Faculty Bios

Ping Chong

Ping ChongPing Chong is an internationally acclaimed theatre director, playwright, and video and installation artist.   He is a seminal figure in the interdisciplinary theater community and a pioneer in the use of media in theater.  Through his 40-year career in the theater, Mr. Chong’s work has been presented at major festivals and theatres around the world including: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, La MaMa E.T.C, Spoleto USA Festival, Vienna Festival, RomaEuropa Festival, Lille European Capital of Culture, Tokyo International Arts Festival, Singapore Festival of the Arts, and many others.  In 1992, Ping Chong created the first work in the Undesirable Elements series.   Since then, there have been over 40 productions in communities around the United States and around the world.   His 2005 puppet theatre production, Cathay: Three Tales of China, a collaboration with the Shaanxi Folk Art Theater of Xian, China, was commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the Festival of China, the largest celebration of Chinese culture ever presented in the United States. Cathay received threeHenry Hewes Design Awards from the New York Theatre Wing.  Ping Chong’s world-premiere stage adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s film masterpiece Throne of Blood premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in July 2010 with performances in November as part of BAM’s 2010 Next Wave Festival.   Mr. Chong has taught at numerous universities, including Harvard and New York University.  Among his many honors and awards, he has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, two BESSIE awards, and two OBIE awards, including one for sustained Achievement in 2000.  He is also the recipient of a USA Artist Fellowship and 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award.  In 2015, President Obama awarded him the National Medal of the Arts. See Ping Chong & Company website

Jazmin Darznik

Jasmin Darznik’s debut novel Song of a Captive Bird was a New York Times Book Review “Editors’ Choice” book and a Los Angeles Times bestseller. It appeared on several “Best Of” lists in 2018, including Booklist, Reader’s Digest, and Newsweek. Jasmin is also the author of the New York Times bestseller The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life. Her books have been published in seventeen countries and her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, among others. Jasmin was born in Tehran, Iran and came to America when she was five years old. She holds an MFA in fiction from Bennington College and a Ph.D. in English from Princeton University. Now a professor of English and creative writing at California College of the Arts, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her next book, a historical novel set in 1920s San Francisco, is forthcoming from Random House’s Ballantine imprint.

Charles Egan

Charles Egan

Charles Egan (B.A., Yale; Ph.D., Princeton) is Professor of Chinese and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at San Francisco State University.  He has also served as Director of the SF State Chinese Flagship Program since its founding in 2009.  He has published extensively on the evolution of Chinese classical poetic genres, and is a frequent translator.  His book, Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown: Poems by Zen Monks of China (Columbia University Press), was awarded the 2011 Lucien Stryk Prize in Asian Translation by the American Literary Translators Association.  His new book, Voices of Angel Island: Inscriptions and Immigrant Poetry, 1910-1945 (Bloomsbury Academic, 2021), is the culmination of over a decade’s work researching wall inscriptions at the old Immigration Station on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  The station barracks contain an extraordinary archive: hundreds of poems and prose records in half a dozen languages are on the walls, inscribed by immigrant detainees between 1910 and 1940, and by POWs and “enemy aliens” during World War II.  The inscriptions are augmented by literary materials published in Bay Area ethnic newspapers.  While each entry tells the story of an individual, taken together they illuminate the historical, economic, and cultural forces that shaped the lives of ordinary people in the early 20th century.

Alberto Garcia

Alberto Garcia was born and raised in the Sacramento Valley, the youngest child of immigrant farmworkers from the Mexican state of Michoacán.  He received a double B.A. in Communication and History from the University of California, Davis, an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Stanford University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Berkeley.  After finishing my graduate work, he spent one year as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Historical Studies, before joining the San José State University History Department as an assistant professor in fall 2018. His in-progress book manuscript, tentatively titled Abandoning Their Beloved Land: Bracero Emigration and Religious and Agrarian Politics in Mexico’s Rosary Belt, explores how the Mexican government administered the Bracero Program – an initiative that allowed Mexican men to work in the United States as seasonal contract laborers between 1942 and 1964 – and why rural workers from some of Mexico's most traditionally Catholic states were the ones most interested in migrating.  He has presented his research at conferences and invited lectures in both the U.S. and Mexico.  More broadly, Dr. Garcia is interested in twentieth-century Mexico, Latin American political and social movements, race and gender in Latin America, immigrant societies in the U.S., and American civil rights movements.

Glen Gendzel

Glen GendzelGlen Gendzel is Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at San José State University in San José, California. A Bay Area native, he earned a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MA and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has taught at five universities in five states. He has published numerous articles, essays, book chapters, and reviews. His research interests are California history and modern U.S. history. Recent publications include: “Big Brother and Big Business: Government Regulation and the Constitution in United States History,” in Constitutions: Ongoing Revolutions in Europe and the United States, ed. Marie Bolton and Marie-Elisabeth Baudoin (2017); “The People versus the Octopus: California Progressives and the Origins of Direct Democracy,” Siècles (2013); “The Tortilla Curtain and California’s Nativist Heritage,” Text and Performance Quarterly (2013); “What the Progressives Had in Common,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (2011); “It Didn’t Start with Proposition 187: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Nativist Legislation in California,” Journal of the West (2009); “Not Just a Golden State: Three Anglo ‘Rushes’ in the Making of Southern California, 1880-1920,” Southern California Quarterly (2009); “Pride, Wrath, Glee, and Fear: Emotional Responses to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the Catholic Press, 1950-1954,” American Catholic Studies (2009); and “Pioneers and Padres: Competing Mythologies in Northern and Southern California, 1850-1930,” Western Historical Quarterly (2001). See Glen Gendzel’s San Jose State faculty page. 

Humaira Ghilzai

Humaira Ghilzai is a writer, speaker, and cultural producer. She focuses on projects that bring positive social change. She co-founded Afghan Friends Network and instituted the Sister City relationship between Hayward, California, and Ghazni, Afghanistan where she has done extensive work to improve education for girls, boys, and women.

Humaira is a sought-after cultural expert who has worked with notable professional theatres authors, playwrights, and artists for the past ten years, utilizing her extensive knowledge of Afghan people, culture, religion, and history to bring authenticity to their creative work relating to Afghanistan and the Islamic world.  Credits include the world premieres, US and UK tours of the adaptations The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Kite Runner – Broadway. Blood and Gifts (La Jolla Playhouse); Selling Kabul (Seattle Rep) The Most Dangerous Highway in the World (Golden Thread); Heartland (rolling world premieres and off-Broadway debut). Film
credits: Merry Friggin Christmas and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and Away and Together (short). Television credits: Little America Season 2.

Humaira shares Afghan culture and cuisine through her blog Afghan Culture Unveiled and Youtube channel. Humaira was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan but her family fled the country right after the Russian invasion in 1979 and they made the Bay Area their new home.  Humaira attended Mills College and graduated with a B.S. in International Business from San Jose State University. Humaira has traveled to six continents, and 37 countries—including a pilgrimage to Mecca. Humaira was selected as the notable community leader for 2020 by the Afghan Women’s Association of Northern California and she advocates for equity of BIPOC representation in the arts. Humaira is an Anti-racist working to highlight systemic oppression for the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. You may learn about Humaira’s work on her website.

Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini Khaled Hosseini is the author of three books focusing on issues pertaining to contemporary Afghanistan or the lives of Afghan/Americans: The Kite Runner (2003), A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007), and And the Mountains Echoed (2013). He was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat in the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and history at a high school in Kabul. In 1976, the Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris. They were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, but by then their homeland had witnessed a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet Army. The Hosseinis sought and were granted political asylum in the United States, and in September 1980 moved to San José, California. Hosseini graduated from high school in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1988. The following year he entered the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, where he earned a medical degree in 1993. He completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai medical center in Los Angeles and was a practicing doctor of internal medicine between 1996 and 2004. In 2006, Hosseini was named a Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Khaled will join us by video.

Persis Karim

Persis KarimPersis Karim holds the Neda Nobari Endowed Chair and directs the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University, where she also teaches in the Department of Comparative & World Literature. Prior to arriving at SF State, she was a professor at San Jose State University in the Department of English & Comparative LIterature where she taught American literature, World Literature and Creative Writing. She has been engaged with Iranian diasporic literature and culture for over 24 years and is the editor of three anthologies of Iranian diaspora literature: Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian Americans; Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora, and A World Between: Poems, Stories, and Essays by Iranian Americans. She has also edited special issues Iranian Studies, MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States, and Iranian Studies. You can learn more at PersisKarim.com.

Melissa Koh

Melissa Koh is a writer and educational consultant based in San Francisco.  She worked in both public and independent schools as a secondary English teacher for over a decade before transitioning into supporting teachers in their classrooms.  She specializes in building literacy across content areas and increasing student engagement through performance-based assessments.  Her first novel will be published in 2020.

Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong KingstonMaxine Hong Kingston is a Chinese American author and Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated with a B.A. in English in 1962. Kingston has written three novels and several works of nonfiction about the experiences of Chinese immigrants living in the United States.  Her memoir The Woman Warrior (1976), awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, explores gender and ethnicity and how these concepts affect the lives of women.  Kingston has received several awards for her contributions to Chinese American literature including the National Book Award in 1981 for her novel China Men.  She was awarded the 1997 National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton.  In 2006, she was named by Time magazine as one of the great artists and thinkers in its special issue entitled “60 Years of Asian Heroes.”  In April 2007, Hong Kingston was awarded the Northern California Book Award, Special Award in Publishing for Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace (2006), an anthology that she edited.  Kingston was a member of the committee to choose the design for the California commemorative quarter.  Her most recent books are To Be The Poet and The Fifth Book of Peace. In 2014, President Obama awarded her the National Medal of the Arts. Read more about Maxine Hong Kingston

Yvonne Y. Kwan


Yvonne Y. Kwan is an assistant professor of and program coordinator for Asian American Studies at San Jose State University. Kwan also served as the previous Director of the Ethnic Studies Collaborative at SJSU, in which she led efforts in the implementation of the California State University Ethnic Studies Graduation (AB 1460) Requirement. Kwan currently leads the CSU-wide Asian American Studies Caucus and serves as a representative on the statewide-CSU Council on Ethnic Studies. In 2021, Kwan was lead organizer of the Southeast Asian American Studies Conference. Her research explores how social trauma may not be verbalized or articulated, but yet children of survivors can still develop the capacity to both identify with and experience the pain of previous generations. Kwan is also the Lead PI on a Santa Clara County research collaboration that seeks to document the oral histories of local Asian American activist-elders.

Andrew Lam

Andrew LamAndrew Lam is a journalist, fiction writer, and a co-founder of New America Media, the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 3,000 ethnic news organizations. Lam’s first book Perfume Dreams: Reflections on The Vietnamese Diaspora is a memoir and meditation on the consequences of war and exile. It won the Pen Open Book award in 2006.  His second book, East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres, is an exploration on how migration from East Asia has changed the cultural life of America, and was listed as “Top 10 Indies” by Shelf Unbound Magazine in 2010. His latest book, Birds of Paradise Lost, is a collection of short stories that chronicles the lives of Vietnamese refugees struggling to rebuild their lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. It won the West Coast Pen/Josephine Miles Literary Award and was a finalist for The California book award and The William Saroyan International Prize in 2014.  His articles appeared in many publications including the LA times, San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, Pittsburgh GazetteThe Nation, Mother Jones, Huffington Post, South China Morning Post, and Shanghai Daily. For seven years, Lam also contributed commentaries to NPR’s “All Things Considered.”  He earned a BA degree in biochemistry from UC Berkeley and received the John S. Night Journalism Fellowship at Stanford (2001-02).  Born in Vietnam, Lam came to the US in 1975 when he was 11 years old as a refugee.

Stacey Lee

Stacey Lee is the New York Times and Indie bestselling author of historical and contemporary young adult fiction, including The Downstairs Girl, a Reese’s Book Club YA pick, and her most recent novel, Luck of the Titanic, which received five starred reviews. A native of southern California and fourth-generation Chinese American, she is a co-founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement and writes stories for all kids (even the ones who look like adults).

Noah Novogrodsky

Noah Novogrodsky is the Carl M. Williams Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Wyoming College of Law.  Professor Novogrodsky teaches International Human Rights Law, Public International Law, Immigration Law, and Civil Procedure. Professor Novogrodsky is a graduate of Swarthmore College; he holds a law degree from Yale and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Queens’ College at Cambridge University.  After law school, he served as a Robert L. Bernstein Fellow in International Human Rights in Asmara, Eritrea, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Cape Town, South Africa; as a litigation associate at the firm of Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin in San Francisco (now Aronold & Porter LLP); and as the founding director of the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. Professor Novogrodsky has also been a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University Law Center and the University of Connecticut School of Law and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.  Professor Novogrodsky’s scholarship is focused on transnational human rights problems, immigration narratives, and storytelling in law.

Ricco Siasoco

Ricco SiasocoRicco Siasoco (he/him/his) is an educator, writer, and consultant with more than 20 years of school leadership experience. He is currently a Grade Dean at the Urban School of San Francisco. Prior to joining Urban, Ricco was the Director of Equity & Inclusion at the Chadwick School, where he served as a member of the senior leadership team and led the school’s K-12 efforts to foster an equitable community through policy, protocols, and best practices. Ricco began his educational career as a faculty member at Boston College, where he taught undergraduate courses in English composition, literature, and Asian American Studies and developed a college transition program for first-generation college students.

Ricco has presented at numerous conferences, including the NAIS People of Color Conference, NYSAIS Gender and Sexuality Diversity Conference, National Conference on Race and Education, Asian Educators Alliance, and National Partnership for Educational Access, among others. He holds degrees from Boston University and Bennington College, and is completing his Ed.D. in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Ricco has a strong interest in the arts and serves on the board of Kundiman — one of the nation’s leading literary organizations, dedicated to nurturing readers and writers of Asian American literature. Ricco’s passions are vegetarian cooking and writing, and he recently published a collection of short stories entitled The Foley Artist (Gaudy Boy, 2019).

Matthew Spangler

Matthew SpanglerMatthew Spangler (Institute Director) is Professor of Performance Studies at San José State University.  His research interests include transnational migration, intercultural theatre, scriptwriting, and Irish studies.  His articles on these topics have appeared in Theatre Journal, Text and Performance Quarterly, The James Joyce Quarterly, The New Hibernia Review, SIAR: The Journal of the Western Institute of Irish Studies, The South Atlantic Review, Theatre Annual, The Biographical Dictionary of Southern Writers, The Art of Elizabeth Bishop, Nineteenth Century Literature, and Performing the Crossroads: Critical Essays in Performance Studies and Irish Culture.  He co-edited, with Charlotte McIvor of the National University of Ireland Galway, Staging Intercultural Ireland: New Plays and Practitioner Perspectives, a collection of plays and essays on theatre produced by and about immigrants living in Ireland (Cork University Press).

Dr. Spangler is also a playwright.  His plays have been produced on Broadway (Helen Hayes Theatre), off Broadway (59E59 Theatres), in London’s West End (Wyndham’s Theatre and the London Playhouse), the Dubai Opera House, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Cleveland Playhouse, San Diego Repertory Theatre, San José Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse (staged reading), Arizona Theatre Company, New Repertory Theatre (Boston), Theatre Calgary, Citadel Theatre
(Edmonton), Nottingham Playhouse, Liverpool Playhouse, Oxford Playhouse, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the National Steinbeck Center, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Brighton Festival, Carthage
Theatre Festival, and the Avignon Theatre Festival, among other theatres and festivals.  His adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner received five San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics’ Circle
Awards, including Best Original Script and Best Overall Production, and will be produced on Broadway in the summer of 2022. Go to MatthewSpangler.org

Daniel Tkach

Daniel Tkach is a high school English teacher and has been teaching at Cupertino High School for seven years. He leads a Voices of Modern Culture course team, has built continuing education workshops, and two years ago led a cohort of Bay Area
students to Nicaragua. Before coming to the Bay Area, he taught in after-school programs in St. Louis and at a university and nonprofit in Beijing, China. He also worked as a producer on the documentary From the Community to the Classroom, which tells the story of how the city of Davis, CA tried to overcome a legacy of racism to create more equitable educational outcomes. He graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Southern California and a M.A. in Education from Stanford.

Kinan Valdez

Kinan ValdezKinan Valdez is producing artistic director of El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, CA.  He has performed in theatres around the country, including the San Diego Repertory Theatre, where he performed in productions of Bandido and the world premieres of Earthquake Sun, Restless Spirits, and Tortilla Curtain.  Valdez directed the 2005 world premiere of Corridos Remix: A Musical Fusion of Ballad Beyond Borders, which he cowrote with his father, Luis.  Aside from working in the theatre as a playwright, director, and actor, Kinan Valdez is also an award-winning filmmaker.  His film credits include King Lear; IPriista; the award-winning video short Little Louise; and Ballad of a Soldier, an independent feature-film adaptation of Luis Valdez’s one-act drama Soldado Razo.  He is currently orchestrating the development of a new cycle of mythic plays based on Popol Vuh, the Quiche-Mayan book of creation, and guiding the world premiere production of Victor in Shadow, a new play with music about famed Chilean folk singer and progressive icon Victor Jara.  He is a lecturer in the Theatre Department at the University of California Santa Cruz.

Luis Valdez

Luis ValdezLuis Valdez is a playwright and founder of El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, CA.  He was born to migrant farm workers in Delano, California.  He received his Bachelor of Arts in English from San José State University, where he produced his first play.  Valdez worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe for a year before helping Hispanic labor leader César Chávez organize workers during the Great Delano Grape Strike of 1965.  To support this effort, Valdez founded El Teatro Campesino (The Farmworkers’ Theater), serving as its artistic director for many years.  In 1968, El Teatro won an Obie Award, a distinguished off-Broadway theatre award.  Valdez’s unique combination of acto (sketch), mito, and corrido (musical) quickly brought him to the forefront of Chicano theater, and he enjoyed success with nationwide tours of his works. His play Zoot Suit was produced with the Center Theatre Group of Los Angeles in 1978 and a year later on Broadway.  While he continued his leadership role at El Teatro Campesino, he produced a well-received film version of Zoot Suit in 1981.  In 1987, he directed the hit film La Bamba, which chronicled the short life of Hispanic rock star Richie Valens, and created several performances for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).  Valdez has served as council member of the National Endowment of the Arts and founding member of the California Arts Council.  His awards include the Presidential Medal of the Arts, the prestigious Aguila Azteca Award, the Governors Award of the California Arts Council, and the George Peabody Award.

Sara Zatz

Sara ZatzSara Zatz is the associate director of Ping Chong & Company and project manager of the Undesirable Elements performance series, an interview-based theater project exploring issues of culture and identity in the lives of individuals in specific communities.  Since she joined the company in 2002, she has managed the production of nearly two dozen original works in the series, working in collaboration with partner organizations ranging from regional theaters to community-based arts organizations, exploring themes such as the experiences of people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, and disenfranchised youth. She has had the privilege of interviewing hundreds of individuals from all over the world and has served as coauthor with Ping Chong on numerous productions. Additionally, she has overseen the creation of Ping Chong & Company’s in-school arts education program and training institutes to share the methodology of Undesirable Elements with other artists and community members. She is the writer and director of Secret Survivors, a work in a series which explores the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse, and oversees Ping Chong & Company’s Secret Survivors National Initiative, which partners with non-arts-organizations to use theater to end child sexual abuse.  She served as the editor of a 2012 volume on Undesirable Elements, published by Theatre Communications Group, and has spoken and presented workshops on community-engaged theater at many conferences and universities. With over a decade of experience in arts management, she has also worked with the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater, the composer Tan Dun, and the Lincoln Center Festival.  See Ping Chong & Company website

Staff Bios:

Maria Judnick

Maria JudnickMaria Judnick is a Bay Area native with an MA in English from San José State University and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from St. Mary’s College of California. Previously, she spent three summers as the project coordinator for the National Endowment for the Humanities “John Steinbeck: The Voice of a Region, a Voice for America” institute for teachers. Maria teaches full-time in the English Department at Santa Clara University and serves as the Faculty-in-Residence for San Jose State University’s Writing Center. Maria freelances for local publications such as KQED Pop! and the Santa Clara Weekly. She is working on her first novel.

Francesca D’Urzo

Francesca D’Urzo is a current sophomore at Santa Clara University with an English major and a Journalism and Italian Studies double minor. She has over five years of professional writing and design experience through jobs as a writer, editor, and social media manager for multiple businesses and publications, including The Santa Clara Newspaper, Santa Clara MagazineGentry Magazine, as well as the Cotchett, Pitre, & McCarthy Law Firm. Francesca is a first-generation college student who comes from a family of hard-working Italian and Japanese immigrants. She strives to use her degree to go into a technical communication or marketing profession to help make digital content accessible to everyone, especially immigrants where English is not their first language like her family.