David S. Reynolds
The richest period in American literary history, the American Renaissance (1830–1865) produced Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson. A distinction is traditionally made between the so-called light or optimistic authors (Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman) and the dark or gloomy ones (Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville), with Emily Dickinson, occupying a middle ground, shifting between the light and the dark. Optimistic themes included nature’s miraculous beauty, spiritual truths behind the physical world, the primacy of the poetic imagination, and the potential divinity of each individual. Pessimistic ones included haunted minds, perverse or criminal impulses, doubt, and ambiguity. Americans probed these themes with special intensity largely because of the nation’s Puritan heritage. Calvinist preachers from John Cotton through Jonathan Edwards had devoted their lives to probing ultimate questions about death, God, and human nature. When this metaphysical impulse collided with 19th-century skepticism and secularism, the result was literature that ranged from the exhilarating to the disquieting, from Emerson’s affirmations to the ambiguities of Hawthorne and Melville. The American authors were strongly influenced by foreign literature, from the ancients to the Romantics. This transnational influence mingled with the styles and idioms of an emerging popular culture that was distinctively American, divided between conventional, sentimental-domestic writings and sensational or grotesquely humorous ones. Integrating themes and images from this variegated popular culture, the major authors also projected in their works the paradoxes of a nation that promoted both individualism and union, that touted freedom but tolerated chattel slavery, that preached equality but witnessed widening class divisions and the oppression of women, blacks, and Native Americans. These oppressed groups produced a literary corpus of their own that was once neglected but that has assumed a significant place in the American canon.
Born in the lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa (1942–2004) was a prolific writer, scholar, and activist. Her corpus of work includes essays, books, edited volumes, children’s literature, and fiction/autohistorias. Anzaldúa’s life and writing are at the forefront of critical theory as it interacts with feminism, Latinx literature, spirituality, spiritual activism, queer theory, and expansive ideas of queerness and articulations of alternative, non-Western epistemologies and ontologies. The geographical proximity to the US–Mexican border figures prominently throughout in her work, as does her theorization of metaphorical borderlands and liminal spaces. Her oft-cited text Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza is included in many university courses’ reading lists for its contributions to discourses of hybridity, linguistics, intersectionality, and women of color feminism, among others. Anzaldúa began work on her more well-known theories prior to the publication of Borderlands/La Frontera and continued to develop these theories in her post-Borderlands/La Frontera writing, both published and unpublished. After her sudden death due to complications of diabetes in 2004, Anzaldúa’s literary estate was housed in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas, Austin in 2005.
Apostrophe is a rhetorical figure that is most commonly found (and thought of) in lyric poetry. It also occurs in other literary and cultural forms—memoir, prose fiction, song, theater, and cinema.
Derived from the Greek prefix “apo” (away from) and “strophe” (turn or twist), the word “apostrophe” is often confused with a punctuation mark, a single inverted comma used in English to denote a possessive (as in “ the Queen’s English” or “the cat’s whiskers”). In this context, an apostrophe stands in for something absent. Anglo-Saxon, a heavily inflected language and the basis for modern English, had a genitive case where nouns used in a possessive way tended to end in “es” (“cyninges” was the Anglo-Saxon for “King’s”). This more common sense of the word “apostrophe” denotes, therefore, a punctuation mark that stands in for an elided letter “e” or vowel sound.
In the context of rhetoric and poetry “apostrophe” has come to denote what occurs when a writer or speaker addresses a person or entity who is dead, absent, or inanimate to start with. The figure is described by Cicero and Quintillian. The former described it as a “figure that expresses grief or indignation.” Quintillian emphasized its capacity to be “wonderfully stirring” for an audience. For both rhetoricians, apostrophe was something that occurred in a public context, usually a debate or trial, and was part of the arsenal of political rhetoric. Apostrophe has therefore a double valence beyond the common understanding as a punctuation mark that stands in for a missing possessive “e.” It denotes what occurs when a speaker turns from addressing her audience to addressing another figure or entity, one who may or may not be present, alive, or even animate. And it has also come to denote that very process of addressing the absent, the dead, and the inanimate.
The figure occurs in medieval rhetoric and poetry, in Shakespeare’s poetry and plays, and has come to be identified with lyric poetry itself, especially through the work and legacy of the literary theorist Paul de Man. For him, a poem describing a set of circumstances has less claim to the status of lyric poetry than a poem apostrophizing aspects of those circumstances. In part as a result of de Man’s influence, apostrophe has come to be connected with different forms of complicated affect—most notably grief, embarrassment, and any number of ways in which human life can be seen or experienced as vulnerable, open to question, or imbued with potential. It has also been used to explore complicated legal and ethical terrains where the boundary between the living and the dead, the present and the absent, the animate and the inanimate can be difficult to draw or ascertain. Two areas of contemporary criticism and thought for which the employment of the figure is most resonant are therefore eco-criticism and “thing theory” (most notably the work of Jane Bennett). The possibilities of apostrophe continue to be regularly employed in political rhetoric, song, poetry, theater, fiction, and cinema.
Clint J. Terrell
Jimmy Santiago Baca is a poet, memoirist, novelist, essayist, filmmaker, and activist who began his literary career in Florence State Prison, Arizona, where he was incarcerated from 1974 to 1979. Baca spent most of his adolescent years between orphanages, stints of homelessness, and time in juvenile detention facilities. He credits learning to read and write in prison as the galvanization of his journey from illiteracy to worldly poet, and his endorsement of literacy as an avenue for individual and community empowerment echoes the black nationalist political thought of Malcolm X. In addition to an overarching theme of literacy, he also maintains a critical awareness to the politics of land ownership. He is of Chicano and Apache descent and often draws on his Indigenous heritage, as well as his prison experience, to critique the colonial settler ideology that associates private property with personal liberty. He is among the gallery of canonized Chicano pinto (prisoner) poets like Ricardo Sánchez and Raúl Salinas who discovered their talents while incarcerated. His poetry and prose are in harmony with prisoner discourse that indicts the state for economic injustices and contextualizes crimes as economic necessity instead of demonizing the individual. Similar to Sánchez and Salinas, Baca’s poetic voice can be both figural and visceral in the same breath. But distinct from these pinto poets, Baca’s poetic introduces a proliferation of personas that go back and forth between a poet who wants to love and make peace and a pugnacious identity that was nurtured by the violence of life in various state institutions, particularly prison. He has published eighteen books that include poetry, memoir, fiction, creative non-fiction, essay collections, and chapbooks. He is an active writer and frequently has additional publications in various stages of production, showing us that the negotiation of his traumatic past is never fully complete. Indeed, he continues to push his boundaries as a writer and challenges any preconceived notions about the literary limits of a prison cultivated intellectual.
The 19th century featured two opposed yet interconnected historical trends: the growth of a multigenerational and deeply rooted Chinese American community; and the development of the cultural prejudices and fears comprised by the Yellow Peril narrative. Those xenophobic fears produced violence, social and political movements, and legal exclusions, culminating in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and its many follow-up laws and policies, all designed as much to destroy the existing Chinese American community as to restrict future immigration. But out of that period of exclusion and oppression came some of the first Chinese American literary and cultural works published in both Mandarin/Cantonese and English: the personal and collective poems carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station by detainees; auto-ethnographic memoirs of Chinese American life and community such as Yung Wing’s My Life in China and America (1909); and the journalistic, autobiographical, and fictional works of Edith Maude Eaton/Sui Sin Far, the first Chinese American professional creative writer. These works both reflect and transcend the realities of the Exclusion era, helping contemporary audiences understand those histories, connect them to later Chinese American writers, and analyze the exclusionary debates and proposals of the early 21st century.
Olga L. Herrera
Sandra Cisneros is one of the best-known and most influential Chicana authors in American literature. Beginning with her first chapbook publication in 1980, the poetry collection Bad Boys, Cisneros has written and published fiction, poetry, and essays with a distinct Chicana feminist consciousness. Drawing on her experience as an only daughter in a large Mexican American family, Cisneros challenges patriarchal hierarchies in Latino/a culture in her work, as well as those grounded in race, class, and gender in US culture more generally. As part of a larger Chicana feminist intellectual critique of gender roles within Latino/a culture, Cisneros’s fiction and poetry examine the social roles for women in marriage and motherhood and identify the archetypal figures of the Virgin of Guadalupe, La Malinche, and La Llorona as sources of oppression within discourse and practice. Innovative in form and language, her work explores the influence of these figures on the lives of women and imagines new, more liberating possibilities in the recuperation of their agency, self-determination, and independence. Cisneros joins this revisionary work with one of her primary thematic concerns, the Chicana writer’s need to break with cultural expectations in order to establish herself and develop her talents. Her innovations in genre and language, such as the hybrid poetic prose used in The House on Mango Street, demonstrate formally the results of a Chicana feminist resistance to class-inflected literary conventions. From the publication of The House on Mango Street (1984) through the poetry collections My Wicked Wicked Ways (1987) and Loose Woman (1994) and the short story collection Woman Hollering Creek (1991), to the publication of Caramelo or Puro Cuento (2002) and her book of essays, A Home of My Own (2014), Cisneros explores with depth and compassion the struggles of Latina women to break down patriarchal conventions and create for themselves a space for self-expression and creativity.
In 1898, U.S. imperialism spread beyond the continent’s borders and took possession of Puerto Rico during the Spanish–American War. This began the repeated waves of migration from the island to the mainland. In New York City (the main destination, along with Chicago), Puerto Ricans settled in East Harlem and the South Bronx, while the Lower East Side became the immigrant neighborhood par excellence. Adaptation strategies, common to previous immigrant communities, ensued, especially regarding the urban context and the reinvention of spaces. During the 1960s, authors such as Piri Thomas or Pedro Juan Soto began to narrate this complex experience, always in an unsteady balance between Puerto Rico and the United States. This first phase of literary output culminated the following decade (a period of deep economic and social crisis) in the so-called Nuyorican Experience, where “nuyorican” stands for “New York Puerto Rican”—a neologism that sums up the community's condition of “divided self” and defines the social and cultural horizon of a new generation of artists. In their works, poet-performer Pedro Pietri and writer Nicholasa Mohr expressed their peculiar view and sense of the city, both surreal and realistic, ironic and passionate.
Theresa Delgadillo and Leila Vieira
Latinx literature in the Midwest encompasses work created by authors from a variety of backgrounds, with authors of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban descent predominating in literature that takes locations throughout the region as its settings. Although much work focuses on Chicago, the multiple Latinidades of the region appear in fiction and poetry from across the region. Regarding genre, most of this literature falls into the categories of novel, short story, and poetry; however, works such as prose poems, novels in verse, heavily footnoted fiction, or metaliterary texts challenge genre boundaries and reveal Latinx literary innovation. This literature emerges from the history and experience of Latinx migration to the region, which dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, and, not surprisingly, that history often figures in the literature. Spanish-language Latinx literature about the Midwest also exists, and like its English-language counterpart, often addresses transnational experiences. Major publishers have made the work of Latinx authors in the Midwest well-known, yet there are also vibrant cultures of small press, community, and collective publishing, and self-publishing, through which Latinx authors have shared their talents with wider audiences in and beyond the region.
Some of the themes addressed by Latinx literature in the Midwest are migration, with characters coming both from other regions of the United States and directly from Latin America; labor, mostly industrial and agricultural work, but also involving characters in the service sector and professionals; belonging and the question of what and where home is and how to create this space in the Midwest; environment and gentrification; transnationalism, often evoking different ethnic backgrounds from the present; family relationships; gender and sexuality, focusing on what it means to be Latinx and part of the LGBTQ community and situations of discrimination with families and workplaces; race, including Afro-Latinx characters; and religion and spirituality, looking not only to Catholicism, but also to Judaism and African diaspora–inspired systems of Orisha worship.
From the colonial period through to the present day, the U.S. South has been seen as aberrant or at least different, as separate from, the rest of the nation. Often thought of as backward and strange, the South has also been figured as the nation’s Other, home to anything that the United States disavows: racism, sexism, religious fundamentalism, poverty, and so on. While a debate rages in the field of southern studies about what and where the South exactly is—even whether the South should be spoken of as a solid geography—contemporary literature from the region continues to present the multiple meanings of place today. Indeed, in the 21st century particularly, southern literature is expanding and diversifying more than ever. Identifiable are three dominant trends in contemporary literature from the South. First, and perhaps most dominant, is the narrative of racial memory; this work explores the impacts and legacies of race relations in the region, from slavery and Native American removal through to Jim Crow and beyond. Second is the narrative of the southern environment; these narratives are stories that contemplate and focus on the region’s diverse landscapes, from mountainous Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta to the swampy Gulf. They are also narratives that engage with the dramatic effects of climate change and ecological disaster, highly pertinent in the contemporary era of the Anthropocene. Third, are narratives of an (un)changing South; this writing reflexively and critically explores the meaning of the region in a time of globalization and migration. When the population of the South—which has always been a diverse one—is changing in both dramatic and incremental ways, the stories and narratives of the region are clearly adapting too. Southern literature continues to ask complex questions about what the South means in today’s United States.
Ricardo L. Ortiz
Cuba’s historical relationship with the United States predates both countries’ emergence into full political sovereignty and consists of forms of political, economic, and cultural interaction and exchange that have intimately bound the two societies since well before the 19th century. The United States spent the 1800s emerging as an independent nation and increasingly as a regional power in the western hemisphere. Populations from smaller neighboring societies were emerging from colonial rule and often sought protection in the United States from colonial oppression, even as they saw the United States’ own imperial ambitions as a looming threat. Cuban-American literature therefore can trace its roots to a collection of key figures who sought refuge in the United States in the 19th century, but it did not flourish until well into the 20th when geopolitical conditions following World War II and extending into the Cold War era made the United States a natural destination for a significant population of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution. Most arrived first as refugees, then as exiles, and finally as immigrants settling into homes and making families and lives in their new country. This population has also produced a robust literary culture all its own with deep ties and important contributions to the greater US literary tradition. Cuban-American literary production has proliferated into the 21st century, exploring complex themes beyond national and cultural identity, including gender, sexuality, race, class, and ideology.
Lars Boje Mortensen
Medieval European literature is both broader and deeper in its basis than what is usually offered in literary histories with their focus only on a narrow canon and on vernacular languages. One way to see this bigger canvas is to consider technical and statistical book-historical factors together with the authority of the two Roman Empires (Western and Eastern) and of their religious hierarchies (the papacy and the patriarchate). A coordinated reading of developments in the Latin West and the Greek East—though rarely directly related—brings out some main features of intellectual and literary life in most of Europe. With this focus, a literary chronology emerges—as a supplement to existing narratives based on either national or formal (genre) concerns: the period c. 600 to c. 1450 can be considered a unity in book-historical terms, namely the era dominated the hand-written codex. It is also delimited by the fate of the Roman Empire with the Latin West effectively separated from the Greek Empire by c. 600 and the end of Constantinople in 1453. Within this broad framework, three distinctive phases of book- and intellectual history can be discerned: the exegetical (c. 600–c. 1050), the experimental (c. 1050–c. 1300), and the critical (c. 1300–c. 1450). These three headings should be understood as a shorthand for what was new in each phase, not as a general characteristic, especially because exegesis in various forms continued to lie at the heart of reading and writing books in all relevant languages.
Edward Halsey Foster
Queer theory, a subject of much controversy among academics and literary critics in recent decades, raises crucial questions regarding the reception and creation of literary texts. Advocates of queer theory claim that both heterosexuality and homosexuality are socially constructed and that there is nothing “natural” about any sexual identity. Literary works traditionally seen as expressions of their authors' feeling or presence, as is the case with lyric poems, must now be reconceived as political discourse. The individual and his or her writings are no longer considered to be “essentially” gay or straight but instead are components in a broad political discourse. Queer theory is by no means universally accepted—its critics include such well-known scholars as Rictor Norton (b. 1945) and the best-selling author Camille Paglia (b. 1947)—but the vast majority of academic literary studies of gay writers follow its dictates.
Rita Indiana Hernández (b. June 11, 1977, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) is a Dominican writer, musician, and performer. In addition to her popularity as a singer-songwriter, she is widely regarded as one of the most important Dominican authors of her generation. Her literary career began in the 1990s with short works included in zines such as Vetas. By 2001, she had self-published three books: two collections of short stories—Rumiantes (1998) and Ciencia succión (2001)—and one novella, La estrategia de Chochueca (2000). A second novel, Papi, followed in 2005. About that time, she began experimenting with musical and visual projects as part of different performance groups, such as Casifull and Miti Miti. In 2009, she was the youngest Dominican author to be honored in the Santo Domingo Book Fair, where she was also booked as a musical performer. Her popularity as a musician grew even more after the 2010 release of the album El juidero, recorded with her band Rita Indiana y los Misterios. She subsequently published two more novels, Nombres y animales (2013) and La mucama de Omicunlé (2015). Scholarly interest in her writing and her music has centered on the way they give voice to contemporary subjectivities and put forth imaginaries of citizenship, social relationships, and belonging that depart from institutionalized discourses of identity. Rita Indiana has stated on various occasions that she sees her literary projects and her musical projects as intertwined endeavors. This is evident not just in the thematic unity between them but also in the aesthetic strategies she uses. In her work, she references mass media, Dominican popular cultural production, and global youth cultures to highlight the interplay between the local and the global in the postmodern Caribbean. Rita Indiana also explores issues pertaining to the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, and migratory status. Since approximately the middle of the 2000s, Rita Indiana’s work has been embraced increasingly by critics. She was also named one of the one hundred most influential Latino/a personalities by the Spanish newspaper El País.
Daniel Y. Kim
Since the late 1990s, a growing number of US authors has been drawn to the Korean War, hoping to undo its status as “The Forgotten War.” The fact that it has served as the focus of novels by eminent Korean American authors like Chang-rae Lee and Susan Choi is not entirely surprising, given that they are the children of immigrants whose early lives had been shaped by the conflict. Given the extraordinarily high number of civilian deaths that resulted from the war and the many families that were fractured, the war is clearly a defining event that helped create a Korean diaspora. It has also become the focus, however, of novels by non-Korean American authors, including Toni Morrison, Rolando Hinojosa, and Ha Jin, which testifies to the fact that it was an event in which a number of domestic histories of race and transnational histories of empire converged. The body of literary works that have emerged around this event can be thought of as constituting an archive of what Michael Rothberg has termed “multidirectional memory,” one that suggests the intimacies of multiple histories involving not only Koreans and Korean Americans, but also other US racialized groups including African, Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese Americans as well as their connections to the complicated formations of empire that have shaped the relationships between Asian nations. Contending with the complexity and range of literary works that have centered on this event enables a reconsideration and expansion of what the proper subjects and objects of Asian American literary criticism are. If the field has outgrown its origins, in which the projection of a cultural nationalist vision of Asian American identity was a paramount goal, the vibrancy of these works stems from their soundings of a subject that is not univocal but multivocal. The political desires they seek to animate in their readers are not reducible to an agenda of combating domestic racism or consolidating a nativist notion of Asian American cultural identity, though they may contribute to such endeavors. More expansively, however, they articulate a multivalent range of progressive political aspirations and proliferate an array of identificatory possibilities.
Rita E. Urquijo-Ruiz
Chicana lesbian literary critics and authors Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Catrióna Rueda Esquibel established that Chicana and Latina lesbian and queer writings trace back to the conquest of the Americas, be it through the Chicana lesbian feminists’ rewriting of La Malinche (Malintzin Tenepal) or by the reimagining of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Juana Inés Ramírez de Asbaje) as a lesbian. Nevertheless, contemporary Latina lesbian literature in the United States has concentrated primarily on the writings by and about Latina queer women since the early 1980s. These queer Latina letters highlight the impact that women like Sor Juana and Malinche had on the reconfigurations of Latina queer and ethnic identities. To ascertain their empowerment, these Latina writers and artists drew from their personal histories and creativity as activists and survivors in patriarchal and heteronormative societies while maintaining their ethnic, cultural, sexual, and political connections across states, countries, and continents as third world feminists of color. In particular, much of the field of Chicana and Latina feminisms, which emphasize the intersections of race/ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality, begins in 1981 with the publication of the foundational text This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. Similarly, in 1987, with the publication of Compañeras: Latina Lesbians, Juanita Ramos initiated the transnational connections between lesbians of Latin American descent living in the United States. Carla Trujillo, influenced by Compañeras and Bridge, published Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About in 1991, offering the first collection of writings and visual art by Chicana queers. Ever pushing the boundaries, the anthologies by Lourdes Torres and Inmaculada Pertusa’s Tortilleras: Hispanic and U.S. Latina Lesbian Expression (2003) and the forthcoming Jota (2020), edited by T. Jackie Cuevas, Anel Flores, Candance López, and Rita E. Urquijo-Ruiz, express assertive titles as both offer unapologetic reclamations of controversial labels for queer Latina/Latinx identities through literary criticism, creative writings, and art. These four anthologies present much of the work by authors and performance artists who have published or will publish their individual monographs, novels, texts, graphic novels, short story collections, and plays. In 2015, the journal Sinister Wisdom dedicated an entire issue to “Out Latina Lesbians” that convened over fifty writers and visual artists in the United States. Given their liminality within their respective milieus (primarily, but not exclusively) as women, gender non-conforming individuals, queers, often from working class backgrounds, and with an ethnic or cultural connection to indigeneity, Chicana and Latina lesbians and queers established their own literary and artistic canons. Their rebellious acts have challenged Eurocentric and heteronormative spaces, as individuals and collectives often assume multiple roles as teachers, writers, artists, literary critics, editors, and, in some instances, owners of their own presses.
Ricardo L. Ortiz
Latinx literature’s historical interest in the cultural, social, and political dynamics of gender plays as central a role in its long and varied discursive tradition as any other major thematic concern. Since the 19th century, representations of life in Latinx communities inhabiting what increasingly became the territory of the United States put the forces and conflicts of culturally based gender differences center stage, whether those differences came from within a culture, whose values shifted when it moved to a new geographic setting, or from without, when a culture confronted the differing values of an often dominant, oppressive other. Latinx literature is too vast and varied to accommodate a comprehensive account of these shifts and currents. But one can see a steady move away from the rigid binary logic of gender difference inherited from the traditional cis-hetero-patriarchal mindset of colonial Spanish-Catholic rule, a mindset that, historically, overwhelmed whatever more fluid or ambiguous formations of gender and sexuality circulated through indigenous American societies. That steady move cannot be traced in a single line or direction, but it does clearly demonstrate a greater opening of the possibility of dislodging gendered styles of expression from the particular anatomical manifestations of sexed bodies, as well as a greater opening of the possibility for mixed lines of attraction and desire between, within, and even beyond genders. While much liberatory work remains to be done in the actual world, Latinx literature has increasingly opened itself up to more inclusive, affirmative representations of nonnormative lives under the signs of sexuality and gender.
Frederick Luis Aldama
Discussions and debates in and around the formation of Mexican American letters, including its periodization and formulations of its unique ontology, are reviewed, and discussions and analysis of key literary phenomena that have shaped in time (history) and space (region) Mexican American and Chicana/o letters are presented. Foundational scholars such as María Herrera-Sobek, Luis Leal, José Limón, and Juan Bruce-Novoa are considered along with scholar-creators such as Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga. A wide variety of Mexican American and Chicana/o authors of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are reviewed, including Alurista, María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Marío Suárez, Arturo Islas, Richard Rodriguez, and Ana Castillo, among many others.
Jennifer Ann Ho
Asian American literature was born from two mixed race Eurasian sisters, Edith Maude Eaton and Winnifred Eaton, who wrote in the early 20th century under the pen names Sui Sin Far and Onoto Watanna, respectively. Edith spent her career chronicling, in fiction and non-fiction, the lives of Chinese in North America, and recounted her own multiracial experiences in the autobiographical “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian,” while Winnifred is best known for her popular fiction about the exotica of Japan, novels and stories that include several mixed race protagonists. More than thirty years later, Kathleen Tamagawa penned a mixed race memoir, Holy Prayers in a Horse’s Ear, describing the difficulties of living as a biracial Japanese-white woman trying to assimilate into the white mainstream of US society.
The number of mixed race Asian American authors rose in the mid- to late 20th century due to an increase in mixed race marriages and Asian immigration. The turn of the 21st century saw prominent multiracial Asian American authors writing about Asian American lives, mixed race Asian American authors choosing not to write about multiracial Asian American characters, and monoracial Asian American writers who populate their fiction with multiracial Asian American characters. Among these authors, Ruth Ozeki stands out as someone who has consistently focused her attention on multiracial Asian American characters, illustrating the richness of their mixed race experiences even as her fictional storyworlds shine a light on the environmental issues in a globalized world.
Frances R. Aparicio
Given Puerto Rico’s long colonial history, Puerto Ricans both on the island and in the diaspora have had to grapple with contested notions of nationhood. Having been described as a “divided nation” and a “commuter nation” due to the geographical divides between the island population and those who have migrated to cities in the United States, Puerto Ricans have deployed literature to forge and re-imagine a space for belonging and community informed by the experiences of living in between the island and New York, in between Spanish and English, and in between racial notions of skin color, social class, and gender and sexualities. Challenging and unsettling the foundational discourses of national identity on the island, “Diasporican” literature proposes alternative imaginaries that resist power inequalities. This essay argues that Diasporican literature has come into its own, contributing new understandings of the fissures of Puerto Rican national, ethnic, and cultural identities.
Puerto Rican writers in the United States have textualized their experiences of migration and transnationalism through their poetry as well as fiction, memoirs, and autobiographical narratives. They have contested traditional notions of home and have explored the failures and limitations of a sense of belonging. Rejecting both the island of Puerto Rico as the geographical site for Puerto Rican authenticity and the dominant urban imaginaries of New York City that have long excluded their working-poor communities, Puerto Rican writers in the United States have represented el barrio as an urban space that offers them a sense of community despite the mainstream notions of hyper-masculinity, violence, and illegal practices. Afro-Boricua and Diasporican writers have also reflected on the fissures of racial belonging, as their dark skin color is not always integrated into dominant notions of the Puerto Rican and U.S. national imaginaries. Their deployment, in poetry, of English, Spanish, and “Spanglish” speaks mostly to the centrality of orality and sounds in the formation of nationhood, while challenging the homology of Puerto Rican nationality to Spanish. Exploration of the ways in which female, feminist, and queer Diasporican writers grapple with issues of belonging, gender, and sexuality foregrounds how these categories of identity continue to go against the grain of traditional masculine narratives of nationhood. It is essential to acknowledge the geographic dispersion of Diasporican voices away from New York and the transcultural alliances and global identities that are being produced in Morocco, Hawaii, and other far regions of the world. A short discussion of Lin Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” focuses on an example of staging a return home to New York, in a performance that celebrates community, family, and the neighborhood for second- and third-generation Puerto Ricans among other Latino and Latina groups. The multiple and complicated ways in which Diasporican literary voices, from poetry to theater to fiction, textualize notions of home, belonging, and community are examined within the larger frameworks of nationhood and ethnicity.
Alan M. Wald
At the start of the last century a modern tradition of literary radicalism crystallized with inspiring results. From 1900 onward, socialists and bohemians yoked their ideals to become a marathon of forward-thinking activist cultural workers. For the next three decades, writers and intellectuals of the Left, such as Max Eastman (1883–1969), were oracles of enchantment in a world increasingly disenchanted, initially by the international war of 1914–1919 and subsequently by a decline in popular political defiance as capitalism consolidated. Still, the adversarial dream persevered during the violence and later, often in little magazines such as the Masses, Liberator, Seven Arts, and Modern Quarterly. Since the 1920s, literary radicalism meant creativity in the service of an insurrection against political power combined with a makeover in human relationships.
With the economic catastrophe of 1929 and the triumph of Nazism in 1933, what might have been a generational succession morphed into a paradigm shift. This previously self-governing literary radicalism was now multifariously entangled with Soviet communism during its most awful hour. An unofficial state of emergency escalated so that a range of journals—this time, New Masses, Modern Monthly, and Partisan Review—once more served as barometers of the depth and breadth of radical opinion. Bit by bit, a strange new ethos enveloped the literary Left, one that blended heroism, sacrifice, and artistic triumph with fifteen years of purge trials in the Soviet Union, mortifying policy shifts in the international Communist movement, and relentless domestic repression against the organized Left in the United States. By the end of this phase, in the reactionary post–World War II years, most adherents of communism (not just the pre-dominant pro-Soviet Communism, but the other varieties of communism such as Trotskyism and Bukharinism) desperately fled their Depression-era affiliations. The upshot was a blurring of the record. This occurred in ways that may have seemed clever for autobiographical concealment (by one-time literary radicals who feared exposure or embarrassment at youthful excesses) but became maddening for future scholars wishing to parse the writers’ former convictions.
As literary radicalism passed through the Cold War, 1960s radicalization, the late 20th-century culture wars, and into the new millennium, the tradition was routinely reframed so that it faces us today as a giant puzzle. New research and scholarship emerge every year to provide insights into a very complicated body of writing, but there is a fretful ambivalence about its actual location and weight in literary history. Not surprisingly, most overall scholarly histories, chronicles, and anthologies do not include the category of literary radicalism as a well-defined, principal topic. This is because enthusiasts of the last twenty-five years brilliantly championed the tradition less under the rubric of “literary radicalism” than as the fertile soil for a blooming of gender-conscious, multicultural, and polycentric legacies connected to the Left but primarily rendered as eruptions of American literary modernity onto the world stage. These revisionist images came to us in discrete volumes about black writers, women writers, regional writers, children’s writers, Jewish writers, and so forth. Nonetheless, such celebratory portraits remained in competition with a dark double, a notion that nearly all literary radicals were wanting in artistic value. This skeptical appraisal was entrenched in an older scholarship, a point of view that is partly an aftereffect of the long shadow that the Communist imbroglio cast on its entire legacy.