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Meet Our New Faculty - Helen Shin

Where are you from? Say a little about your hometown.
I’m from Seoul, Korea. Seoul’s one of the biggest cities in the world, the downtown area looks like what you would see in a typical cyberpunk cityscape; maybe less packed than Manhattan, but very high-tech and fast-paced. Seoul also has mountains (not hills, literally mountains) scattered all over town, a wide river (Han) flows right through the heart of the city, centuries-old palace buildings and modern skyscrapers stand side by side. I would say Seoul is the embodiment of hybridity – I’m a huge fan of its vibrant atmosphere, and I’d be happy to share more information about the city if anyone in the department plans to visit.

Where did you attend undergraduate and graduate school? What was your favorite thing about each school?
I received my BA from Seoul National University (English Literature) in Korea, and my Ph.D. from Stanford University (Comparative Literature). SNU, like the city of Seoul itself, is nestled in a pocket of mountains. I still miss the campus, how the trees would blaze up in gorgeous colors of red, yellow and orange every fall. I never had a chance to experience undergrad dorm life since most of the students commuted from home, but Korean universities are well known for their active student clubs and associations. They foster a strong sense of community spirit, which I immensely enjoyed. Mission revival style architecture, palm trees, the weather, the warm and supportive environment of DLCL (Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages) are just a few among so many things I love about Stanford, but more than anything, I love the people. I’ve met amazing friends and mentors who literally defined my life.

What is your favorite book / genre / literary period?
It’s simply impossible to pick ONE book! Everything Ted Chiang wrote, most of the novels and stories by William Gibson, William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick. Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Chang-rae Lee’s A Gesture Life and Richard E. Kim’s The Martyred are my all-time favorites. It’s pretty clear from this list that my favorite genres are Asian American narratives and cyberpunk fiction, mainly from the 20th or the 21st century, but I’m also interested in fictional representations of liminal, monstrous and transgressive entities (zombies and ghosts, for instance).

What do you plan to teach next fall?
I’ll be teaching English 279 Ethnic American Lit, entitled “Specters of Memory, History, and Trauma: Literary Hauntings in Ethnic American Literature.” Here’s the gist of it: “American culture stands at the intersection of diverse cultural traditions and ethnicities. The “crossings” that occur here are often represented in the form of “hauntings”; lingering, transgressive presences that demand to be heard, seen and acknowledged. Whether it be a deep-seated psychological and physical trauma handed down from one generation to the next, shameful legacies that refuse to be buried, or ghostly figures who return from the dead and try to reclaim their place among the living, the hauntings we encounter in their literary representations can serve as frameworks for the realities they reflect, and the thoughts they inspire. In this class, we will unpack the secret agendas of the forces that haunt the American unconscious, including but not limited to, racial and cultural conflicts, discrimination, immigration, nationalism, assimilation and its discontents. Class materials will comprise novels, graphic narratives and films as primary sources, paired with critical and theoretical reflections on the issues they raise. Authors (directors) of the works we will explore include William Faulkner, Junot Díaz, Toni Morrison, Chang-rae Lee, George Romero, Lynda Barry, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Ursula K. Le Guin.”

What are you most looking forward to about Vanderbilt?
The people, of course! I feel privileged to be working with such stellar colleagues and dedicated students, I can’t wait to be part of such a warm, productive and tight community (I was so impressed when I heard that students support one another by delivering food and such during their qualification exam preparations, it sounds most amazing). I’m eager to join or learn more about various programs going on around campus, for instance those taking place at the Robert Penn Warren Center (e.g. digital humanities discussion group, film theory and visual culture seminar). “Voices from Our America” is also a great source of inspiration for my own project (building an online graphic narrative journal). I really look forward to teaching the classes I have in mind, and I hope the students would also enjoy the ride!