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Fiona Cheong

Associate Professor
CL 628-K

Fiona Cheong holds a BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. She is an Associate Professor of English and the author of two novels, The Scent of the Gods (W.W. Norton 1991), which was nominated for a National Book Award, and Shadow Theatre (Soho 2002), described in The Women’s Review of Books as a “lush, stylistically inventive novel” and “subtly subversive work.” Her shorter work is featured in Charlie Chan is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Literature (ed. Jessica Hagedorn, Viking 1993) and Tilting the Continent: Southeast Asian American Writing (ed. Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Cheng-Lok Chua, New Rivers 2000). She has taught at Howard and Cornell Universities and at the Hurston-Wright Writers Workshop, and has been a judge for the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and the Massachusetts Council for the Arts Awards. She has received numerous grants for her teaching and writing, including an Innovation in Education Award from the University of Pittsburgh’s Provost Office (2006), an artist’s fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts (2007) and a Make It Your Own Award from the Case Foundation (2008) for her civic engagement project, Re-Imagining Our City. She is a co-founder of the Asian American Writers Forum at the University of Pittsburgh and of its current manifestation, The Writers of Color Workshop. She is working on the final segment of her trilogy of novels set in Singapore, and on a book about teaching and writing.


  • Learn more about her approach to teaching in Snapshot.
  • Watch a video of her work in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

Teaching and Writing

“I wasn't thinking about audience really when I was writing, though I thought about it a little at the start. I thought, first of all, that I'm going to be criticized by Singaporeans, because strictly speaking, I wouldn't call the vernacular used by some of the novel's characters Singlish; it's a written form of Singlish, and in fact it's an invented written form of Singlish. Because what I wanted to get at was a certain rhythm, the way people talk, which I missed hearing. The way my relatives talk, the sound of their voices. I wanted to get at that. I wanted to get a certain kind of music onto the page, and that meant that I had to work with literary sound, with the way sound functions on the page, not necessarily with the "authentic" syntax of spoken Singlish. So I worried about authenticity with respect to the ghosts. I was drawing on ghost stories that I've heard, and I tried to be true to what I remembered, and I'm trusting, even though I've lived here for so long, that there's a way in which narrative form lives in the body and it doesn't really leave you. But to return to your question: Can one write for both audiences? I find that I can if I accept that different audiences will probably read a somewhat different book, and if writing for one audience or the other doesn't necessarily mean writing to please that audience. On the other hand, it's why I'm nervous about reading in Singapore. I'm afraid people will be really critical, because Shadow Theatre isn't necessarily the book they want to read, or the book they would like to be written, or the book they feel is important. And yet, it's very much a book I wrote out of a deep love for them.”

Revised 06/04/2019
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