Book release exhibits professor’s talent


Denis Perez / The Advocate

English professor Dickson Lam reads from his book, “Paper Sons: A Memoir” during his book signing event at Fireside Hall on Thursday.

By Alondra Gallardo, Opinion Editor

English professor Dickson Lam was the winner of the 2017 Autumn House Nonfiction Prize and though his book was released just a few weeks ago it is already in a second print run.

“Though he may have traded his Timbs and hoodies for dress shoes and button-ups and his graffiti markers for dry erase, Dickson Lam is still one of the coolest cats I know,” Contra Costa College counselor Norma Valdez-Jimenez said during the celebration of the release of Lam’s “Paper Sons: A Memoir” in Fireside Hall on Thursday.

During his opening remarks, Lam talked about his writing process and getting published. He also outlined the seven years it took to complete the book. His experience of finding out that his father had molested his big sister (Ga Jeh) was the emotional crisis that started Lam on journey to writing his family’s story.

“So much of it felt like a love letter for Ga Jeh,” Valdez-Jimenez said.

Lam uses his writing as a way to process and deal with the effects of his family trauma. Lam shares his childhood experiences and how they paralleled the lives of his students. One passage is about one of Lam’s students who was shot and killed.

“I have so much in common with my students,” he said. “This experience (his student being shot) in particular was very challenging for me to deal with and forced me to become a better teacher.”

He found it hard to fuse stories of his sister, his father, his own childhood, his mother’s affair, graffiti, Chinese history, Malcolm X, chess and hip-hop culture all into one work.

Valdez-Jimenez said Lam’s book is not in the traditional memoir format. It’s more like a collage. It’s like taking a bunch of pieces and make it all fit together nicely into one.

“Each chapter looks at my life through a different lens,” Lam said.

“My story sort of resists the traditional form. It’s like a spiral,” Lam said.

Without the usual beginning, middle and end, it was a bit more difficult to find an editor who was willing to take on his manuscript and see it through to publication.

Dealing with the material and putting together his story was difficult, he said. Having to contact his family members and connecting with people from his past was draining.

This, combined with the complicated publication process, has Lam considering less personal topics for his next project.

Former student Melissa Merino said, “I really respect him and his family for putting out their story to be read by many. It is super exciting to be able to see somebody who I know getting published, someone who taught me. There is something so inspiring and motivating about that.”