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The Asian American Writers’ Workshop

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop

Picture shows poet Emily Jungmin Yoon, a young Korean woman wearing a white sweater, standing at a podium. She is speaking into a microphone, and behind her is a projected image of her book "A Cruelty Special to Our Species."

Emily Jungmin Yoon at speaking at Castilleja Library

This past Tuesday, the Class of 2019 was fortunate to hear poet and PhD candidate Emily Jungmin Yoon read some of her recent work. Yoon’s first full-length collection of poems, A Cruelty Special to Our Species, tells the complex stories of Korean “comfort women” during World War II. She is an inspiring writer who is open about the challenges she has faced as a young Korean Canadian poet trying to find her voice.

Yoon is part of Asian American Writers’ Workshop, a national nonprofit organization with the goal of helping Asian American stories be told. They “believe Asian American literature is vital to interpret our post-multicultural but not post-racial age,” and act on this belief with devotion “to the creating, publishing, developing and disseminating of creative writing by Asian Americans.” They want to start conversations about immigration, cultural pluralism, assimilation, and complex identities. As “one of the top five Asian American groups nationally,” they have the influence to empower and assist writers like Emily Jungmin Yoon.

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop began in 1991 when a group of Asian American friends and writers decided they wanted to be hearing more representations of their stories than just The Woman Warrior or The Joy Luck Club. They began the organization together, and within eight years their membership had quickly grown to a group of 600 operating out of a basement under a Gap store in New York City. They run their own bookstore, hold workshops for high school students interested in writing, and offer grants to writers in need. Most significantly, the organization helps writers publish their works.

These publications take the form of two literary magazines, The Margins and Open City. The Margins, their first magazine, is “dedicated to inventing the Asian American creative culture of tomorrow” and bringing Asian Americans out of the sidekick role and into the spotlight. Their literature includes essays, fiction, poetry, interviews, and more. Open City “takes the real-time pulse of metropolitan Asian America as it’s being lived on the streets of New York right now,” telling the stories “of the Asian and immigrant neighborhoods that comprise one million New Yorkers and 13 percent of the city, but that rarely find their way to mainstream media.” Both of these magazines are published on their website and are open for writing submissions. You can find The Margins here, and Open City here.

As America’s “melting pot” culture develops further, it becomes even more important to hear a variety of diverse voices represented. The Asian American Writers’ Workshop is working to make this true for Asian Americans pursuing literature. Although Asian American can mean a number of various identities, there’s a certain power in bringing them together in a community that has something in common: writing. Andrea Louie, a Chinese-American writer who is a part of the organization, is quoted in the New York Times: “I’ve enjoyed the diasporic experience of different groups. Even though it’s different, we’re very much the same.”


-Lia S. ’18

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What is a zine, anyway?

Zines (rhymes with “beans”) are small circulation, self-published works created by a person (or small group) with a passion for a particular subject.  Zines can be educational, creative, wry, beautiful, political, whimsical, silly, sarcastic, dark, and even disturbing depending on the aim of the author.  APUSH fans may be interested to know that Thomas Paine’s self-published 1775 pamphlet, Common Sense, is considered by some to have been an early zine.  In the 20th century, the popular comic book hero, Superman, was based on a short story from the 1933 zine, Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization.

a photograph of several zines on a dark brown table

There are no limits on the variety and breadth of topics addressed in zines.  Are you aware of the characteristics of face blindness and its causes?  Did you ever wonder how morphine and heroin are chemically related?  Are you fascinated by the experience of young, second-generation Asian immigrants living in the Bay Area?  Are you just curious about many different things? The Castilleja Library has a large selection of zines – there is something for everyone. Please come ask your library team about what is available now!

-Emi S. ’19

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Author Visit: Nina LaCour

Author Visit: Nina LaCour

Picture of author Nina LaCour: a brunette white woman wearing a yellow velvet shirt, looking at the camera.

Coming to the Castilleja Library in late September is Nina LaCour, author of five young adult novels! LaCour seems to charm every reader with her stories of love, grief, and friendship. Her novels are a true and candid study of her characters’ identities and emotional journey to find themselves in the world around them. Her novel We Are Okay received the Michael L. Printz Award for Best Young Adult Novel of 2017, and all of her novels have been recognized by Publishers Weekly.


What is most striking about LaCour’s novels to young adult readers is her beautiful writing and narrative that truly allows readers to connect with her characters. She tells stories about all forms of love, and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, LaCour’s novels are a testament to all young adults and their experiences with love and friendship by centralizing their character development and emotions rather than their queer identities. LaCour’s literature stands out for this as well as her outstanding quality of writing, earning LaCour her critically-acclaimed status.

a collage of Nina LaCour's books

Nina LaCour will visit our library and campus from September 24th-26th. She will speak at an Upper School assembly on the 24th, and will visit all the tenth grade English classes. She will also have lunch with student writers, hold office hours in the library, and host a writer’s workshop in the Ace Center during late start on Wednesday.

–Meher S., ’20


Ms. LaCour’s Schedule:

Monday, September 24th:
Assembly for grades 8 – 12, Chapel Theater: 2:35pm – 3:15pm
Book signing and informal Q & A, Library: 3:20pm – 4:00pm

Tuesday, September 25th:
Lunch with upper school student writers, ACE Project Room: 12:10pm – 12:55pm

Wednesday, September 26th:
Writing workshop during late start, Library: 8:00am – 9:00am
Office hours, Library: 9:00am – 11:00am
Lunch with middle school student writers, Room 9: 11:15am – 11:50am

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Magazine Review: Riposte

Magazine Review: Riposte

Library TA Emmeline S. ’19 tells you all about one of the new magazines we picked up:

Self-described as the “smart magazine for women” and a decided (and welcome) respite from mainstream media coverage of rumored Kardashian pregnancies and other mundane celebrity “news,” London-based Riposte magazine offers short stories, articles and interviews on topics aimed at educated women.  

Issue 8 of Riposte

Started in 2013 by London-based art gallery curator Danielle Pender, Riposte is a bit of a publishing anomaly.  While many other magazines and media houses are increasingly moving more content online, Riposte’s website features single topic photos and brief teasers for in-depth articles that can be accessed only via the printed bi-annual magazine (Issue 8 is currently available in the Castilleja Espinosa Library).

Riposte is not light reading, nor is it appropriate for the modest reader.  Issue 8 contributors address heavy topics including racism, failures of science education on gender, motherhood, fashion and innovation. This particular issue also features semi-nude and powerfully untouched photos of breast cancer survivor Erika Hart, accompanying a candid article on real-life information gaps she encountered while being treated by her team of medical professionals.  The discussion of sexuality and sexual matters are more European in their openness; however, there are no advertisements or photos of young, photoshopped models in provocative poses.

The visual aesthetic of the magazine is somewhat chaotic with varying typefaces, full page borderless photos immediately followed by distinctly bordered images, and jarring discontinuities of layout. Surprisingly, the former art-gallery curator has not stamped the magazine with a readily identifiable look-and-feel nor has she established a consistent tone or language usage embodied by some of the most prominent magazines in circulation in North America (e.g. The New Yorker).  There are some well-written creative pieces–Adventure (essays) on pages 15-19–a few beautiful photos such as pages 50, 94, and 120-121, and some interesting articles–a the feature on architect/designer Farshid Moussavi on page 20 for example. However, there is a lack of flow across the issue, and the quality of the written and photographic content is inconsistent.  

Lastly, while many of the women covered in the magazine are role models, many of the topics–e.g., motherhood, balancing work/life–are aimed at women at different stages of life than the average Castilleja student.  

While Riposte has yet to fully mature into a consistent, high-quality publication, it is well worth scanning twice a year for insights as well as an introduction to interesting topics and women role models.  

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Four to Read More: Stories Retold From the Villain’s Perspective

Four to Read More: Stories Retold From the Villain’s Perspective

As we gear up for Halloween, why not try some stories retold from the antagonist’s point of view?



Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Before becoming a ruthless monarch, the Queen of Hearts was a no more than a young girl who dreamed of becoming the best baker in the Land of Hearts and marrying the handsome court joker. But her dreams were cut short by the expectations of her mother, the expectations that drove her to pursue romance in secret, and nothing good can ever come from that.



Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
Is the Witch of the West truly as wicked as we think? Maguire’s retelling of the Wizard of Oz sheds light on Elphaba’s rough childhood growing up with alcoholic and endlessly jealous parents. In this version of the story, Elphaba’s hometown is controlled by a totalitarian dictator known as the Wizard of Oz and is one of the only people in her town to advocate against the mistreatment of animals.




Dark Shimmer by Donna Jo Napoli
In this unconventional retelling of Snow White, Dolce, a young girl living on an island of dwarves, is seen as a freak and a giant by everyone in her hometown, hated by everyone besides her mother. One day, she escapes her island and travels to a foreign land where she is welcomed and her height is no longer uncommon.  In this new land, she falls in love with a widower and becomes a mirror-maker. However, her love of mirrors soon stirs trouble deep within her soul and she begins to see herself transform into the evil stepmother we know her as today.



Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys cover of The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Do you remember Bertha Mason, the madwoman locked in Rochester’s attic in Jane Eyre? Do you ever wonder what drove her to snarl, walk on all fours, and set Thornfield on fire? Wide Sargasso Sea tells the story of Antoinette Cosway, the young Jamaican girl forced to marry Rochester and confined to the attic of Thornfield for the rest of her life.

By Sophia N. ’19

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A Man’s Woman: The Portrayal of Women in Television

A Man’s Woman: The Portrayal of Women in Television

A Man’s Woman

Nancy L. ’17 & Alexa M. ’18

The average American adult watches over five hours of television everyday. (Kobley, 2016) hours of tv. We are constantly exposed to the entertainment industry’s interpretation of modern society. Media’s portrayal of women, particularly women of color, is often skewed and even discriminatory. Audiences are brainwashed by these unrealistic depictions, and form biases that impact day to day life. Female characters are rarely interesting. Their personas tend to lack complex qualities and emotional or intellectual depth. Traditionally feminine appearances, personalities, and circumstances are encouraged.

Actresses who fit the industry’s criteria for beauty tend to fill the roles that make it onto our screens. The video “Women in Television” clearly portrays the stereotypical image of the attractive woman, according to society’s standards. Out of the twenty one women who are being aggressively objectified in these clips, nine are blonde, and seventeen are white. Not one is overweight and the majority appear to be comfortable being scrutinized in this manner. A select body type and overall look has been normalized, and as a result, women who differ from media’s expectations often feel self conscious and ashamed of themselves. The immense pressure to adhere to these standards can even cause some to practice unhealthy or deadly behaviors such as extreme dieting or exercise. This body policing is an overarching theme in American television, but when one further examines media’s portrayal of women, trends in the depiction of women of color become apparent.

Additional tropes and standards regarding class and race are also prevalent in media. Black women in pop culture are characterized by a stereotypical sense of strength and assertiveness. Motherly Mammy-type figures are one common depiction of Black women. Black women also tend to be represented is in an oversexualized manner, particulary in music videos.  Although we see more and more black female entertainers with each year, most of the women are light skinned. The lack of dark skinned actresses contributes to colorism, a prevalent cultural issue. Hispanic women are typically depicted as fiery and hypersexualized. Most of these characters are maids, criminals, or immigrants. In real life, hispanic women exist in all aspects of society. Then there’s always the the tiger-moms, the nerds, and other over achieving Asian characters. These offensive images fail to show the wonderful range of women that make up our society. As audiences watch these types of female characters resurface again and again, a dangerous prejudice forms.

One way in which the negative effects of this bias can be seen is in the professional world. We have all heard the statistic that women make 72 cents to a man’s dollar. However, women of color make even less. Black women earn 64% of the white male salary, and Hispanic women make 54% (Leber, 2015). Some of this disparity is due to biases in hiring employees. Discrimination against women of color is fueled by the deep rooted prejudice perpetuated by pop culture.

Although some progress is being made in Hollywood, there is still much work to be done. Part of the reason that female characters are so widely oversimplified is because most of the characters were written by men. According to the Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, 45% of TV pilots in 2015 had no female creators or producers associated with them, and 78% had no minority creators or producers associated with them (Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA, 2017). It is no wonder that the portrayal of women in the many popular television shows is lackluster and biased.

Combatting these stereotypes may be difficult, but through continued effort, we can continue to improve women’s standing. By becoming a critical viewer, one who questions the content they are subject to, we can increase awareness about poor representation and form a better perspective on other women and ourselves.


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