An acclaimed author who recently has written a book about the Original Siamese Twins will speak in Mount Airy this week.
Dr. Joseph Orser plans to present research highlights from “The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam’s Twins in Nineteenth-Century America” Friday at 1 p.m. at the Historic Earle Theatre at 142 N. Main St. downtown.
The presentation, hosted by the Surry Arts Council, is free and open to the public.
It is a preliminary event for the annual reunion of Eng and Chang Bunker descendants, now in its 26th year, which will be held this weekend.
After the author’s presentation at the Earle, another free program is scheduled there beginning at 3 p.m., featuring a panel of descendants including Jim Haynes and Woody Haynes. The panel will share stories that have been passed down in the Bunker family along with original documents and photos.
Author of “a first”
Orser’s book was published in November 2014 by The University of North Carolina Press at Chapel Hill. His research is extensive and includes many sources that were previously untapped, according to Surry Arts Council Executive Director Tanya Jones.
“I think this is a first,” Jones said Monday of the book, speaking not only from the vantage point of the SAC sponsoring the author’s appearance, but as a great-great granddaughter of Eng Bunker.
“He has a unique perspective,” Jones said of Orser, who is a professor of history and a lecturer in the English department at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.
Although many accounts of the Siamese Twins’ lives have been written, including biographies, novels and plays, Orser found a largely unexplored angle for his work.
Jones explained that he was interested in Thailand, where the twins were born, as well as 19th-century culture and the role of Asians in that. Orser’s mother is Thai, and he spent part of his young adulthood studying, teaching and working in Thailand.
“And it all intersected,” she said of those various aspects.
The book’s focus on Eng and Chang Bunker was a logical step due to their pioneering roles in the United States as both Asians and Buddhists. “They were associated with a lot of firsts,’ said Jones, including their presence as conjoined twins.
Orser explored their lives in the context of the U.S. in the 1800s as a way to examine American’s perceptions about and treatment of Asian-Americans at that time.
Jones said information in the book, along with relying on sources that were unknown or had never been used previously, is meticulously documented. “Which is refreshing.”
The book began as Orser’s doctoral dissertation at Ohio State University. Since then, it has received international attention, including being the subject of articles in the New York Post and Britain’s Daily Mail.
Copies of “The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam’s Twins in Nineteenth-Century America” are on sale in the Andy Griffith Museum store and Orser is expected have some on hand at Friday’s presentation.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.