Karen Tongson

Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies, English and American Studies and Ethnicity
Karen Tongson
Pronouns She / Her / Hers Email tongson@usc.edu Office THH 416 Office Phone (213) 740-2808

Research & Practice Areas

Queer & Gender Studies; Minority Discourse; Popular Culture (Pop Music, TV, Entertainment & Media Cultures); Suburban Studies; Performance; Los Angeles & the Southern California Region; Food & Taste Cultures; Contemporary Literature; 19th-Century British Literature; Theory; Aesthetics


Karen Tongson is Professor of gender & sexuality studies, English and American studies & ethnicity, and chair of the Department of Gender & Sexuality Studies. She is the 2019 recipient of the Lambda Literary Jeanne Córdova Award for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction, and the author of  Normporn: Queer Viewers and the TV that Soothes Us (2023), Why Karen Carpenter Matters (2019; Lambda Literary Award nominee in LGBTQ Nonfiction; Pitchfork’s Best Music Books of 2019, The Believer Book Award, longlist, 2020), Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries (2011). She is also co-editor of the award-winning book series, Postmillennial Pop with Henry Jenkins at NYU Press, editor-at-large at air/light, and on several editorial boards for scholarly journals. Her writing and cultural commentary have appeared in Slate, NPR, The Criterion Collection, The Los Angeles Review of Books, PBS NewsHour, The Los Angeles Times, KCRW’s Good Food, BuzzFeed Reader, The Washington Post, The AV Club, Entertainment Weekly and Süddeutsche Zeitung, among other venues. She is the founder and director of the Mellon-funded Consortium for Gender, Sexuality, Race & Public Culture at USC Dornsife. Tongson also cohosts and co-produces the podcast Waiting to X-Hale with Wynter Mitchell-Rohrbaugh, which co-curated the LA Philharmonic’s 2022 GenX Festival.  She seved as President of the Association for Studies of the Arts of the Present in 2022, and co-organized the ASAP/13 conference in Los Angeles at UCLA that same year. In 2023, Tongson held a Hunt-Simes Chair in Sexuality Studies at the University of Sydney. 

Before coming to USC, Tongson received her Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley in 2003. She held a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship in Literature at UC San Diego (2003-2005), and a UC Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI) Postdoctoral Fellowship at UC Irvine (2004).

Tongson has also held invited visiting positions at NYU Tisch (in Performance Studies, 2010), Universität Bielefeld (Linguistik und Literaturwissenschaft, 2014), and the University of Sydney (Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Center, 2023). 


  • Ph.D. English, University of California, Berkeley, 2003
  • B.A. English, University of California, Los Angeles, 1995
    • Postdoctoral Fellow, Queer Locations Working Group, University of California Humanities Research Institute (UC Irvine), 01/01/2004-07/01/2004
    • President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Literature (UCSD), University of California , 06/01/2003-05/30/2005
  • Visiting and Temporary Appointments

    • International Visiting Professor of Queer Studies, Linguistik und Litteraturwissenschaft, Universität Bielefeld, 07/01/2014-08/01/2014
    • Visting Professor of Performance Studies, New York University, Tisch School of the Arts,
  • Book

    • Tongson, K. (2019). Why Karen Carpenter Matters. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
    • Tongson, K., See, S. E., Gonzalves, T., Linmark, R. Z. (2013). Migrant Musicians: Filipino Entertainers and the Work of Music Making (limited edition). Durham, NC: Horse and Buggy Press.
    • Tongson, K. (2011). Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries. New York, NY: New York University Press.
  • Media, Alumni, and Community Relations

    • Board of Directors, Project Q (a non-profit organization that provides safe space for LGBTQIA+ youth), 01/15/2021 –
  • Conferences Organized

    • Co-Chair, ASAP/13 – Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present Conference, Los Angeles, CA, Fall 2022
    • Chair/Organizer, PopCon at the Museum of Popular Culture, Seattle, WA, 2019-2020
    • Site Resources (Host) Committee , ASA: American Studies Association, Los Angeles, CA, Fall 2014
    • Co-Chair, Planning Committee, EMPL.A.: Popular Music Conference, Los Angeles, CA, 2012-2013
    • Co-Organizer (with Daphne Carr, Sarah Dougher and Ann Powers), Work It!: A Conference on Gender, Race and Sexuality in Pop Music Professions, University of Southern California, Spring 2011
    • Organizer, A Freestyle Symposium, University of Southern California, Fall 2006

    Editorships and Editorial Boards

    • Advisory Board, PLL: Papers on Language and Literature, 2015 –
    • Editorial Board, The Journal of Asia-Pacific Popular Culture, 2015 –
    • Advisory Board, Sounding Out!: The Sound Studies Blog, 10/01/2013 –
    • Book Series Editor, Postmillennial Pop, NYU Press, 09/01/2010 –
    • Associate Editor, Journal of Popular Music Studies, 2013 – 2019
    • Events Editor, American Quarterly, 09/01/2010 – 05/01/2014
    • Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Popular Music Studies (JPMS), 07/01/2010 – 07/01/2013

    Professional Offices

    • President, Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (ASAP), 2021-2022
    • Vice-President, Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (ASAP), 2020-2021
    • Delegate, Gays and Lesbians in the Profession, Modern Language Association (Delegate Assembly), 01/01/2010 – 01/06/2013
    • Co-Chair, APAC (Asian Pacific American Caucus), Society for Cinema and Media Studies, 07/01/2009 – 07/01/2011