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A World of Talents

Nora Lum (Awkwafina) fields a question in the Main Theatre of the Performing Arts Center from the Times Union's Steve Barnes. (Photo by Gianluca Russo)

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 5, 2017) — The UAlbany community is filled with a wide array of talented students. Whether in science, mathematics, writing or performing, the University is a place where students can discover their passion and thrive in it. Post-graduation, many go on to lucrative careers in some of the hardest industries.

One of these is Nora Lum ’11, popularly known as Awkwafina.

A Journalism graduate, Lum caught the public’s attention when her parody music video, “My Vag,” went viral on YouTube. “I wrote ‘My Vag’ here on Empire, recording beats at night after class,” she explained.

Last Thursday, she returned to campus as a part of the NYS Writers Institute’s Visiting Writers Series. After an afternoon meet-and-greet with student fans in the Campus Center West, Lum moved to an evening event in the Performing Arts Center’s Main Theatre, where she was interviewed on stage by Steve Barnes, adjunct professor and a senior writer at the Times Union. Barnes was one of Lum’s professors at UAlbany.

Awkwafina at University at Albany

Nora Lum poses at left with a fan during a meet-and-greet in the Campus Center, and then mugs with Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl. (Photos by Paul Miller) 

Her music video, which now has nearly 2 million views, sparked a remarkable career beginning. Lum went on to release an album titled Yellow Ranger and a New York City travel guide. And, in 2014, she began to dip her feet in acting.

What began as small roles in films such as Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and Storks turned into working on two of the most anticipated releases of 2018: Ocean’s Eight and Crazy Rich Asians. Among the cast of Ocean’s Eight are Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Sandra Bullock and Rihanna.

“I was having waking nightmares that I would say something weird [in front of them], but at the same time, they’re humans,” she told Barnes. “It could get weird dealing with that high profile of a celebrity if you’re weird. You have to treat them normally.”

Barnes asked Lum about Asian representation in the industry, and the difficulties she’s faced as a woman of color.

“I think that in Hollywood they can do this thing where they put in an Asian because they need the Asian,” she answered. “And I don’t think that’s necessarily progress if you’re putting in these Asians just to fill up a landscape. I think it’s important to include Asian characters that don’t have to be ‘Asian’ — that aren’t mocking their race.”

Amid her success, Lum is still creating music and writing. Barnes took a minute to reflect on her time as a journalism major, to which she responded that writing was her first love and is something, unlike starring in films, that she can always turn to.

“If you have a personal connection [to something], do it or lose that creative window because you need that window in your life,” she said.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.