Sarah Sophia Yanni Interviews Christine Imperial About Debut Book Mistaken for an Empire

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Sarah Sophia Yanni (Critical Studies MFA 20) spoke with fellow CalArts alum Christine Imperial (Critical Studies MFA 20) in a recent interview about Imperial’s debut book Mistaken for an Empire: A Memoir in Tongues for Full Stop Magazine

Yanni and Imperial, who are frequent collaborators and close friends, discuss the book’s genesis as Imperial’s MFA thesis, the power of translation, and how the hybrid work of “documentary poetry” came to be.

“I came to CalArts with a poetry practice that was really invested in looking and interpreting images and thinking about—how can subjectivity change the image, and what are the ethics of that?” Imperial noted in the interview. “And then when you think of the document as an image, a lot can spring forth from there.”

Mistaken for an Empire poignantly begins with Imperial’s translation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden,” a poem about the Philippine-American War calling upon the US to colonize the Philippine Islands. Writing the book enabled Imperial to further explore her relationship with Tagalog; she noted relying as little as possible on digital translators, imbuing the project with a sort of language acquisition process.

Mistaken for an Empire was named the recipient of Ohio State University Press’ Gournay Prize, and has been described as “a dazzling debut” and “major contribution to contemporary literary culture” by former School of Critical Studies faculty Michael Leong.

Read the full interview at Full Stop, and purchase Mistaken for an Empire at Ohio State Press.

Imperial is a Los Angeles-based Filipino American writer and current Cultural Studies PhD candidate at UC Davis. Yanni is a Mexican Egyptian writer and educator, as well as the managing editor of The Quarterless Review. The pair notably served as the 2021 REEF Artists in Residence and co-organized the project Persistence & Rupture.

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PUBLISHED BY Taya Zoormandan

As digital content and social media producer, Taya enjoys lifting up the stories and accomplishments of CalArts' students, alums, and faculty. She fancies herself a visual artist but is really more of an overzealous collector of art supplies.

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