Grant A. Olson - NIU - Foreign Languages & Literature - Staff

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Grant A. Olson

Grant A. Olson

PhD, Cornell University, Anthropology/SE Asian Studies
MA, University of Hawaii, (Asian) Religions
BA, Gustavus Adolphus College, English/Education

One of the highest compliments a Thai ever paid me was to say that I had been a Thai in my former life. So, what did I do wrong? For over 30 years, I have been the son of two families; I have been a go-between unable to make up my mind. As you can see, my mother is a sort of nakleng, and I have had to try and live up to her reputation in Suphan. She raised me on pork fried rice and fried duck eggs. She spoiled me with Hale’s Blue Boy sweet cream soda - namwan si khieo - always making sure I had enough ice in my glass in the heat of April. At an impressionable age, her acts of kindness and gentle toughness became ingrained in me. Yet, I am sure that at first she wanted a daughter, and then she was a bit surprised how she came by her albino son from some place on the other side called Ah-mer-i-kah. After such encounters we are never the same. In dreams I go back to sitting next to her fish pond, gazing at the reflection of lotus flowers as the scent of smoldering rice straw from next door wafts in the breeze. The crack of her cleaver against garlic buds on the solid wood cutting board wakes me up. I remain nurtured by such connections.

Some publications

A translation of the autobiography of Thai Buddhist artist Kovit Khemananda:
A Sandy Path near the Lake: In Search of the Illusory Khemananda. Translated with Chalermsee Olson. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.

"Southeast Asian Literature" in The Lincoln Library of Essential Information. 44th edition. Cleveland: Lincoln Library Press, 2012.

"Unrequited Leadership, Nostalgia and Progress in Thailand," in Thai Challenge: Unity, Stability & Democracy in Times of Uncertainty. Edited by Thang Nguyen. Nova Publishers, 2008.

"An Aesthetics of Rice" reprinted in The Society of Siam: Selected Articles for the Siam Society's Centenary. Edited by Chris Baker. Bangkok: Siam Society, 2004.

"Thai, Buddhist literature in" in Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Macmillan Reference, 2003.

"Filling the Void: Thai Khwan and Burmese Leip-pya, The Stuff of Which Souls are Made" in Socially Engaged Spirituality: Essays in Honor of Sulak Sivaraksa on His 70th Birthday. Edited by David W. Chappell. Bangkok: Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation, 2003, 271-302.

Editor, Modern Southeast Asian Literature in Translation: A Resource for Teaching, Arizona State University, 1997. For a syllabus of a class on Southeast Asian literature taught at NIU, go here.

A translation of Prayudh Payutto's Buddhadhamma. SUNY Press, 1995.

"Thai Cremation Volumes: A Brief History of a Unique Genre of Literature." Asian Folklore Studies Vol. 51:2 (October 1992), 279-294.

Current projects and interests

Reclaiming music, working on an East-West comparative philosophy project, writing more poetry and prose.


Introduction to Thai Buddhism
Thai Studies

E-mail Grant A. Olson
Watson Hall 101
(815) 753-6455