The University of Winnipeg



Dr. Jenny Heijun Wills named 2020 Chancellor’s Research Chair

Jenny Hejuin Willis, photo supplied

Dr. Jenny Heijun Wills has been named The University of Winnipeg’s 2020 Chancellor’s Research Chair.

An Associate Professor in the Department of English, Wills arrived at UWinnipeg in 2011 and currently teaches critical race studies, American literature, and writing. She also publishes scholarly writing on transnational and transracial adoption in literature, race, and identity.

“I was very surprised and pleased by the honour, because not every institution recognizes the kind of work I do as research in the traditional sense,” Wills said. “I’m fortunate to work at UWinnipeg where creative work is celebrated alongside more traditional forms of scholarship. It is meaningful to be the first Chancellor’s Research Chair whose research is creative in nature.”

Over the course of her three-year term as Chancellor’s Research Chair, she will be writing a historical novel combining some of the work done in her academic and creative past.

Loosely based on the real lives of Jim Jones’s three adopted Korean children, the book will span the 1950s to 1990s in different regions of the Americas.

“It is about being Asian American, the potentially tragic outcomes of political fervour, and racist violence — specifically the anti-Black violence — ironically done in the name of anti-racist passion,” Wills explained.

The novel will include archival research and the reading of significant amounts of poetry and lyrical prose for inspiration coming from other Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPoC) authors “who do political work, write about horrifying things, in beautiful language.

 In 2019, Wills released her first book and memoir, Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. (Penguin Random House Canada), which explores the impact of being raised by a family of a different ethnicity and culture.

Later that year, it was awarded the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, with the jury saying: “Finely observed, meticulous, and candid, this memoir offers its subjects no easy redemptions, only the chance to grow together towards greater understanding.”

In addition, it’s currently a finalist for three Manitoba Book Awards (results to be announced in May).

Now equipped with the experience of writing a book, Wills will utilize some aspects she learned during that writing process to help her with the Chancellor’s Research Chair project, while noting there are also some differences.

“I’ve learned how to insert research into a creative text in more reserved, more subtle, ways than I might have in scholarly writing,” she noted. “I’m still thinking through voice and structure in the new book, so I’m not yet sure what similarities will appear.”

“But this novel is more narrative driven — it has to be — and so I suspect there will be notable differences.”

Former Chancellor’s Research Chairs include Dr. Craig Willis, Department of Biology; Dr. Angela Failler, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies; Dr. Melanie Martin, Department of Physics; Dr. Bruno Silvestre, Department of Business; Dr. Kevin Walby, Department of Criminal Justice; Dr. Renée Douville, Department of Biology; Dr. Delia Gavrus, Department of History; Dr. Nora Casson, Department of Geography; and Dr. Peter Miller, Department of Classics. All have made, and continue to make, exceptional contributions to research in their field.

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