Amy Quan Barry
Position title: Lorraine Hansberry Professor of English
6195H Helen C. White Hall
- Creative Writing (poetry, fiction, playwriting)
Born in Saigon and raised on Boston’s northshore, Amy Quan Barry is the Lorraine Hansberry Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where, in addition to receiving the Vilas, Romnes, Kellett, and WARF research awards, she has also directed both the MFA Program in Creative Writing and the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing. Barry is the author of six books of fiction and poetry, including the recent novel We Ride Upon Sticks, which O: Oprah Magazine describes as, “Spellbinding, wickedly fun.” The New York Times described her previous work, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, as “deeply affecting.” Her third novel, When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East, follows a group of Buddhist monks as they search for a reincarnation in the vast Mongolian landscape; When I’m Gone will be published in spring 2022 by Knopf-Pantheon.
In 2012, Barry was commissioned to write a ten-minute piece for Book Wings, an arts exchange established by President Obama and then President Dmitry Medvedev and funded by the Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs at the U.S. State Department. “Three Variations on a Theme” was performed and broadcast simultaneously at the University of Iowa and the Moscow Art Theatre, the same space where Chekov premiered much of his work. That same year she traveled under the aegis of the US State Department as a cultural ambassador to Southeast Asia. Barry is also one of a select group of writers to receive NEA fellowships in both poetry and fiction. In 2021, she was awarded the American Library Association’s Alex Award. Currently Barry is serving as the first ever Forward Theater Writer-in-Residence. Her first play production, The Mytilenean Debate, will be staged in spring 2022.
In the town of Danvers, Massachusetts, home of the original 1692 witch trials, the 1989 Danvers Falcons will do anything to make it to the state finals—even if it means tapping into some devilishly dark powers. Against a background of irresistible 1980s iconography, Quan Barry expertly weaves together the individual and collective progress of this enchanted team as they storm their way through an unforgettable season.
Helmed by good-girl captain Abby Putnam (a descendant of the infamous Salem accuser Ann Putnam) and her co-captain Jen Fiorenza (whose bleached blond “Claw” sees and knows all), the Falcons prove to be wily, original, and bold, flaunting society’s stale notions of femininity. Through the crucible of team sport and, more importantly, friendship, this comic tour de female force chronicles Barry’s glorious cast of characters as they charge past every obstacle on the path to finding their glorious true selves.Read more
Vietnam, 1972: under a full moon, on the banks of the Song Ma River, a baby girl is pulled out of her dead mother’s grave. This is Rabbit, who is born with the ability to speak with the dead. She will flee from her destroyed village with a makeshift family thrown together by war. As Rabbit channels the voices of the dead, their chorus reconstructs the turbulent history of a nation, from the days of French Indochina and the World War II rubber plantations to the chaos of postwar reunification. Radiant, lyrical, and deeply moving, this is the unforgettable story of one woman’s struggle to unearth the true history of Vietnam while also carving out a place for herself within it.Read more
In poems initially inspired by Aeschylus’ fifth-century B.C. trilogy “The Oresteia,” which chronicles the fall of the House of Atreides, Loose Strife investigates the classical sense of loose strife, namely “to loose battle” or “sow chaos,” a concept which is still very much with us more than twenty-five hundred years later.Read more
Winner of the 2010 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry
In her third poetry collection, Quan Barry explores the universal image of war as evidenced in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as Vietnam, the country of her birth. In the long poem “meditations” Barry examines her own guilt in initially supporting the invasion of Iraq. Throughout the manuscript she investigates war and its aftermath by negotiating between geographically disparate landscapes—from the genocide in the Congo—to a series of pros poem “snapshots” of modern day Vietnam. Despite the gravity of war, Barry also turns her signature lyricism to other topics such as the beauty of Peru or the paintings of Ana Fernandez.Read more
Controvertibles features more of the refined brilliance and delicate lyricism of this poet, cast in a more meditative mode. Throughout, she examines cultural objects by lifting them out of their usual settings and repositioning them in front of new, disparate backdrops. Doug Flutie’s famous Hail Mary pass and Rutger Hauer’s role in Blade Runner are contextualized within the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Bob Beamon’s world-record-setting long jump in the 1968 Olympics is slowed down and examined in the style of The Matrix’s revolutionary bullet time. Samantha Smith, Richard Nixon, the Shroud of Turin, Igor Stravinsky, the largo from Handel’s Xerxes, the resurrection of Lazarus, and the groundbreaking 1984 Apple Computer Super Bowl commercial are among the many disparate people and objects Barry uses to explore the multifaceted nature of existence.Read more
Winner of the 2000 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize; 2002 Finalist in Poetry, Society of Midland Authors
Quan Barry’s stunning debut collection has been compared to Sylvia Plath’s Ariel for the startling complexity of craft and the original sophisticated vision behind it. In these poems beauty is just as likely to be discovered on a radioactive atoll as in the existential questions raised by The Matrix. Asylum is a work concerned with giving voice to the displaced—both real and fictional. In “some refrains Sam would have played had he been asked” the piano player from Casablanca is fleshed out in ways the film didn’t allow. Steven Seagal, Yukio Mishima, Tituba of the Salem Witch Trials, and eighteenth-century black poet Phillis Wheatley also populate these poems. Barry engages with the world—the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, the legacy of the Vietnam war—but also tackles the broad meditative question of the individual’s existence in relation to a higher truth, whether examining rituals or questioning, “Where is it written that we should want to be saved?” Ultimately, Asylum finds a haven by not looking away.Read more