Color photograph of the head and torso of an Asian man wearing a plaid shirt and seated at a desk; he places his hands on the pages of an open book in front of him; light comes into the room from windows in front of and behind him

Tung-Hui Hu

Rome Prize in Literature
September 2, 2022–February 6, 2023
Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Michigan
Project title
Punishment, an Index
Project description

Punishment, an Index is a book of lyric essays and poems that uses edge cases in legal and social history to understand prohibition, punishment, and the reach of power today. The titular essay explores the punishment of lifeless objects, beginning with a Russian bell that was flogged, mutilated, and sentenced to exile for treason in 1591 for ringing too loudly at a princeling’s death, while another section examines the figure of the vogelfrei, who was initially someone “free as a bird” but over time became an outlaw banished to their death. I am interested in using those cases as a way of investigating how a society sorts through grievance and injury, sometimes in an attempt to heal itself, and sometimes to further divisiveness and state violence. By looking at the testimony of objects and other marginal figures, I see my poetry as an alternate way of writing a history of those who have not been allowed to speak.

The photograph of Tung-Hui Hu was taken by Natacha Nikouline.