Monday, February 14, 2011

[The 500 Project] Beginning readings in Asian American literature?

Our quest continues with the 500 Project to help the Kartika Review find 10 people in each state who are excited and passionate about Asian American and Pacific Islander literature. I'm happy to say we've been getting some great and amazing responses so far. We're hoping to be done by May, now.

One recurring question I've gotten is what are some good books to start with.

For much of the last few decades we talked about Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club and Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior or Tripmaster Monkey, Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters. Occasionally you might run into mentions of Frank Chin's Donald Duk or Year of the Dragon, or Shawn Wong's American Knees and Homebase. Good stuff, certainly, but what else have we got?

I'm going to suggest some anthologies that will give newer readers a good variety to examine.

The oldest of the anthologies is Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers, considered one of the first really classic anthologies of Asian American/Pacific Islander writers, as is its follow-up The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature edited by Shawn Wong, Jeffery Paul Chan, Frank Chin, and Lawson Fusao Inada. Naturally, the writing style reflects much of the literary tendencies of the 60s and 70s and there's good and bad to be said for that.

Jessica Hagedorn also edited a classic anthology, Charlie Chan Is Dead, and a second anthology, Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World. Hagedorn offers a very diverse range of voices in her anthology including many more writing in a more modern and contemporary style.

If you're interested in Southeast Asian American writers, I would look at Tilting the Continent: Southeast Asian American Writing, edited by Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Cheng Lok Chua. My largest critique would be the absence of Lao American writers, and it organizes the writers by some very standard themes. It's hard to find, these days.

Vickie Nam edited a spunky anthology, Yell-Oh Girls: Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American. Working with such young writers, the quality can be up and down between pieces, but I like the energy.

Victoria Chang's Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation brings readers nicely up to speed with some of the current bright lights among Asian American poets, but I should point out it's not the definitive who's who among Asian American poets either.

Over the years, I find myself still recommending the late Amy Ling's controversial Yellow Light: The Flowering of Asian American Arts because it features 38 interviews and examples of Asian American writers who responded to a questionnaire she'd sent out, and the best of these give some great insights into each of these writers journeys and their thinking at the time, and I think the structure makes it easy for people to quickly find new writers to examine.

If you have additional recommendations, let me know!


Barbara Jane Reyes said...

Good list. My suggestions:

Walter Lew edited Premonitions, which is my preferred Asian Am poetry anthology. But I am wary of the politics of anthology, and recommend single authored collections as fine placdes to "start": Frances Chung's Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple; Haunani Kay Trask's Night is a Shark Skin Drum; Faye Myenne Ng's Bone (been a long time since I've read this); R. Zamora Linmark's Rolling the R's; Al Robles's Rapping with Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark; Catalina Cariaga's Cultural Evidence; Hisaye Yamamoto's Seventeen Syllables (she just very recently passed away); of course Carlos Bulosan's America is in the Heart; MH Kingston's China Men.

Bryan Thao Worra said...

Agreed. I was always disappointed that Faye Myenne Ng has only put out Bone to date, but that's definitely a classic. I also like David Wong Louie's Pangs of Love, a short story collection that had some really good, funny stories. Ed Lin's Waylaid is a good one, but I feel like you can skip the movie adaptation with a clean conscience. The same goes for the adaptation of American Knees, which made Charlotte Sometimes seem like a Michael Bay spectacle.

Barbara Jane Reyes said...

More to come on my website.

Also, why is the Yellow Light book controversial?

Bryan Thao Worra said...

As I recall, there were probably two main criticisms for Yellow Light, including some people who just hate the idea of APIA literature articulating itself as a body in the first place.

But I've run into other critics who felt her 'formulaic' model of the questionnaire didn't really allow for follow-up questions more directly tied to individual authors works, and questions didn't necessarily challenge or probe statements different authors made. Basically, responses were taken at face-value, without additional context. I found them interesting points to consider, but I still recommend Yellow Light, if you can find it.

funnydoggy said...

faye myenne ng published "steer toward rock" in 2008, but i haven't checked it out yet. . .

Bryan Thao Worra said...

I'll have to check that out, then. :)