English Major Wins President's Student Leadership Award

Congrats to junior Keng Xiong!
Maroon stripe above white stripe, with head and shoulders photo top right of person with short dark hair, wearing glasses and light shirt; text saying English major Keng Xiong Congratulations to the recipietns of the President's Student Leadership and Service Award

The Department of English is pleased and proud that one of our outstanding English majors received University-wide recognition: Keng Xiong won a 2023 President's Student Leadership and Service Award. The award recognizes students for their exceptional leadership and service to the University of Minnesota and the surrounding community.

Xiong is majoring in English and Individualized Studies in Creative Writing, Leadership, and Asian American Studies. He served as the 2022 marketing director of campus undergraduate literary magazine The Tower and as a current intern at the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence. Last spring he interned as a TA with the LEAD class “Personal Leadership in the University.” Finally, he is a longtime writing consultant at the Center for Writing. Xiong generously answered our questions.

Why did you choose to major in English?

I was drawn to the English major through my love of language—a world where I had to translate my Hmong American experiences into spoken, written, and non-verbal communication. When I was growing up, I would often listen to the way my grandma sang songs in Hmong while preparing the kitchen table, or I would be found reading a book in the corners of my school library, lost in the world of folklore and fantasy. Though I didn’t get the chance to see myself reflected in the pages of a book so easily, I still learned to view the world with beauty, care, and possibility.

With an interest in Asian American literature and creative writing, I have been able to read and write more stories that showcase the intersections of my identities. I value this diversity and believe in the power of stories to shape and hold our thoughts and actions. It is here where the English major has helped me understand more of the world I live within, even beyond the boundaries of the page.

What has been your favorite part of your experience in the department?

Seeing the development I’ve had as a reader, writer, and thinker. When entering new courses, I find myself always changing the way I approach the craft of reading, writing, and listening. With the support of my professors and peers, I have learned ways to review and workshop my work—a valuable experience that has helped me find confidence in my voice, and understand what it means to give feedback. In addition, it is exciting to get the chance to try out new expressions of writing such as literature reviews, analysis papers, poetry, and more. A memorable experience was in my "Literature and Music" course, where we wrote autobiographical song lyrics and sang them aloud behind an instrumental track.

What is a favorite book you read for an English class?

One of my favorite reads was a stage play in ENGL 3301: "Asian America Through Arts and Culture," The Brothers Paranormal (2020) by Prince Gomolvilas. It is a comedy/drama that follows two Thai-American brothers as they launch a ghost-hunting business; their first investigation is with an African-American couple displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The story deals with love, grief, and hope that draws people together even after displacement. I highly recommend it!

What English course would you recommend?

One of my favorite classes was with [Edelstein-Keller Writer in Residence] Kao Kalia Yang where we learned the craft of pacing. We read and wrote a variety of stories and paid attention to how words and language shape a reader's experience. Yang drew on each of our experiences as writers—she taught me that pacing, no matter how fast or how slow, doesn’t just impact stories, but our relationships with the world and people we meet. It really inspired me to look at my own writing in a new light and engage with the different truths I wanted to tell. I recommend any of the introduction to creative writing courses. Whether or not you consider yourself a creative or a writer, the stories we share have the ability to transform the world we move through. Stories connect an intimate and irreplaceable moment between one idea to the next and one person to another.

Are you pursuing any interests outside your English major?

I am in the works of planning individualized studies in creative writing, leadership, and Asian American studies. In each area of study, I am exploring the connections between how we tell stories through language and art and its impact on communities. By combining my vast interests into an individualized studies major, I have learned more about my own career and research interests. For example, my creative writing courses have sparked my passion for writing, my leadership courses have engaged me in new perspectives, and my Asian American studies courses have helped center my sense of belonging. With a wide range of disciplines alongside English, I have been able to expand my depth of knowledge—one of my aspirations for the future is to serve and teach creative writing alongside Hmong youth and communities.

I am currently doing an internship with the University of Minnesota Press after my work on The Tower 2021-2022. It has been a resourceful and eye-opening opportunity that has given me a chance to work in editorial and marketing. Recently, I've declared my Certificate in Editing and Publishing!

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