shared love of science fiction, which drove the faculty members to start the group. (Keilly Kirkpatrick/ B&W Staff)

Hussain added that paying more attention to Asia and Asian culture is necessary, especially in the United States. 

“It’s important in recognizing that Asian people are people too, and they have their own dreams and aspirations,” Hussain said. 

He said reading science fiction, especially future-looking content, allows people to realize their dreams and understand the kinds of imaginations they have.

Yifan She, ‘23, said he attended the group because he is interested in the topics it covers and wants to look at things not just from a Chinese aspect, but from an American and Chinese American aspect, as well. 

“People here do talk differently than scholars in China,” he said. “People here are more focused on the practical aspect of the stories.”  

Zena Meighan, ‘24, is an Asian studies minor with an interest in the science fiction genre who attended the first meeting to hear ideas she has never thought of before.

“I find that the Western idea of science fiction and space is very one-dimensional, very similar.” Meighan said. “I think that hearing how people in Asia might interpret societies in space or in a different universe or on a different planet would be very enriching.” 

Meighan said she enjoyed having the increased professor presence at the meeting because they provided academic insight into the reading that students could not offer.

The group meets again on Oct. 11, Nov. 14, Jan. 31, Feb. 13, March 6 and March 27. Registration is not required but is recommended. Further information can be found on the reading group’s website

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