Faculty Spotlight: Samuel Park
By Benita Zepeda (BA '11)
Samuel Park is no stranger to exploring creativity and culture. From writing to filmmaking, to race and ethnicity, when he sets his mind on something that interests him, he pursues it full force.
That is what he teaches his students. But when Park isn’t teaching literature and how it coexists within race and culture, the associate professor of English is enjoying the success of his first novel This Burns My Heart, and working on research, articles, and a second novel.
“One of the reasons I love teaching at Columbia is that I get to do both. I get to be a scholar, write journal articles, and do research, but I also get to pursue other loves, like fiction,” he said.
Park, who earned his BA and MA in English literature from Stanford University and his PhD from the University of Southern California, joined the Columbia community in 2006. He teaches Introduction to Literature, Ethnic American Drama, courses on Shakespeare, and a course he created that explores Asian American literature.
“I’m interested in having students think of denaturalizing race and thinking about it in terms of how it functions within different ideologies,” Park said. “Racialization is a process rather than something that is static⎯it’s unshifting.”
He said he attempts to bridge students’ perceptions of creativity and academics by showing them that thinking and analyzing text is a creative process.
“A class really works when something fresh and original happens,” Park said. “The best situation is when I’m learning at the same time [the students] are, even if I’ve taught the subject 15 times before. It feels like this spontaneous, almost extemporaneous, type of moment.”
And that’s when memorable moments are formed, for Park, at least. One of those moments occurred when he realized a student discovered more about her personal identity just by exploring Asian American topics within his course.
“I felt like there was a lot of demand for that and that there needed to be a space for people to understand how Asian Americans fit within a larger fabric of American life,” he said. “Politically, there needed to be a space in the curriculum for what I see as an underrepresented minority within the college.”
Park said his students should always go for what they love and believe in. Park even dabbled in directing when he turned his novella, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, into a short film starring Mad Men actor Vincent Kartheiser, for no other reason than because he wanted to.
“Don’t pay attention to the voice in your head that questions goals. If the world wants to say no, let it say no on its own time,” Park advises. “Love is a very powerful force, and love of writing, reading, or performing is something that needs to be fed. Will it translate into a paycheck? I don’t know. But will you be happier? I think so.”