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Garland, Hamlin  

Jen Hirt

A prolific author whose early writings established him as a promising realist in American literature, Hannibal Hamlin Garland, who went by his middle name, was born on a farm in West Salem, Wisconsin, on September 4, 1860. His family moved around the Middle Border, now known as the Midwest, before settling in Mitchell County, Iowa, in 1876. By 1882, Garland was living in Illinois, but after just two years, he relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, where in 1885, he was hired at the Boston School of Oratory. This move would define the rest of his lifelong struggle, both to identify as a Midwestern writer and to hold that identity at a distance. While he had some publishing exposure prior to 1889, that year was when he began publishing in earnest. He would go on to publish over fifty books, the last of which appeared in 1939. Most notable was his Pulitzer Prize in biography for A Daughter of the Middle Border, a 1921 book that was second in a series of family histories. The award-winning book took a hard and realistic look at Garland’s family life. Some of his later work went on to serve as a call for reform toward the treatment of Native Americans and the riparian land of the Midwest and West. However, he framed the call to action within formulaic romances and thus suffered criticism for abandoning his talents in literary realism. More recently, scholars have argued that Garland’s shifting between genres should be not be criticized; they argue he was only doing what any talented writer seeking an income in the early 20th-century publishing market would do. A 2008 memoir by his daughter, Isabel Garland Lord, also stands in support of Garland’s artistic decisions, which earned him financial stability and a steady circuit of lectures and publishing. He never returned to the Midwest, and lived out his final years in Los Angeles, California, where he was drawn to Hollywood. There, he maintained strong relationships with influential writers at home and abroad, earning him the informal title of The Dean of American Letters. His final writing projects departed even further from literary realism; he delved into the paranormal, such as the purported power of buried objects. This attempt at making a name for himself in the realm of the paranormal did not pay off (even 21st-century scholars do not make much of these later books), and for many years he remained in the shadow of more eminent American writers. He can be credited, however, as a prolific writer and lecturer who succeeded in three areas—validating American realism at a time when the fad was to romanticize the rural life, showcasing the Midwest as a place of profound struggle and beauty, and documenting the American way of life as seen by a conscientious critic. He died in Hollywood of a cerebral hemorrhage on March 4, 1940, at the age of 79. He was buried with his parents in Neshonoc Cemetery in his hometown of West Salem, Wisconsin.

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Literary Perspectives on Asian Americans in the Midwest  

Thomas Xavier Sarmiento

Literature that features Asian Americans in the Midwest simultaneously functions as an archive that documents the existence and experiences of people of Asian descent in the heartland and as a provocation to reimagine the relationship between race, place, and (trans)national belonging. Although Asian people have been immigrating to the middle of the country since the late 19th century, the Midwest continues to figure as a hinterland where Asian people do not reside and have no desire to visit. Thus, fictional, semi-fictional, and autobiographical accounts of the region from the perspective of Asian Americans, spanning at least eight decades, help debunk the impression that Asian Americans are practically nonexistent in the Midwest, or that Midwestern Asian Americans do not have an authentic sense of racial-ethnic identity. These novels, short stories, memoirs, and plays not only engage the strangeness of being of Asian descent in America’s heartland, but also they explore imaginative ideas of affinity and place: what it means to dream of elsewheres or to rework the realities of “here” from the lens of so-called nowheres. Some of these texts depict the history of Asian migration to and refugee resettlement in the US interior, gesturing toward alternative genealogies of movement and displacement. Others create new worlds that fuse food (e.g., pop and tea, hotdish and chicken afritada), language, and other transcultural practices. Midwestern Asian American literature encompasses stories by and about East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian peoples whose lives intersect with gender, sexuality, class, and ableness. Literature about Asian Americans in the Midwest often communicates a sense of racial isolation: the loneliness and abjection Asian Americans feel in being the only Asian person or one of a handful of persons treading in a sea of whiteness. However, it also can provoke readers to reimagine the Midwest as Asian, female empowering, and queer. Whereas dominant cultural attitudes often associate the region as devoid of people, opportunities, and racial, gender, and sexual diversity, Midwestern Asian American literature represents the heartland as abundant, with counter-narratives that encompass emotional attachments to place, social interactions different from those on the coasts, and Asian American characters who inhabit areas that are often seen as incompatible with, if not hostile to, cultural difference. The range of stories indicates more broadly that there is no unified Asian Midwest or Asian American experience. Rather, the literature of Asian Americans in the Midwest calls attention to the significance of space and place in conceptualizing racial formations as diverse and dynamic.