Michelle Kuo

Associate Professor, Program Coordinator for History, Law & Society

  • Department: History and Politics
  • Graduate Program(s): International Affairs, International Affairs, Conflict Resolution and Civil Society Development, Diplomacy and International Law

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Michelle Kuo joined the American University of Paris in 2015 and teaches in its History, Law, and Society program on issues related to race, punishment, immigration, and the law.

Michelle is the author of Reading with Patrick, a mix of memoir, history, and law and exploration of racial and economic inequality in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta. It has been the runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and shortlisted for the Reading Women Nonfiction Prize and the Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice, and praised in publications such as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Christian Science Monitor, and Times Literary Supplement. Reading with Patrick has been selected for community reads programs that include the University of Iowa, the Yale Prison Education Initiative, and Washtenaw Reads. As James Wood writes in The New Yorker, “Anyone interested in questions of pedagogy, racism, and incarceration in America, not to mention literary criticism, will be enthralled by this book ... It is hard to read this challenging book ... and not think, You must change your life."

Michelle attended public schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After graduating with a degree in Social Studies and Gender Studies at Harvard College, she joined Teach for America and moved to the rural town of Helena, Arkansas, located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Michelle taught English at an alternative school for kids who were expelled from other schools.

At Harvard Law School, Michelle worked as a student attorney at the Criminal Justice Institute, a domestic violence and family mediation clinic, and the Education Law Clinic/Trauma Policy Learning Initiative.  A Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow, Michelle received the National Clinical Association's award for her advocacy of children with special needs.

Michelle worked as an immigrants' rights lawyer at Centro Legal de la Raza, located in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California. She advocated for tenants facing evictions, workers stiffed out of their wages, and families facing deportation. Supported by a Skadden Fellowship, Michelle's clients included day laborers, restaurant workers, gardeners, nannies, and home care workers. More recently, she has volunteered at a detention center in south Texas at RAICES, helping asylum seekers prepare for interviews with asylum officers.

A passionate advocate of prison education, Michelle has taught courses at San Quentin through the Prison University Project, the only college-degree granting program at a state prison in California, and Oakdale Prison, as part of the Liberal Arts Beyond Bars program at the University of Iowa.

Michelle has also clerked for the Honorable John T. Noonan at the Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit. Among the troubling cases that she worked on was U.S. v. Preston, in which the police coerced a confession from an 18 year old with severe disabilities who lived on a Native American reservation.

Michelle has written for publications including The New York Times, LA Review of Books, Lithub, The Point, and Public Books.

At the American University of Paris, Michelle works closely with students on issues relating to diversity, social justice, and nonfiction writing. She won the 2016 Board of Trustees Award for Distinguished Teaching.


2019      Winner of Ann Arbor District Library’s Washtenaw Reads, community initiative to promote reading and civic dialogue.

2018     Dayton Literary Peace Prize, runner-up in Nonfiction Writing.

2018     “Most Supportive Professor,” given by Student Government Association of the American University of Paris to a faculty member.

2018    Community reads program, Yale Prison Education Initiative. Chosen as a common reading at a college prison education program at Yale.

2018    One Community, One Book, University of Iowa Center of Human Rights. Chosen as common reading in the Liberal Arts Beyond Bars program, which brings together college students and incarcerated students in a liberal arts course at the Oakdale Prison.

2017     Shortlisted for the Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice.

2017     Shortlisted for the Reading Women Nonfiction Book Prize.

2016     Board of Trustees Distinguished Teaching Award. Given to one faculty member at American University of Paris in recognition of excellence in teaching.

2009     Skadden Fellowshp. Awarded nationally to 28 law school graduates or clerks to support a two-year fellowship in direct legal services for low-income clients.

2009     Derek Bok Center Teaching Award for excellence at Harvard College.

2008    Outstanding Clinical Student. Awarded nationally by the Clinical Legal Education Association for outstanding work in a clinical program at Harvard Law School. 

2008    Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow for New Americans. Awarded nationally to 30 graduate students distinguished in leadership and creativity.

2005   Susan Lehmann Teaching Award, Finalist in Mississippi Delta.

2003  Harvard-Knox Fellowship. Awarded for post-graduate study at the University of Cambridge.

2002  Harry S. Truman Scholar. Awarded nationally for leadership, public service, and academic achievement.

2002 Mills Taylor Prize, best essay in Social Studies at Harvard College; Jane C. Grant Prize, best essay in Gender Studies.


JD (June 2009), Harvard Law School

MA (2004), Development Studies, University of Cambridge, Harvard-Knox Fellow

BA (2003), Social Studies and Gender Studies, Harvard College, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa





Reading with Patrick (Random House 2017)



"How to Disobey Your Tiger Parents, in 14 Easy Steps," in New York Times (14 April 2018)

"How Recording My Audiobook Brought Me Closer to My Immigrant Mother" for Literary Hub (10 July 2017)

On literacy, excerpted in The American Scholar (12 September 2017)

“The Free Write,” excerpted in Arkansas Life (12 September 2017)

"There's a Reason Demagogues Despise Books” for Signature Reads (11 July 2017)

"Writers Recommend”in Poets & Writers (12 July 2017)

"Connecting Through Literature," in RHI Magazine (15 March 2017)

“Letter from Paris.” Co-written with Albert Wu for the Los Angeles Review of Books (21 November, 2015). 

“Those Who Leave.” Co-written with Albert Wu. Review Essay of Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, in The Point Magazine (31 March, 2015). 

“I Dare Not: The Muted Style of Writer in Exile Ha Jin.” Co-written Albert Wu. Review Essay of Ha Jin, A Map of Betrayal, in Los Angeles Review of Books (11 January, 2015). 

 “‘Take the Good Life and Be Happy’: On The Americans.” Co-written with Albert Wu. Los Angeles Review of Books (24 April, 2014).

  “Animal Feelings.” Co-written with Albert Wu. Review essay of Barbara J. King, How Animals Grieve, in Public Books (9 September, 2013):

 “Scientology: The Mystery Sandwich.” Co-written with Albert Wu. Review essay of Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology,Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief; Hugh Urban, The Church of Scientology: The History of a New Religion; and Jenna Miscavige Hill, Beyond Belief : My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, in the Los Angeles Review of Books (12 May, 2013).

“Imperfect Strollers: Teju Cole, Ben Lerner, W. G. Sebald, and the Alienated Cosmopolitan.” Co-written with Albert Wu. Review essay of Teju Cole, Open City, Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, and W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, in the Los Angeles Review of Books (2 February, 2013).

 “In Hell, 'We Shall Be Free': On Breaking Bad and Paradise Lost.” Co-written with Albert Wu. Review of the television series Breaking Bad, in the Los Angeles Review of Books (13 July, 2012).

“Marilynne Robinson and the Miraculous Privilege of Existence.” Co-written with Albert Wu. Review of Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books, in the Los Angeles Review of Books (22 May, 2012).

Conferences & Lectures


2019    (upcoming) Invited speaker, National Undergraduate Literature Conference, Weber State University, 28 March.

2019    Washtenaw Reads, Ann Arbor, 16 January. Selected as community reads book at the Ann Arbor District Library.

2018     One Community, One Book, public lecture, University of Iowa Center of Human Rights, 4 November.

2018   Invited speaker, University of Iowa College of Education, 31 October.

2018    “Justice and the Humanities,” Coe College, 30 October 2018

2018     “On What We Owe Each Other in a World of Inequality,” St. Mary’s College, 29 October.

2018     On incarceration and education, in conversation with Professor James Forman, Jr. Yale Prison Education Initiative and Asian American Cultural Center, 28 October.

2018     On Reading with Patrick, in conversation with Professor Samuel Moyn. Yale Law School, 27 October.

2018     Invited speaker on incarceration, in conversation with Professor Elizabeth Hinton and the Honorable Leslie Harris. “Dream Big: Justice Now,” Cambridge Public Library, 23 October. 

2018    “Report from the Border: The Crisis that Trump’s Family Separation Order Created.” With Albert Wu. American University of Paris, 4 October.

2018     “教育在社會公義之路上的能與不能,” “What Education Can and Cannot Do for Social Justice,” Center for Teaching and Learning Development of National Taiwan University, 1 October.

2018    Invited speaker, TedX Taipei. 30, September.

2018    “Three Scenes of Friction in a Classroom.” Oregon State University, keynote speaker for University Day,  11 September.

2018    On refugees and storytelling, in conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen. 20th Anniversary Celebration of Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship, 16 June.

2018    “Education, Inequality, and Race,” in conversation with Dale Russakoff. Maplewood-South Orange Literary Book Festival, 8 June.

2018    “Writing About Race and Inequality in a Time of Wokeness,” Brooklyn Historical Society, 28 June. 

2018    On literacy and pedagogy. Invited panelist, Arkansas Literary Festival, 28 April. 

2018      “Asian American Narratives and Social Justice in America.” Invited panelist, Asian American Pacific Law Students Conference, 2 February.

2017     Book talk, on Reading with Patrick, Eslite, Taipei, Taiwan, 15 Dec. 

2017    On Prison Education and the Humanities. Cambridge Public Library, 20 July.

2017    “The Words to Say It: Teaching, Writing, and Incarceration.” Invited panelist, conversation with Richard Price, Edyson Julio, Claire Messud at Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, 25 October.

2017     “Incarceration, the Rural South, and the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.” Harvard Law School, Criminal Justice Policy Program, 25 October.

2017     “Teaching Literacy, Telling Stories.” Harvard Education School, 23 October.

2017     “Writing and Inequality.” University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Multicultural Center, 25 September.

2017     “Storytelling in the Arkansas Delta.” Clinton School of Public Service, Little Rock 26 September.

2014     Invited panelist, Harvard Literary Festival, Harvard College, 29 April.