Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2008 | People

Agnes S. L. Lam

By IAM Staff

Agnes S. L. Lam has studied literature all over the world, but no place has inspired her quite like Iowa City. One of 31 writers who participated in this past fall's International Writing Program, Lam describes the quiet Midwestern town as every writer's dream. The Hong Kong native commemorates her UI experience in a poem titled, "What can I tell you about Iowa," which raves about a community where "lines of poetry lead to a dome of gold."

An associate professor at the Centre for Applied English Studies at the University of Hong Kong, Lam is also a poet, essayist, and literary critic who discovers ideas for short stories and poems in everything from a photograph of cherry blossoms to a squirrel gathering nuts.

Lam says that her life has been enriched not only by classic works of literature, but also by unknown artists who sell their wares by the side of the road. "For a writer, it actually doesn't matter what type of influences you're exposed to," she says, "but it's important for any person to be as open as possible to as many cultures within and outside of their society and country."


Leo Tolstoy's The Meaning of Life. "Tolstoy came from a rich family, but he was always concerned for the poor. When I read this book as a teenager, I was also concerned about the issue of poverty."


English authors Jane Austen, Aldous Huxley, and Graham Greene; Americans F. Scott Fitzgerald and Saul Bellow; and Japanese writers Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers," Johann Strauss's waltzes, and Johann Pachelbel's "Forever By the Sea" and "Canon in D Major."


"Everyone likes Monet, but I also like people not primarily known for their paintings, such as William Blake. I read his poetry together with his paintings."


The Golden Compass. "I was more interested in the book than the movie. The movie didn't bring out the [novel's] philosophical ideas about the relationship between cosmic dust and human life."


Old movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Chinese films such as In the Mood of Love and Red Sorghum (based on the novel by Mo Yan).