Faculty in Focus: Jennifer Kwon-Dobbs

Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Jennifer Kwon-Dobbs is well regarded not only by her students but also by the literary community at large. Her educational background is a hybrid of literature and Asian American studies as well as capital adoption history. Kwon Dobbs obtained her Masters of Fine Arts degree in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh, she earned her Master’s and her Ph.D. in literature from the University of Southern California.

Kwon-Dobbs is Program Director for the Race and Ethnic Studies program at St. Olaf. She teaches an Asian American literature class and an advanced poetry writing class, and she collaborates with Professor Timothy Howe in teaching a class titled “The Soul of Stuff: Arts, Culture, and Ethics.”

Kwon-Dobbs was born in Wonju, South Korea and grew up in Oklahoma (the state which she claims has the best barbeque in the world). She currently lives in St. Paul and remains active in the Twin Cities literary scene by holding a position on the Board of Directors for Coffee House Press.

She has written a plethora of highly regarded anthologies, essays, individual poems and other works. For example, her lyrical essay titled “Nothing to Declare” appeared in Crazyhorse magazine. In addition, she has received the White Pine Press Poetry Prize and the New England Poetry Club’s Sheila Motton Book Award for “Paper Pavilion.” One of her works, “Notes From a Missing Person,” can be viewed in its entirety online.

Kwon-Dobbs is working on a number of projects at the moment. She was recently invited to Vancouver to participate in the Art Song Lab, a program that pairs poets with composers. The song resulting from the program will debut at a music festival this summer. She is also working on a poem for a dance project with Professor Janice Haws Roberts.

One of her largest undertakings is her work on her second book, “Three Legged Bird.” The book focuses on different ways to imagine Korean reunification. While writing the book, she has drawn upon the history of the Korean diaspora, the Koryo dynasty, cosmology and the Samjoko (the three legged crow) for inspiration.

Outside of the classroom, Kwon-Dobbs loves cooking and considers herself a “foodie.” When she travels, she inevitably ends up bringing back suitcases full of food, such as ham and red pepper.

Kwon-Dobbs loves the learning possibilities that a classroom environment presents. She appreciates that the classroom is one of few places where one can test out new ideas and concepts creatively and critically. She finds teaching to be a real gift and an opportunity to explore alongside students. She explains that she is really happy here at St. Olaf, and she has found that “folks here really care about their work” and that “both the students and classes at St. Olaf are so distinctive.” Upon returning from speaking at other academic institutions, Kwon-Dobbs always remembers how striking it is that the students at St. Olaf are unique in their commitment to learning and seeking to truly understand material.