UCLA faculty remember David Wong Louie for his writing, mentorship and caring nature.
Louie was a professor emeritus of creative writing and Asian-American literary studies at UCLA. He died Sept. 19 of throat cancer at the age of 63.
Lowell Gallagher, chair of the English department, said Louie had a caring and observant personality and would often give his dog tennis balls to play with.
“(Louie) was very attuned to people’s lives and was able to make gestures that look quite ordinary and simple but were really quite touching,” Gallagher said.
Louie helped found the department of Asian American studies in 2004. Victor Bascara, the chair of the department, said Louie also helped the department develop a specialization in Asian-American literature.
“He played such a formative role in the study of Asian-American literature,” Bascara said. “As a renowned author in Asian-American literature, one of the key contributions to the department was teaching creative writing and how he nurtured creative writers coming to UCLA.”
Bascara also said Louie was an inspiring teacher and mentor to students and other faculty, and that he thinks it was encouraging to see how involved Louie was with students.
King-Kok Cheung, a professor in the English department, met Louie before he became a professor at UCLA in 1992. She said Louie helped shape her perception of alternative masculinity in life and in her area of study. She said two concepts in Chinese culture, wen and wu, help describe his approach to gender issues in Asian-American literature.
Wen and wu are a conceptual pair that represent the literary arts and martial arts, respectively, Cheung said. They are central to discussion of Chinese masculinity how masculinity is perceived by other cultures. Cheung said in Western culture, wu and aggression are valued over wen, while in Eastern culture wen is more highly revered.
She said Louie wrote about how Asian-American men struggle with new expectations of masculinity when they come to the United States because their wen traits are seen as effeminate rather than manly. Louie’s work “Pangs of Love” emphasizes and elaborates on the struggles Asian-American men face grappling with the Western ideal of masculinity, Cheung said.
“David was very witty – he writes beautifully,” Cheung said. “He really exemplified what I see as an honorable human being.”
Other faculty members also remember Louie for his writing abilities and mentorship for students. When Louie and Gallagher had adjacent offices in the English department, Gallagher said, Louie would always be animated and meticulous when students came into his office to talk about their work.
“He was a very eminent and extraordinary craftsman,” Gallagher said. “(He had) beautiful prose.”
People who knew Louie said his throat cancer was devastating because he was unable to do things he enjoyed, such as advising his students or cooking.
“He was a great cook,” Gallagher said. “(And) he could no longer talk to students and he could no longer taste the food that he so loved to cook.”
Toward the end of his life, Louie mainly kept himself alive for two reasons, Cheung said. One is that he wanted to keep writing, she said. The other is he was inspired by the people he knew – particularly his wife – who showed him great care during his illness and inspired him to become more caring as well.
Cheung also said Louie’s passing taught her about death and helped her feel less scared for her own death. Louie became more caring and spiritual when he developed cancer, she said.
“It took away my fear of death,” Cheung said. “For me, if anything, it just made me feel that, hey, if I can die like David – to know that he was still reading up to the day he died – death is not the most horrible thing.”
Bascara said Louie was a beloved faculty member and the department feels his loss.