Author Steph Cha at Final Literary Fest


Ryan Sarbello/ Villanovan Photography

The craft event was hosted at Falvey Memorial Library.

Katie Reed, News Columnist

On April 18th, author, editor and critic Steph Cha arrived on Villanova’s campus as the fourth and final speaker in the 2023 Literary Festival. She did a reading from her book Your House Will Pay, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the California Book Award, and then answered the questions of those gathered in Falvey Library’s Speaker’s Corner. 

The Literary Festival is run alongside a supplemental course entitled Authors On and Off the Page, taught by English professors Adrienne Perry and Tsering Wangmo. Two students from the class who introduced Cha at the event, Rachel Rhee and Keenlyn Kilgore, provided their insight into both the course and the Literary Festival. 

“Authors On and Off the Page has been one of my favorite courses I’ve taken this semester,” Rhee said. “I think that the format of the class is really unique, and it gives us a lot of unique opportunities to connect with authors that we might not be able to read or go meet otherwise. The professors AGP and Tsering Wangmo have been just amazing and such great mentors.”

“I think that it is a very well thought-out and planned course,” Kilgore added. “I really like that the course was split up so that we would read both poetry and prose works by authors and discuss with them their process, while also creating our own works of fiction. Also, AGP and Tsering did a phenomenal job at structuring the class and teaching us more about craft and how it works in creating pieces of literature.”

Both Rhee and Kilgore appreciate the diverse works incorporated into the Literary Festival, in addition to the personal connection they get to establish with authors when they come to campus. 

“It’s been exciting to see so many [students] passionate to come see these authors that give their time to come visit us at Villanova,” Rhee said. “I think that we had a really good variety of different genres and also writers of different backgrounds, so it was really fascinating to hear about some of the struggles of Tibet, some struggles from the perspective of someone who faced abuse in their life and the struggles of intersectional identities.”

“The Lit Festival is a lot of fun, and I think it is really special that we are able to not only read works with authors, but then get to have conversations with them and go to readings where other people can also ask questions,” Kilgore said. “It was really cool to see for each author, especially I remember at Tsering Yangzom Lama’s reading, communities outside of Villanova coming to support the author.”

As part of the course, the authors come to visit the class on the same day they are scheduled to speak at the festival. In Cha’s case, the Authors On and Off the Page class was combined with another English class taught by Dr. Yumi Lee. 

Kilgore, who had read Your House Will Pay before, was thrilled to have Cha in class.

“I loved having Steph Cha visit,” Kilgore said. “I actually read her novel in my sophomore year of college, so I already knew that I really liked her novel, and it was so cool to be able to discuss it with her and then get to present her to everyone. Also, while answering questions, she was very open and vulnerable, which I really admired.” 

Rhee emphasized how intimate of an experience it was, “getting up close and personal” with Cha. 

“It was a huge room with lots of kids listening in, and it was a really great experience,” Rhee said. “It was so great to be able to ask her questions about the work that we have been studying for the past couple of weeks of school. She definitely shined a new light on her novel and what it was like to write these two very different perspectives of the main characters Grace and Shawn, so it was lovely and we were very lucky to have her come to our class in addition to hearing her [speak] later that night.”

Cha’s novel, based on the real-life murder of Latasha Harlins that came just weeks after the beating of Rodney King at the hands of the police in the 1990s, is “a powerful and taut novel about racial tensions in LA, following two families—one Korean-American, one African-American—grappling with the effects of a decades-old crime.” Specifically, the story oscillates between the narration of Grace Parks, who is Korean American, and Shawn Matthews, who is African American, and how both come to terms with Grace’s family’s involvement in the murder of Shawn’s sister, Ava.

Rhee felt a strong personal connection to the novel, adding to her excitement as a presenter. 

“I was really excited to be a presenter for Steph Cha,” Rhee said. “One of the characters in her novel is from a Korean-American family, so the little details and jokes that some people may not pick up on, I definitely picked up on, since I’m from a Korean-Indonesian household. A lot of the struggles and experiences are the same, so I was really excited to be able to introduce her and give her the praise that she deserves coming to Villanova.”

Kilgore’s prior experience with the novel made it especially important to her to do justice to Cha’s work when presenting. 

“[Presenting] was very nerve racking, especially because I have had time to build up this respect and love for her novel,” Kilgore said. “I just wanted to make sure in the introduction that I fully encompassed it and represented its themes correctly, especially since Cha herself was going to be there. I really enjoyed being able to show the impact the book had on me.” 

Kilgore found the historical context of the novel to be the most compelling, as it showed her the impact of the Los Angeles race riots through the dual perspectives of its protagonists. 

“The thing that has stuck with me for two years is this conversation Grace has with her dad,” Kilgore said. “He explains that he believes the only reason there was so much news coverage for her mother’s trial was because a week or two before, the videos were released of the Rodney King beating, so the police and government were trying to shift the focus. It was just really interesting because it brings up this question of who is controlling the tension between these two communities, what do they gain from it and how are they making sure it stays between the communities instead of shifting to the government which is controlling it.”

Rhee, similarly, appreciated Cha’s strong sense of voice in the novel and her representation of both communities, giving the same amount of attention and depth to each character. Further, basing the novel on real events was compelling, allowing readers to connect modern themes to their historical roots.

“I think that [Cha] talks about different themes that are still relevant to us today, like racism, social justice and the unreliability of memory,” Rhee said. “There were a lot of good themes, and everyone in our class had a lot to say coming from different backgrounds and perspectives.”

Rhee and Kilgore both raved about the class and encouraged students to not only take the course, but to also open themselves up to trying new books that they might not normally read, as they have done in this course. They are especially grateful to Perry and Wangmo for being so dedicated to both the course and its students, allowing them to have such a great experience.