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Defining and Exploring Asian American Speculative Fiction  

Stephen Hong Sohn

Asian American speculative fiction is an admittedly unwieldy literary category. This body of literature includes such diverse works as Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager, and S.P. Somtow’s Darker Angels. Central to analyzing such works is identifying their key genre conventions, which primarily involve reality-defying elements or tropes employed in fictional worlds. Chu’s Time Salvager, for instance, envisions a future temporality in which individuals can use time travel technologies. Three generic figures common in Asian American speculative fiction—the ghost, the vampire, and the cyborg, respectively—are depicted in Lan Samantha Chang’s Hunger, Julie Kagawa’s The Immortal Rules, and Ken Liu’s “The Regular.” Crucial to understanding Asian American speculative fiction is the need to scrutinize the manner by which the protagonists of these fictions attain incredible power through supernatural abilities. The influence these characters hold also comes with the burden of responsibility, leaving them to wrestle with ambivalence and moral choices to protect or to harm, to recognize or to dismiss. In this sense, Asian American speculative fiction can be fruitfully analyzed through the social justice paradigms that have long dominated critical and scholarly conversations.


Delillo, Don  

Joseph Dewey

There is something coolly inaccessible about the fiction—and the person—of Don DeLillo. By any measure—productivity, longevity, influence, scope—a dominant novelist of his era, DeLillo nevertheless resists the expectations of celebrity: public appearances, promotional Web sites, prestigious university appointments, conference readings, talk-show blitzes; even his interviews can be dense and forbidding. In an era of tell-all glamour, what little DeLillo, born on 20 November 1936, has offered of his autobiography rarely figures in his fiction—his Italian immigrant family; his love of the street life of his native Bronx; his fascination with the ritual theater of his Catholicism; his indifference toward his own formal education (he “slept through” high school and “didn't study much of anything” while earning a 1958 communication arts degree from Fordham); his initial experience of serious literature—Faulkner and then gloriously Joyce—while, at age eighteen, killing time as a summer playground attendant; his five-year stint as copywriter for the Manhattan advertising firm of Ogilvie and Mather; his 1964 decision to quit, not to write (although he had published two stories) but rather to abandon work he found unfulfilling; his long struggle to write his first novel, which would not be published until his mid-thirties. Since then he has maintained a spectacularly low-key lifestyle. Since his marriage in 1975 to designer Barbara Bennett, DeLillo has lived in the suburbs of New York City and traveled some, but mostly he has written, a dozen novels as well as a scattering of essays, stories, and experimental plays.


Miranda, Francisco de  

Joselyn M. Almeida

Francisco de Miranda (1750–1816), known as El Precursor (the Precursor) in Latin America, belongs in the canon of Latino Literature as a contrapuntal figure to the better-known and frequently anthologized Álvar Nuñez, Cabeza de Vaca, and as a critical Hispanic voice amidst better-known European travelers such as Alexis de Tocqueville. Miranda’s journey can be considered within the context of his dramatic transatlantic life and the broader historiography. In the Viaje por los Estados Unidos, 1783–1784, translated as The New Democracy in America: Travels of Francisco de Miranda in the United States, 1783–1784, Miranda articulates a hemispheric consciousness that anticipates the impact of Latino immigration in the American story, turning it into a North–South narrative, as well recent developments in American studies. At the same time, he opens a space for sovereignty in Latin America. Through his experiences in the United States, Miranda confronts the limits of a democracy predicated on exclusionary categories of race, gender, and class. Finally, Miranda can be considered an early exponent of Romanticism in the Hispanophone world in his engagement with the historical sublime and his construction of an autobiographical subject who is conscious of being a historical agent.


de Tocqueville, Alexis  

Kathryn W. Kemp

The two-volume work Democracy in America (1835, 1840) grew out of a nine-month trip to the United States early in the career of a distinguished French statesman and writer, Alexis de Tocqueville. Convinced that democracy in some form would soon replace the old authoritarian systems of administration, he saw the United States as a case study of this new form of government. He wrote for a French audience, which he hoped would draw useful lessons from his observations of Jacksonian America. Tocqueville's book has become a standard resource for students of American history and government and has inspired many other works, including a documentary television series.


D., H.  

Mark Richardson

The poet known to readers as H.D. is a kind of constellation that has not yet really been brought into focus. There is the H.D. of imagism, the short-lived movement of the mid-1910s that cast a long shadow over American poetry; this H.D. is chiefly a poet of craft and technique. There is the H.D. who belongs to the history of women's writing, and in whom feminist literary scholars have taken an interest quite distinct from the interest that attaches to her imagist phase. There is the H.D. whom contemporary literary critics—in particular, the “queer theorists”—might regard as a kind of pioneer in the struggle against hetero-normative sexuality. There is H.D., the author of experimental fictions in the high modernist mode. There is H.D., the disciple and analysand of, and also commentator on, Sigmund Freud. There is, too, an H.D. who properly belongs to the history of film: she edited the influential journal of film criticism in which Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein's famous essays on montage first appeared; she wrote essays on film theory; and she acted alongside Paul Robeson in an experimental silent film, Borderlands (1930). And there is H.D., author of an unprecedented kind of epic poem, Helen in Egypt (1961), into which passed her imagist sense of concision and craft, her lifelong fascination with the classical world, and her many experiments with narrative. She is the sort of writer often described as a “poet's poet,” which is to say—among other things—a poet with relatively few readers. And yet her place in the history of twentieth-century American literature has never been in doubt, nor is it ever likely to be.


Díaz, Junot  

Yomaira C. Figueroa

Junot Díaz is a Dominican American award-winning fiction writer and essayist. For over twenty years his work has helped to map and remap Latinx, Caribbean, and American literary and cultural studies. Since his collection of short stories, Drown, debuted in 1996, Díaz has become a leading literary figure in Latinx, Afro-Latinx, and diaspora studies. His voice is critically linked to the legacy of Latinx Caribbean literary poetics reaching back to the 1960s (including Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets, 1967). Díaz’s work is likewise transnational and diasporic, often reflecting the lived experiences of working-class immigrant populations of color in northeastern urban centers. Within a broader scope, Díaz’s writing is tied to feminist African American and Chicana literary traditions, with Díaz citing the influence of writers such as Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros in his writing practice. His 2007 award-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in fiction and catapulted him into literary superstardom. Díaz followed that success with his 2012 collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her, which was a finalist for both the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2013 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. In 2012, Díaz was conferred the MacArthur Fellows Program Award, commonly known as the MacArthur “Genius Grant,” and in 2017, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2019, he was the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the fiction editor at the renowned literary magazine the Boston Review. Over the course of his professional writing career, Díaz has published numerous nonfiction essays and political commentaries, and coauthored opinion editorials on immigration and reflections on Caribbean and US politics. His short story “Monstro,” published in 2012, further rooted Díaz in the genres of science fiction and Afrofuturism. “Monstro” was understood to be a teaser for a now discarded novel of the same name. The simultaneous publication of the English-language Islandborn and Spanish-language Lola in 2018 represented the author’s first foray into the genre of children’s literature. Like much of Díaz’s literary oeuvre, the children’s books chronicle the experiences and memories of Afro-Dominicans in the diaspora through the perspective of a child narrator. Díaz is one of the founders of Voices of Our Nation (VONA), a summer creative writing workshop for writers of color where he helps aspiring writers to workshop their fiction. Díaz’s fiction and nonfiction writings have catalyzed work in literary, Latinx, and Afro-Latinx studies, prompting renewed discourses on literary representations of masculinity, gender, sexuality, intimacy, sexual violence, dictatorship, immigration, disability, Dominican history, race and anti-blackness, anti-Haitianism, decolonization and radical politics, and diaspora and belonging.


Dickey, James  

Henry Hart

James Dickey liked to conceive of his life as a series of cyclical journeys in which he departed from the securities and prohibitions of home, struggled through trials in order to penetrate to a source of power, and then returned home to deliver the fruits of his quest to others. The main catalyst for this conception was his journey to the Philippines and Japan during World War II. He once observed: “I remember almost every day that I was in the war, and I think almost everything that I've done is influenced, at least to some degree, either directly or indirectly, most probably directly, by the fact that I was in the war” (Hart, p. 65). Before his service in the Army Air Corps, Dickey had been a mediocre student whose main interests were dating southern girls, running the high hurdles on the track team, and playing football. The war shook him out of his intellectual torpor, dispelled many of the traditional values he had acquired from his affluent parents in Atlanta, and convinced him to pursue the vocation of a writer. When he returned to the United States from the Pacific, he transferred from Clemson Agriculture and Military College, where he had been an engineering cadet for a semester, and enrolled in Vanderbilt University, a center of the Southern Literary Renaissance, where he soon earned a reputation as the best poet and one of the best literature students on campus. The metamorphosis caused by the war became the seed narrative in most of Dickey's major works.


Dickinson, Emily  

Molly McQuade

A clear sign of literary malady: The experienced reader begins to take Emily Dickinson for granted, failing to feel the insoluble, salutary shock of her poetry. And the cure for this malady: try paraphrasing any poem by Dickinson. If you do, you'll quickly learn that you will probably never be able to satisfactorily summarize—or maybe even fully understand—Dickinson's recondite, elated originality. The writing will faithfully resist any effort to possess it completely; her poetry belongs to Dickinson only. Marvelously, though, many readers have been able to borrow it, admire it, and glean wisdom from the lapidary brio of the author. Although writing in literary seclusion in western Massachusetts during the mid to late nineteenth century, Dickinson invented a poetry both unprecedented in form and long-lasting in impact. She wrote as if to bid farewell to the Victorians and to urge on the modernists.


Didion, Joan  

Joy Arbor

Joan Didion is an accomplished writer of essays, political journalism, and novels. A distinctive literary voice, she is known for her subjective yet unsentimental essays, her harrowing novels, and her astute political criticism.


Dillard, Annie  

Ian Bickford

Among the most distinctive forms of American writing is the meditative essay, as initiated by the nineteenth-century authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Annie Dillard is a more recent practitioner of this tradition. Often relying on the natural world as a backdrop for her philosophical discourse, Dillard explodes the minutiae of science and environment into broad, spiritual speculation. Dillard was born on 30 April 1945, the eldest of three daughters in a well-off Pittsburgh family. By her own account, her parents were hilarious individualists, as engrossed with the details of life as Dillard would become. They taught her the value of a good joke and the importance of self-reliance. Her father introduced her to On the Road by Jack Kerouac, whose autobiographical style greatly informed Dillard's later methods of writing. Despite their maverick personalities, Dillard's parents were of an affluent, country-club set that disturbed Dillard in her teens. She began to rebel, at one point abandoning her Presbyterian roots and thus beginning a lifelong inquiry into the diversity and relevance of theology.


Disability Studies and Asian American Literature  

Kristina Chew

Twenty-first-century understandings of how disability figures in Asian American literature and the representation of Asian American individuals have greatly evolved. Earlier, highly pejorative characterizations associated with the 19th-century “Oriental” or “yellow peril” as a carrier of disease whose body needed to be quarantined and excluded. Later, the model minority myth typecast Asian Americans as having extreme intellectual abilities to the point of freakishness. Disability studies asserts that having an “imperfect” disabled body is nothing to hide and questions beliefs in norms of behavior and experience. Focusing on disability in Asian American literature opens a new path to reflect on Asian American identity and experience in ways that break away from the racial types and narrative trajectories of immigrant success that have often been seen as defining what it is to be Asian American. Integrating a disability studies perspective into Asian American studies provides a compelling and necessary means of critiquing stereotypes such as the model minority myth, as well as to reread many classic texts of Asian American literature with attentiveness to difference, impairment, and loss.


The Discursive and Material Construction of Latina Sexuality  

Bernadine Marie Hernández

Since the early 21st century, there has been an emergence of scholarship and theorizing of Latina sexualities within the social sciences, humanities, and interdisciplinary programs, such as Chicanx studies, Latinx studies, American studies, and feminist studies. However, cultural production has long been interrogating the way that Latina sexuality has been represented, as well as pathologized and racialized. While there is a plethora of information regarding sexuality of women in Latin America, this article deals with the discursive and material construction of Latina sexuality for US Latinas and Chicanas who were born in the United States or migrated to the United States. At the foundation, sexuality and sexuality studies has been a subcategory of LGBT studies and later queer theory. Mainly used as a signifier for identity categories, sexuality is predicated on sexual preference and romantic desires; however, it is also used to refer to identities that exceed heteronormative, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual identities. However, Latina sexuality intersects with not only race but also modes of power and control that situate it within a larger context of technologies of power. Sexuality is tied to larger power structures; therefore, Latina sexuality takes sex and sexuality out of the private sphere to help us understand the intersectional relations of race, gender, and class. Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga brought together feminists of color to explore sexuality, gender, and class in their foundational collection This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color (1981) and Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987) in the context of interlocking and co-constitutive systems of oppression. Inspired by this collection of women of color writing, tatiana de la tierra, a Latina lesbian born in Colombia, published the first international Latina lesbian magazine: Esto no tiene nombre. It was distributed in the United States and Latin American and explored excessive Latina sexuality by theorizing eroticism; the magazine challenged the “Latina lesbian” stereotype. The Sexuality of Latinas (1993), edited by Norma Alarcón, Ana Castillo, and Cherríe Moraga, looks at the self-examination of five hundred years of hidden sexuality and sexual violence. In “Sexuality and Discourse: Notes From a Chicana Survivor” in Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About (1991), Emma Pérez takes sexuality as the marker of many of the problems Chicanas face. The racism and sexism Chicanas face is not the only problem, however: the racism Chicanos face adds layers of struggle to an already hostile situation. She utilizes a “conquest triangle” that builds off the Oedipus complex but adds that in addition to the white father (the colonizer) and the India mother who is imbricated in the violence of miscegenation, there is a castrated mestizo Chicano son who will never be able to be as superior as the white man. In 1987, Juanita Diaz-Coto edited and published one of the first edited collections through the Latina Lesbian History Project on Latina sexuality titled Compañeras: Latina Lesbians: An Anthology, which she published under her pseudonym Juanita Ramos. This collection featured oral histories, essays, poetry, short stories, and art by and about Latina lesbians in both Spanish and English, featuring the work of forty-seven women born in ten different Latin American countries that addressed Latina sexuality and lesbianism and also confronted the ways that culture and migration informed the enunciation of sexuality for Latinas. The foundational and early writings of Latina and Chicana feminists laid the groundwork for our ability to contemplate and discuss Latina sexuality as racialized, gendered, transnational, and diasporic sexualities. It also sets the stage to think historically about Latinas and their bodies in relations to cultural representation, borders and migration, the family, reproductive health, and transness.


Doctorow, E. L.  

Patrick A. Smith

E. L. Doctorow was born on 6 January 1931 in the Bronx, New York, the second child of David and Rose Doctorow. His parents, both second-generation Russian-Jewish immigrants, and his grandfather, who had settled in New York City from Russia, instilled in him a passion for books, intellectual curiosity, and an appreciation for history—no doubt punctuated by his having lived through the worst years of the Great Depression—that would influence him in his career as a writer.


Dominican Ethnic Identities, National Borders, and Literature  

Lorgia García Peña

The formation of Dominican identity has been linked to the historical nexus that placed Dominicans in relationship to Haiti, Spain, and the United States. The foundational literature of the 19th century sought to shape national identity as emerging from racial hybridity through notions of mestizaje that obscured Dominican African roots. In the early to mid-20th century, at the hands of the Trujillo intelligentsia, these myths shaped legal, educational, and military structures, leading to violence and disenfranchisement. Since the death of Trujillo in 1961, Dominican writers, artists, and scholars have been articulating other ways of being Dominican that include Afro-Dominican episteme and accounts for the experiences of colonialisms, bordering, and diasporic movements. These articulations of dominicanidad have led to a vibrant, exciting, and incredibly diverse literary production at home and abroad.


Dos Passos, John  

Robert M. Dowling

John Roderigo Dos Passos was a major twentieth-century American novelist and self-styled “chronicler” of the American scene. He is best known for his contributions to the literary avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s, most notably Three Soldiers (1921), Manhattan Transfer (1925), and the U.S.A. trilogy—The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). The most influential American reviewers of the early to mid-twentieth century, Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, and Granville Hicks, all welcomed Dos Passos as a foremost contributor to the modern American tradition. Dos Passos combined the artistic practices of literary naturalism and modernism and, significantly, foresaw many of the literary agendas that dominated postmodern writing in the late twentieth century. Just before the eruption of World War II, Dos Passos effected a notorious shift in his political views from radical to reactionary and subsequently alienated many friends and critics on the Left. By the 1950s—a period in which literary stature depended largely on the extent to which an author challenged, rather than affirmed, the conservative establishment—Dos Passos had fallen so low in the eyes of the literary elite that James T. Farrell ironically remarked, “Dos Passos's liberalism has so decayed that his lifetime of work is not as important as two short stories and a wooden novel by Lionel Trilling.” Trilling's single novel, The Middle of the Journey (1947), is no longer widely read, and Dos Passos's work is—but definitely not his lifetime's worth.


Douglass, Frederick  

Mark Richardson

Any writer attempting an overview of Frederick Douglass's life and work confronts an embarrassment of riches: Douglass himself undertook the task not once but three times—in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself (1881), a volume itself reprinted with additional material in 1892. Each book is rewarding in its own right, each sums up a distinct phase in Douglass's long and astonishingly productive career, and together they give us an indispensable record of the nineteenth century: of the abolition movement; the meteoric rise of the Republican Party; the Civil War, Reconstruction; and beginning in the mid-1870s, the bitter forfeiture of the great emancipating enterprise that the better angels of our nature (as Lincoln might have said) have always held in view.


Dreiser, Theodore  

Jerome Loving

By most accounts, Theodore Dreiser is considered a modern American writer, which is to say that philosophically and thematically his work belongs to the twentieth century instead of the nineteenth. As a result he is often compared to such writers as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Indeed, Fitzgerald's most famous work, The Great Gatsby, and Dreiser's most famous work, An American Tragedy, were both published in 1925. Both novels are set in the Roaring Twenties and concern the baneful influence of American materialism. Yet while the set for Fitzgerald's novel includes flappers and bootleg whiskey, Dreiser's work reaches back to the second half of the nineteenth century for some of its cultural artifacts, which he mixes freely with those of the 1920s. Whereas Fitzgerald and Hemingway, as part of the Lost Generation of Americans in Paris during the 1920s, responded to the heady materialism in America, Dreiser was equally concerned about the American malaise as it had existed in the 1880s and 1890s, during the era of the robber barons, whose American fortunes often relied on the exploitation of immigrants such as Dreiser's German-born father.


Bois, W. E. B. Du  

Mark Richardson

Half-way between Maine and Florida, in the heart of the Alleghenies,” wrote W. E. B. Du Bois in John Brown (1909), the year before he helped found the NAACP, “a mighty gateway lifts its head and discloses a scene which, a century and a quarter ago, Thomas Jefferson said was ‘worthy a voyage across the Atlantic.’ ” Whereupon he continues citing Jefferson's words from Notes on the State of Virginia (1785):


Dunbar, Paul Laurence  

David L. Dudley

Paul Laurence Dunbar, born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872, became the first African American to make his living solely as a writer. When he died of tuberculosis in 1906, he was perhaps the most famous and best-loved black man in America. During a short but prolific career, Dunbar composed about five hundred poems, one hundred short stories, four novels, many essays, and song lyrics. His public performances of his own works were wildly popular, and generations of African Americans were raised knowing, often by heart, his best-loved poems. In 1896, William Dean Howells, dean of American literary critics, hailed Dunbar’s work, but singled out the dialect poems for special praise. The public preferred them, too. For the decade that remained to him, Dunbar continued to write dialect poems, some of which seem to reinforce negative stereotypes of African Americans, and others that appear to romanticize the “good old days” of the antebellum South. On the other hand, Dunbar produced essays and poetry critical of America and the severe limits and indignities imposed on African Americans. Why would such a writer produce works so contradictory? This has been the crux of Dunbar studies almost from the time of his death. His critical reception reveals much about the taste and political views of subsequent generations of his readers and critics, who would do well to remember the enormous challenges facing Dunbar and all African American artists who strove to find their voices and make a living during those post-Reconstruction years, the “nadir” of the black experience in America.


Early African American Print Culture  

Eric Gardner

Not until the end of the 20th century did scholars begin to look at early African American print culture in the depth it deserves. A story painfully intertwined with the transatlantic slave system and racism, early black print engagement combined, from its beginnings, responses to white aggression and a powerful set of individual and communal desires to read about, record, and, via print, share truths of black life in the United States. Some of the first creators of black print in the United States, from the authors of the earliest slave narratives to poet Phillis Wheatley, had to think through questions of individual and communal identity vis-à-vis emerging American socio-political structures and find ways to ensure control over their own voices in a white-dominated culture that tried to exclude, use, or abuse those voices. But early black print culture is not simply the story of a single genre like the slave narrative or of exceptional individuals like Wheatley. Rather, it is also the story of organizational print tied to churches, conventions, and activist groups. It is as well the story of a diverse range of modes, from the rich pamphleteering tradition (perhaps most excitingly expressed by David Walker) to early black periodicals like those edited by Samuel Cornish and Philip Bell. Especially after 1830, it also became the story of a range of black women (from Maria Stewart and Jarena Lee to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper), of African Americans across the North (and occasionally in the midst of the slave South), and of an increasing number of formats, genres, and approaches. And it became a story of how black activists might interact (in print and beyond) with white antislavery activists, recognizing both shared and different goals and philosophies as they attempted to fight not only for emancipation but for broader civil rights.