As a third-year doctoral student working on dual degrees in English literature and African American and diaspora studies, Carmin Wong says, “I don’t have to choose between being a creative writer, thinker, or researcher.” In addition to being an accomplished playwright and poet—the Academy of American Poets recognized her work in 2020—she spends time studying prominent Black American writers and how they impact political landscapes. “If we turn to a lot of the social movements,” says Wong, “writers are very much involved in shaping that kind of consciousness.”
Wong leads a weekly writing workshop for incarcerated individuals through Penn State’s Restorative Justice Initiative. “We can constantly learn from each other,” she says. “As an educator, I try to move with that intention regardless of the classroom space.” As a Howard University undergrad, she mentored girls at a juvenile detention center, and while earning her MFA in poetry writing, she taught at a women’s detention facility in New Orleans.
On campus, she’s busy volunteering with MLK and Juneteenth celebrations. She’s active in local politics, too: In February, her speech to State College Borough Council members helped to pass a proclamation of Black History Month, and she now serves as vice chairwoman of its Racial Equity Advisory Commission.
“I got to see history come alive,” Wong says of the play she created and starred in last April, called Finding Home: Adeline Lawson Graham, Colored Citizen of Bellefonte. The production, which took the stage for two nights at local churches, was inspired by her research for a University Libraries–funded project that explored Centre County’s 19th century free Black community.
NEXT UP … NETFLIX?
Now in her final year of coursework, Wong is considering options for her next chapter: teaching, and writing—maybe even for television.
Hometown: Wong was born in Georgetown, Guyana, but grew up in Jamaica, Queens, N.Y.
Claim to fame: Poet and playwright; Bunton-Waller Fellow
Favorite authors: Caribbean poets like Kamau Brathwaite and Tanya Shirley
Campus: University Park