H4A Storytells Confront Pain and heartbreak - and Build love and community

By Jane Sujen Bock, Story Slam producer


Previous H4A Summit Story Slams focused on the Asian American trope, “Where are you REALLY from?” In the spellbinding Oct. 14, 2023 Slam, six master Harvard storytellers moved on, drilling into: “Who am I?  Where do I go from here?”  


In five-minute personal, true stories told live, from memory, the storytellers – a student and alums whose graduation years span 52 years  – confronted family trauma, racism, mental illness, loss, poverty, gender transition, and suicidal thoughts. They told their riveting stories with grace, humor, resilience, and bravery.  


Throughout the Slam, audience members choked up with tears and laughter, cheering all six Finalists from start to finish. 130 H4A members entered the Slam as an audience and left as a community, profoundly aware of the need to take care of each other and ourselves. 


Watch their incredible performances linked below. Please see the Mental Health Resources, some specifically AAPI, linked here.  


The three Slam judges, Melissa Borja AB '04, writer, historian, Asian/Pacific Islander American studies professor; Michelle Chen AB '99, Thirteen/WNET producer; and Stephanie Lim '03, co-founder and CEO of Third State Books: Stories from Asian America, awarded thousands of dollars in prizes to the top winners:

The stories below were also recognized by the judges for their power, nuance, hilarity, and themes that connected everyone in the room (in alphabetical order):


Before the Slam, all 6 finalists had been awarded prizes by the Preliminary Screening Jury:  


Jane Sujen Bock, AB '81, lawyer, H4A Story Slam producer; 

Linda Chin, MS '84, cultural producer, theater reviewer, Tunefoolery director

John Lian, PhD '20, virologist, past Slam winner

Theresa (Tree) Loong, AB '94, filmmaker, artist, educator; 

Jeannie Park, AB '83, former magazine editor

Pearl J. Park, ALM '23, social activist, documentary filmmaker, public health consultant;

Peter Shimamoto JD '85, attorney

Vivian Toy, AB '85, journalist

Nelson Wang, AB '92-'93, journalist; 

Jennifer Young Lee, AB '95, doctor, writer, and producer.


While the judges deliberated, the audience was treated to a Bonus Story, "Chinese Girls Are . . ."  from John Lian, PhD ’20. John was a Slam winner in 2014, a Slam judge in 2018, and a preliminary juror in 2023.


The Slam was brilliantly hosted by Renee Tajima-Peña '80, Academy Award nominated filmmaker, multimedia producer (PBS docuseries Asian Americans), and Asian American Studies professor, and Jeff Yang '89, Asian American pop culture expert (Rise: A Pop History of Asian American from the Nineties to Now), journalist, and business/media consultant. The two are now working on turning Jeff’s groundbreaking book, The Golden Screen: The Movies that Made Asian America, into a docuseries.


Huge thanks to our Storytelling Coach Sheila Traister and volunteers Paula Bock, Eva Camp, Linda Chin, John Chow, Liana Chow, Divy Kangeyan; Jeannie Park, Shwe Win, and Lisa Wong.


Most of all, thanks to all our Storytellers, whether Finalists or not, who taught us how

  • to pull back the bandages; 
  • run like your life depends on it; 
  • perform acts of love inspired by profound gratitude; 
  • see that Asian American history involves racism, violence, and dispossession, no matter where you jump into the story; 
  • understand that loneliness arises because we are not a monolith; and 
  • gain strength from being storytellers for social change.



Shirley Mak, Emil Guillermo, Seo-Young Chu, Ming Li Wu, Catherine Liu, Wendy Hanamura





Shirley Mak, Emil Guillermo, Seo-Young Chu, Ming Li Wu, Catherine Liu, Wendy Hanamura


Story Slam performers, hosts, judges, and volunteers