Lena Khor poses for a photo on Main Hall Green.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Lena Khor (Photo by Aaron Lindeman '27)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.


Lena Khor, associate professor of English, has been teaching literature at Lawrence University since 2009.

Her academic specialty is 20th and 21st century postcolonial and global anglophone literature. Her research areas have focused on human rights, humanitarianism, and environmentalism.

Khor's book, Human Rights Discourse in a Global Network, was published by Routledge in 2013. Her work also has been published in Human Rights Quarterly, South Central Review, and Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice.

She has led interdisciplinary projects such as guiding Lawrence students in creating and showing documentaries on the intersections of literature and human rights. A member of the English faculty, she also teaches as part of the interdisciplinary ethnic studies program and global studies program.

Make your English literature studies uniquely yours, exploring works you’ve loved on a deeper level and introducing yourself to new works and perspectives. 

A native of Penang, Malaysia, Khor received a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College.

We caught up with her to talk about interests in and out of the classroom.

In the classroom

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I am always interested to hear from you—what you think about the reading, how you feel about the questions we explore in discussion, and why you think and feel as you do. 

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

Creating new things excites me, whether that is developing a new research project, composing a new piece of writing, or designing a new course. There’s something quite special that happens when we make something and share it with others. 

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional, or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

I started my career as a contemporary anglophone postcolonial scholar: I study contemporary literature written in English from former British colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. And I analyze them from human rights and humanitarian angles—how literature represents these difficult situations and the complexities of intervening in them. But more recently, I’m developing an interest in children’s literature. Not having read much children’s literature as a child, this genre is fun to read and fascinating to study as an adult. This new direction is quite a surprise, a very pleasant surprise.

Out of the classroom

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?  

I’d love to be independently wealthy! Then I would spend my time exploring things just for fun.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

If my favorite spot is where I spend the most time, then it is my office. I also love the LU library. It combines books, comfy chairs, and the knowledge that I’m surrounded by a community of thinkers, writers, and readers—dead and alive. 

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

A current favorite book is There Must Be More Than That (2020), a concept picture book by Shinsuke Yoshitake. I love all Yoshitake’s picture books actually. They’re funny, clever, even philosophical.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2014), a documentary film by Mami Sunada, is a long-time favorite. It follows Hayao Miyazaki, maybe best-known for making My Neighbor Totoro (1988), as he illustrates and animates another film at the famous Studio Ghibli. I like that it’s about the everyday life of a creator—an artist, a storyteller—making things in the world. Watching the team at Studio Ghibli work diligently—they draw and color the illustrations on paper by hand, then use traditional animation techniques to create the film—reminds me that this is often how things get done, with human skill, cooperative effort, patience, and good humor. 

I recommend Amandla: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (2003) by Lee Hirsch. I love musicals (the combination of story and song is captivating) and a cappella (the use of the voice as an instrument amazes me). Amandla unites both in that it is a soundtrack to a documentary film by the same title about the role of music (songs, really) in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. How the music influenced the struggle and vice versa is a powerful example of the role that art can have in influencing social change.

Find more faculty features in the On Main Hall Green With ... series here.