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From Nationalist Movements to Transnational Solidarities: Comparative and Pan-Latina/o Literary Studies  

Marta Caminero-Santangelo

While literature by Latin American origin groups within the United States (e.g., Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican) has been treated as a single literary corpus—“Latina/o Literature” or “Hispanic Literature”—since the last decades of the 20th century, in practice, the commonalities among such texts were more comparative than panethnic in nature until significantly more recently. That is, while literature by different national-origin groups revealed some strong similarities in theme and form, the writing itself reflected the specific concerns, background, and history of the specific national-origin group, rather than giving evidence of intra-Latino group interaction or a developing sense of a shared intra-Latino culture. This article traces the commonalities among these bodies of literary production, including in the “pre-Latino” period, the 19th to mid-20th centuries, before there was even a commonly understood concept of “US Latino literature,” as well as during the Chicano and Nuyorican Movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It then turns to a discussion of developing representations of inter-group interactions and tensions, including in the more recent emergence of “Central American American” literary production. Particularly in the increasingly cosmopolitan urban centers of the United States, an evolving sense of intra-Latino solidarity and panethnic Latino “community” has come into view in the literature produced by Latinx writers of the later 20th and 21st centuries.

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Comparative African American and Asian American Literary Studies  

Julia H. Lee

Comparative African American and Asian American literary studies traces the diverse (if uneven) ways that African American and Asian American authors have explored the relationship between the two groups and delves into the histories and the politics behind these interracial representations. The literature ranges from the polemical to the fantastic, from the realist to the postmodern, and from the formally innovative to the generically conventional. While some may assume that the politics behind such representations are either coalitional or conflictual in nature, the literature is highly ecumenical, including narratives that engage in Orientalism and/or Negrophobia, Third World rhetoric, postcolonial critique, and political radicalism. African Americans have long been interested in Asia as a potential site for resistance to American racism and empire, while Asian American authors have looked to the experiences of black Americans to understand their own experiences of racism within the United States. Despite the fact that there is a long-established tradition of Afro-Asian literary representation, literary criticism has only taken up a sustained and in-depth study of this topic within the past two decades. Afro-Asian literary studies is part of a late-20th-century “comparative turn” within US-based race studies, which goes along with the increasing transnational/diasporic orientation of formerly nation- or area-based disciplines.

Article

Global China in 21st-Century Asian American Literature  

Sunny Xiang

Contemporary English-language prose and poetry writers, primarily of Chinese descent, are employing a range of stylistic strategies and exploring increasingly diverse themes in their representations of China and Chineseness. Through these representations, these contemporary writers build on, adapt, and contest a historically complex relation between “global” and “China” within an American imaginary. Twenty-first-century literary novelists and poets raise many questions about this relationship. These literatures of and about “Global China” both extend from and depart from, a “Chinese American” literary tradition. For instance, writers such as Jenny Zhang, Sharlene Teo, and Wang Weike are reworking long-standing narrative tropes such as intergenerational strife and transforming conventionally ethnic genres such as the autobiography. Contemporary literary works also take more heterogeneous approaches to referencing the United States and even “the West” more generally. And, unlike a prior tradition of Chinese American literature, these works open us to consider multiple kinds of China that far exceed the putative origin point of Mainland China (the most famous instance is Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, which features Singaporeans of Chinese descent). On the flip side, representations of “Global China” may lack representations of identifiably “Chinese” characters (for instance, Rachel Khong’s Goodbye Vitamin). In other cases, Chinese characters may be relegated to a role, or Chineseness may be insignificant to a story’s plot. New themes and topics are emerging, most notably adoption, biraciality, mental health, and return-to-Asian journeys. Finally, the literatures of Global China include robust outgrowths of genre literature, ranging from speculative fiction to detective fiction. Writers of genre fiction include Ovidia Yu and Ted Chiang.

Article

African American Children’s Literature  

Brigitte Fielder

African American children’s literature includes a broad array of writing for Black children in the United States. The genre necessarily crosscuts the “children’s literature” and “African American literature” genres. Although Black children have always read literature not intended for them, and scholars have rightly addressed the negative effects of racist depictions on Black child readers, definitions of this genre have most often prioritized writing for children written by African American authors. African American children’s literature is a broad and rich field, with a history originating as early as the 18th century; it includes Black writing addressing children and literature of the present, engaging forms from oral and folkloric traditions to printed books and ranging across a variety of literary genres. Emerging alongside the dominant prioritization of white children and white authors in mainstream publishing, writers of literature for Black children have worked against structural difficulties that continue to leave African American depictions and authors underrepresented in proportion to the country’s Black population. African American children’s literature has also necessarily contended with the preponderance of anti-Black racism in US popular culture, including in white children’s literature. Thus, African American children’s literature has often addressed issues of racial representation and racism in addition to (and often intertwined with) the wide variety of other topics included in this œuvre.

Article

Filipino American Literature  

Jeffrey Arellano Cabusao

The large body of Filipino American literature has helped to define and challenge the boundaries of the Asian American literary canon. Documenting various waves of Filipino migration to the United States as a result of US-Philippine colonial relations beginning at the turn of the 20th century, Filipino American literature includes genres such as autobiography, novels, short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction (letter writing and essays), and graphic literature. While Filipino American literature shares common themes with other forms of Asian American literature (exile, displacement, racist exclusion), it is distinguished by its inability to adhere to an immigrant-assimilationist paradigm. Filipino American literature provides insight into the experiences of Filipino colonial and neocolonial subjects who have migrated from the periphery to the center. The unique historical and geopolitical framework of US-Philippine relations recasts themes such as the search for identity and “home,” the seduction of assimilation, and postcolonial resistance to US orientalist discourse. At the heart of the Filipino American writer’s discovery that she is a part of, yet apart from, Asian America is the task of confronting her unique location as informed by the Filipino collective experience of racial/national subordination. For Filipino Americans, racism and US colonial/neocolonial control of the Philippines are inextricably intertwined. Filipino Americans, the second largest Asian American group in the United States and the largest Asian American group in the state of California, constitute a major segment of the Filipino diaspora which is over twelve million—a majority of whom labor as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). More than 5000 Filipinos depart the Philippines daily as a strategy for economic survival. US-Philippine neocolonial relations, together with the traumatic global dispersal of Filipinos, function as the political unconscious of contemporary forms of Filipino American literature. These works grapple with heterogeneity, difference, displacement, and diverse strategies of decolonization—from exploring the complexity of Filipino American identity (intersection of race, gender, sexuality, class) to articulating the yearning to belong. For contemporary writers, Filipino American identity and the concept of decolonization are contested terrains—both still in the process of becoming.

Article

Incarceration in Contemporary Asian American Literature and Culture  

A.J. Yumi Lee

Asian American immigrant communities have been shaped by encounters with state surveillance, policing, detention, and deportation, and contemporary Asian American literature reflects this history. Many foundational Asian American literary texts narrate experiences of policing and incarceration related to immigration, and contemporary Asian American literary works frequently comment and build on these stories. Such works also recall the creative tactics that immigrants have employed to protect each other and elude the state, including adopting or inventing different names, identities, and familial affiliations. Another body of Asian American literature addresses experiences of encampment linked to war, occupation, and militarism that have both preceded and followed Asian American immigration to the United States. In particular, the internment of Japanese Americans in the western United States and Canada during World War II gave rise to numerous creative works, including fiction, poetry, memoir, art, and film by internees and the generations that followed. Asian American literary texts about post–World War II US wars in Asia, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the Global War on Terror, depict transnational wartime carceral spaces such as prisoner-of-war camps and refugee camps as sites that have generated Asian diasporic migrations. Post-9/11 Asian American works have responded to the militarized policing and incarceration of Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians, both domestically and globally. Finally, contemporary narratives of Asian American incarceration in the United States frequently address the connections between the policing of immigrants and the larger prison industrial complex, asking readers to situate Asian Americans comparatively in relation to other vulnerable groups, particularly other communities of color who have been targeted for abuse and incarceration by police and the state historically and in the 21st century.

Article

The Reception of American Literature in Japan during the Occupation  

Hiromi Ochi

The reception of American literature in Japan was radically altered after the Second World War. Before the war, only a handful of works on American literature were published, and the status of American literature was secondary to that of British literature. Unlike in Germany, whose occupation at the end of the war was divided among the Allies, the military occupation of Japan was conducted unilaterally by the United States. Under the U.S. occupation, American literature was introduced as part of a cultural policy aimed at the reorientation and re-education of Japanese society under the umbrella concept of demilitarization and democratization of postwar Japan. Such cultural politics was the product of a 1930s U.S. State Department program carried out at first in South American countries and then through the Office of War Information in war-torn European countries. American literature was introduced through the program of the Culture, Information and Education (CIE) section of General Headquarters, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ/SCAP). In accordance with the transformation of the U.S. literary canon as the cultural Cold War regime developed, the book selections of the CIE changed from reflecting the multicultural, New Deal ideal (including books under the Federal Writers Project) to incorporating the modernist canon. American books were distributed to CIE libraries established in major cities in Japan, and in 1948, the CIE launched a new program to promote translations into Japanese. Beside the official distribution, there was also a trade in American books—including Armed Services Editions, which were not meant for sale—on the Japanese used book market. What was really pivotal for instituting American literary studies and its modernist canon were the summer seminars sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and held at the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University. The Rockefeller report submitted to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1951 was also instrumental in providing a blueprint for the continued cultural program after the peace treaty of 1951 and the end of military occupation the following year. The introduction of American literature and its newly reformed canon tuned for modernism occurred within the continuum of the political, the military, and the economic. As such, the cultural program was enmeshed with refashioning Japanese subjectivity, and in this sense, American literature and American studies were part of a general cultural politics that was intertwined with the ways of government.

Article

North American Documentary Poetry and Poetics  

Sarah Ehlers and Niki Herd

The terms documentary poetry and documentary poetics have been used to describe a diverse range of poetic projects that either make use of historical materials or narrate historical events. In the Anglophone context, the documentary poetry tradition emerged in the late 1920s and coalesced in the 1930s in conjunction with advancements in documentary film and the heightened cultural relevance of documentary photography. The term documentary was first used in an arts context by the Scottish filmmaker John Grierson in his 1926 review of Robert Flaherty’s Moana, and Grierson’s subsequent theorizations of documentary filmmaking depended on ideas about poetry and the poetic. While, as several critics have pointed out, documentary poetry constitutes a long tradition that goes as far back as the poems of Lucretius, Ovid, and Virgil, documentary poetry is largely a 20th-century construction, one that has shifted in relation to major technological changes that transformed the landscape of poetic composition and circulation, ongoing debates over the status of the poetic lyric, and developing ideas about the relationship of poetry writing to capitalist crisis and left political activism. The long-standing critical concern with defining documentary poetry and poetics indexes changing ideas about the relationship between poetry and other historical and political registers. Such critical concerns, however, have often treated documentary poems as if they lack generic distinction or unique formal qualities outside of the incorporation of historical documents or materials. Across the 20th and 21st centuries, documentary poets have innovated in specific modes (e.g., as Jill Magi points out using Bill Nichols’s film theory, the expository, observational, interactive, and reflexive) and forms (especially the paratactical, collage, curatorial, and restricted). Engaging with the terrains of labor precarity, ecological collapse, and widening racial inequities and violence, such forms work in tandem with socially engaged content to address historical and political realities. In the contemporary moment, major contributions to documentary poetic traditions have been from Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) writers who innovate with documentary practices and forms to imagine new spheres of social engagement and world-building in lieu of a singular focus on institutional critique. Contemporary poets addressing the exigencies of the 21st century have also emphasized the long-standing relationship between documentary poetry and social engagement, pointing to social activism and radical pedagogy as defining features of documentary poetry and poetics.

Article

Queer of Color Critique and Queer Asian North American Women’s Literature  

Martin Joseph Ponce

The materialist methodology known as queer of color critique investigates the ways that racialized subjects are positioned outside the gender and sexual norms of the US nation through the contradictory demands and desires of capitalism, labor, migration, and the state. According to Roderick Ferguson’s influential account in Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (2004), capital recruits and exploits racialized labor whose surplus urban and agricultural social formations are in turn constituted by state institutions and academic disciplines as aberrant and deviant to ensure national-cultural purity and white dominance. Construing “queer” in this broad sense has proven useful for examining how Asian North American racialization is predicated on ascriptions of gender and sexual nonnormativity—from the Chinese prostitute of the late 19th century, to the hypersexual Filipino menace of the 1920s, to the Asian butterfly/dragon lady dichotomy across the 20th century and into the 21st. When this interdisciplinary approach converges with literary studies, however, it leaves unaddressed the relationships between racialized heterosexual deviancies as inscribed on the one hand, in legal, sociological, and popular culture discourses, and on the other, in literary representations that thematize same-sex desires and gender-nonconforming embodiments produced by Asian North American writers themselves. Queer of color critique’s biopolitical approach to sexuality as organized along lines of valuation and devaluation—the enhancement of life, and the targeting for death—provides a capacious analytic for apprehending these two meanings of “queer” (state-imposed racial otherness and reclaimed cultural representation) within the same frame. To render those comparisons visible for critical analysis requires recovering Asian North American lesbian contributions to women of color feminism of the 1970s and 80s, which scholars have posited as queer of color critique’s theoretical and political precursor, and reading subsequent queer texts in light of those interventions. Poet-activists Kitty Tsui and Merle Woo reconfigure the category of “lesbian” to accommodate Asian American subject positions and kinship relations, construct cross-racial solidarities, and express racialized eroticisms. Shani Mootoo’s novel Cereus Blooms at Night (1996) provides a complex instance in which same-sex female eroticism and trans subjectivities are portrayed but also eclipsed by or made subservient to nonnormative heterosexualities. Kai Cheng Thom’s poetry collection a place called No Homeland (2017) and Elaine Castillo’s novel America Is Not the Heart (2018) center trans and queer women’s experiences, respectively. For queer of color critique to fulfill its cross-racial comparative potential, queer and trans Asian North American women’s literature must be incorporated as a vital part of the conversation.

Article

Asian American Literary Reception and Readership  

Tamara Bhalla

Asian American literary studies, and multi-ethnic literatures more broadly, have maintained a constant faith in the power of literature as a potential tool of anti-racist education. This faith in literature’s potential is not naïve, since it also recognizes how even the most diverse and ideal literary education can be co-opted by the workings of capitalism and neoliberalism. These fields are founded in an enduring and powerful belief that literature affects the social, cultural, and political esteem of a minority group in the United States. Within the field of Asian American studies, academics, activists, and cultural critics have sought to harness the power of various forms of cultural discourse and literature by mediating the stories told about (and at times by) Asian Americans. As Asian American literature has grown in popularity, there has been increasing attention to questions of who is represented within Asian American literature and who is deemed worthy to produce these representations. Such concerns have over time produced an abiding if somewhat tacit interest in questions of literary reception in the field. In fact, although many of the major literary controversies in Asian American studies have circulated around questions of representation and reception and ushered in paradigm shifts in how the field has conceptualized itself, it is an area that remains understudied. Asian American literary reception study and studies of readership are still emerging and crucial areas of analysis that could pose and posit answers to questions of literature’s possibilities and limitations as a tool of anti-racism in 21st-century America.

Article

Hmong American Literature and Culture  

Aline Lo and Kong Pheng Pha

Hmong American literature is an emerging field within Asian American literature, seeing a steep rise in production starting in the early 2000s. In collective and individual publication efforts, the literature includes mostly memoirs, short stories, and poetry. Essays, personal narratives, transcribed oral folktales, and plays have also been published in anthologies, including two that are edited by Hmong American writers. Although there has been an upsurge in publication and a wide representation in terms of genres, there is still no widely published Hmong American novel. Coming from an orality-based culture and a long history of marginalization both in Asia and the United States, many Hmong American narratives contend with issues related to silence and secrecy. In the context of 20th-century French imperialism and US neocolonialism, much of the literature also touches on the subjects of displacement, refugee resettlement, trauma, and cultural shifts. Of the latter, there is a definite preoccupation with religion and changes in gender roles and sexuality, particularly as many of the writers have been born or largely raised in the United States and are therefore interested in representing Hmong American identities and experiences. Hmong American literature can also be characterized by a sense of regionalism; many of the narratives and publications take place in heavily Hmong-populated areas like the Central Valley of California and Upper Midwest states like Minnesota and Wisconsin. While the move toward textuality comes with its own problems, it also presents Hmong Americans with a new method of self-representation. Historically studied by outsiders and exoticized for belonging to a culture that has resisted assimilation and maintained a unique language, religion, and cultural practices, Hmong writers are producing their own narratives, and altogether, the literature is rich with complex characters, speakers, and stories that represent and explore Hmong American experiences.

Article

American Nature Writing and Japan  

Masami Yuki

Although largely disregarded since the humanistic turn of ecocriticism at the beginning of the 21st century, nature writing has continued to play an important role in nurturing trans-Pacific, and transnational, literary environmentalism. Euro-American traditions dominate this literary genre, but it nevertheless involves cross-cultural traffic of ideas and thoughts. Its trans-Pacific presence, mostly through American influences on works in Japan, demonstrates in three ways how American nature writing has been cultivating Japanese literary soil and has in turn been nurtured by it, albeit less conspicuously. First, Henry David Thoreau’s influence on Japanese literary environmentalism, especially his philosophy of plain living and high thinking, helped engender a tradition of nature writing in Japan that began with Nozawa Hajime—often called the “Japanese Thoreau”—and has been developed by those who followed, including Ashizawa Kazuhiro and Takada Hiroshi. Second, interactions between pastoralism and a new mode of environmental awareness show that the seemingly American notion of “wild awareness” and the Japanese concept of aware have materialized as a new environmental sensitivity in Japan and in the United States, respectively, reflecting cross-cultural nurturing of environmental ideas, thoughts, and practices. Finally, there has been a subtle yet radical impact of American counterculture on Japanese nature writing, exemplified by Nashiki Kaho’s literary hybridity, based on her integration of the traditional with the radical.

Article

Law and American Literature  

Jeffory A. Clymer

Law and American literature is a subfield of the wider interdisciplinary field of law and literature. Law and literature are socially embedded discourses that rely on narrative and figures of speech to describe events, render them meaningful, and persuade audiences. Even as law and literature each has its own unique rhetorical forms (e.g., the statute, the legal opinion, the novel, the poem), as well as specific techniques and protocols for creating, organizing, and disseminating their narrative products, they share a fundamental commitment to ordering and interpreting our understanding of the world around us. Although the law itself is often thought of as an objective arena to which disputes are brought for adjudication and resolution, law does much more than simply arbitrate preexisting disputes. It is inherently a political and rhetorical practice that has coercive power to shape in myriad ways the most significant and intimate aspects of our lives. Law confers and delimits rights and opportunities, privileges some identities and disadvantages others, and defines acceptable and proscribed behaviors. Unsurprisingly, then, the law and important legal issues have been a constant source of interest and inspiration for American literary authors. Although obviously lacking law’s coercive or normative power, literature alternatively provides ways of thinking and imagines modes of being that help to form readers’ understandings of the world and their places in it. Over the 21st century, American writers’ longstanding interest in the law has been particularly resonant for Americanist literary critics, who often combine a theoretically informed historicist interpretive methodology with an interest in social justice. Scholars of “law and American literature” have provided sophisticated analyses of literature and law’s intersection on a litany of subjects. Prominent among these topics has been scholars’ examination of the many ways that legal and literary works have parsed the racial dynamics of the United States, a nation that has repeatedly used the law to construct and organize racial difference. Significant areas of imbrication between law and American literature over the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries include slavery, citizenship, property, and incarceration.

Article

Roberto Bolaño within World Literatures  

Oswaldo Zavala

The name Roberto Bolaño (Santiago, Chile, 1953–Blanes, Spain, 2003) has become a central signifier within Latin American contemporary literature but also a key reference in what is often called “world literature” in academic discussions and mainstream editorial circles. At the regional and the global levels, both in the original Spanish and in English translation, Bolaño’s work moved from the margin to the canonical center as Latin America’s foremost representative in the 21st century, as Argentinean Jorge Luis Borges, Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, Mexican Carlos Fuentes, and Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa all did during the 20th century. Bolaño’s novels, short stories, essays, and poetry delve critically into Latin America’s past—Chile’s 1973 coup d’état and subsequent military dictatorship and Mexico’s convulsive 1960s and ’70s society—but also offer insightful explorations of contemporary Western culture and its history of violence, from the effects of world wars, racism, and gender violence to intellectual engagement, avant-garde poetics, and the question of culture in disenfranchised societies of late capitalism. His two masterpieces are major canonical landmarks: The Savage Detectives (1998), a nostalgic memoir about the forgotten avant-garde “visceral realism” and the artistic ethos of his generation, those who witnessed the defeat of the Latin American’s left with the rise of neoliberal governance, and 2666 (2004), his most ambitious book—composed of five interrelated but independent novels—bridging European, US, and Latin American histories converging in the sinister femicide at the US-Mexico borderlands. Read as the author of a complex œuvre expanding across continents, Bolaño surpasses expectations for writers from non-hegemonic cultural centers, defying various conceptions of Western canons and pioneering the avenues of 21st-century Latin American literature.

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Jorge Luis Borges in Argentina  

Geraldine Rogers

To consider the most influential Argentine writer of the 20th century within the South American cultural and historical framework implies going deeper in a literature that put the periphery—the margins, the minor literature—forward as a particular place of enunciation, not only by destiny but also by choice, as an imaginary place of freedom derived from the lack of cultural tradition tied to a territory. After some years in Europe as a youth, in 1921, Jorge Luis Borges went back to Buenos Aires, where he took part in avant-garde projects and little magazines, as well as in mass circulation publishing and journalistic endeavors. It was in this junction of Modernism and mass culture that, from the 1930s, he began to create his sophisticated fictions, which fully exploited the resources of a second-hand culture, made of hybrid genres, clippings, displacements, plagiarism, and mistranslations, making artistic innovations from some of the most usual practices in printed culture. In the following decade, his anti-Hispanism and his appreciation of certain forms of Argentinian orality were paradoxically combined with his militancy against nationalism. The peripheral condition he addressed in one of his most famous essays (“The Argentine Writer and Tradition”), which stands as a theoretical and critical locus that could decenter Western tradition in its entirety, was an argument stated from a particular time and place against the realism and the nationalism that predominated in the vernacular literary field. His opinions on literary, cultural, or political matters (veiled, as in “The Aleph,” or more visible, as in his anti-Peronist texts “L’Illusion Comique,” “The Monster’s Feast,” and “The Mountebank”) present a minefield of controversial interventions in the Argentinian disputes of his time and account for a specifically Borgesian way—self-interested, instrumental, strategic—of taking part in the dilemmas of the history and the culture that he was part of. Borges has sparked various responses throughout time in Argentina. Some milestones are the tributes to him by the Megáfono group, in 1933, and by Sur magazine in the 1940s, the Contorno patricide trial in the following decade, the Borges “for the masses” in the 1970s, and the generalized rejection of his support for military dictatorships (the one that overthrew Perón in 1955 and the one that began in 1976). In 2009, the literary experiment of a young writer using one of the most famous short stories by Borges gave rise to a lawsuit for copyright fraud, which, in turn, triggered intellectual debates on literary heritage in a socially significant and broader sense, reinstating the problematic—and not merely legal—character of literary property. A well-nourished history tells how, in Argentina, consecutive generations of authors, critics, and readers have dealt with one of their most challenging and intense writers, wondering how to read him, how to get away from the fascination he causes, and how to make his powerful legacy their own.

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An Asian American Epistemology of Reading: Aiiieeeee! and Ekphrasis  

Elda E. Tsou

The contested category of Asian American literature presents a rich opportunity to explore questions of epistemology. At the start of the 21st century, a formal turn in literary study further illuminates shifts in structures of knowledge and ways of knowing. Asian American literature emerged in the 1970s as a critical response to a history of exclusion and misrepresentation. As the field established itself, literary knowledge was defined quite narrowly: it is produced by Asian Americans and the subject of knowledge is Asian America itself. The reading practices that arise from this central paradigm have been called “instrumental” or “sociological,” insofar as they conceive of literary language, with varying degrees of formal interest, as an instrument or expression of Asian America. From the 2000s onward, scholarship on Asian American form and poetics has grown steadily, and what distinguishes this particular movement is its privileging of form as its primary object of investigation. Correspondingly the subject of knowledge also shifts from Asian America as the default referent to Asian American literature and the literary tradition. Critics note that one consequence of making form the prime objective is a potential tendency to drift away from the ambit of Asian America altogether. Those literary texts featuring conspicuous formal experimentation have garnered a lot of attention; less has been paid to the early texts, like the anthology Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (1974), where formal concerns are not as explicit. Yet upon closer examination of Aiiieeeee! one discovers another type of figurative activity that can help redefine Asian American literary knowledge, offering us new ways of reading and looking at race.

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Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902–1991): Biography and Overview of Works  

James A. Lewin

Why does evil exist? That is the question Isaac Bashevis Singer could not stop asking. The first Yiddish author to win a Nobel Prize and the only established American writer who wrote in Yiddish, I. B. Singer created historical sagas about the Jews in Poland, from premodern times through the Holocaust. He also published memoirs and children’s books. He concentrated his special genius, however, in a plenitude of short stories. With an ironic voice of protest, his earthy, poetic style portrays characters seeking love and truth—in spite of the grand and petty injustices of the world. Haunted by his own sense of survivor’s guilt, the author wrote out of a personal argument with God. As a Protean and prolific writer, with shifting identities, he effectively named himself. Early on, he was Itche Zinger. He published his first novel, Satan in Goray, in 1935, in Yiddish, under the pen name of “Yitzchok Bashevis,” a nom de plume derived from his mother’s first name. Meanwhile, under the by-line Warshawsky, or son of Warsaw, he provided journalism and humorous articles in Yiddish newspapers, thus distancing the pseudonymous scribe from higher literary aspirations. Occasionally, he became D. Segal. In large measure, his wider success depended on having his work translated from Yiddish, a marginalized language of traumatic memory, into English, a living language with hegemonic influence. He supervised his translators closely and reached a wider audience with stories published in The New Yorker, Playboy, Commentary, and other magazines. As his work reached a global readership, he became Isaac Bashevis Singer, a composite name that allowed the author to maintain his roots while differentiating himself from his older brother, Israel Joshua (aka I. J.) Singer, also a best-selling Yiddish writer. Yet, in marked contrast to his welcome reception from the English-reading public, I. B. Singer has faced rebukes and even denunciation from Yiddish critics who felt uncomfortable with his provocative representations of Jewish life. For devoted fans and relentless critics alike, however, he remains known simply as “Bashevis.” His litigation with heaven followed the model of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Job. He refused to suffer without questioning his mortal condition. He would not disavow an invisible higher power, and even referred to himself as religious, yet he rejected conventional faith or belief in cosmic compassion. Throughout his career, I. B. Singer wrestled with that twist in the psyche that allows perpetrators of atrocities to lack remorse, while victims of inhumanity may be plagued with self-reproach. He exorcised his demons by arguing with the Almighty through his writing, transforming survivor’s guilt into a protest against the injustice of life. Protest against the cosmic silence extended the artistic bridge between his psychological realism and his fascination with the occult. The author glances back at a lost innocence of traditional values and gazes forward into a world of expanding moral chaos. He satirizes society as a grotesque underworld. He condemns the cruelties of history and refuses to accept easy answers to haunting questions. Although he affirms the existence of an Absolute and portrays atheism as the greatest human failing, by the act of writing, he challenges the ethical standards of the inscrutable universe. While affirming the life of the soul, through his storytelling, he inscribes a compelling protest against the seeming indifference of heaven and earth.

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Vietnamese American Literature  

Michele Janette

While the Vietnam War looms large in American national culture of the 20th century, Vietnam, Vietnamese people, and Vietnamese American experiences have been little attended to. Vietnamese American literature engages this erasure both in writing about Vietnamese perspectives on that war and by expanding the signification of “Vietnam” beyond being a synonym for a war. Beginning in the 1960s, Vietnamese American literature in English was dominated for the next few decades by memoirs, largely designed to educate American readers about Vietnamese politics and history. Rather than continuing to offer Vietnam as it appears in much other American literature, as a surreal backdrop to a US psychic wound, these writers narrate Vietnam, Vietnamese people, and Vietnamese Americans with autonomous geographical, philosophical, emotional, and intellectual presence and perspective, and often provide direct analysis and critique of both the South Vietnamese regime and its American ally. In the late 20th and 21st centuries, Vietnamese American literature has diversified in both form and content, expanding the field beyond direct engagement with the Vietnam War and the refugee experience, in work that rewrites canonical Western characters and genres, that challenges normative literary forms as well as social identities, and that explores US racialization, consumerism, and popular culture. In addition to writing Vietnam and Vietnamese American experiences into the national American imaginary landscape, this literature reconfigures the demonized and threatening tropes of the threatening, untrustworthy “gook,” and the passive, dependent “victim” figure, into the socially necessary and beneficial “critical refugee.” Through the experiences of marginalization, trauma, and survival, the critical refugee possesses insights and knowledge necessary for a 21st century of increasing displaced populations, whether from war, famine, or natural disaster. This critical perspective is also more transnational than nationalistic or exilic, exploring both physical and imaginary transnational connections.

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Global India in 21st-Century Asian American Literature  

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

Twenty-first-century Asian American literature is a developing archive of literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and multimodal cultural texts. As a field, it is marked by its simultaneous investments in exploring the United States’ imperial geopolitical relations and the concurrent rise of Asia. Global India, a shorthand for the nation’s ascendance onto the world stage after the liberalizing market reforms of the early 1990s, is discernible in Asian American—and particularly South Asian American—depictions of a range of figures including call center agents, entrepreneurial farmers, art gallery owners, and globe-trotting filmmakers. It is an India to which many writers imagine returning, given its heightened standing in the world economy and the prospect of American decline. This change marks a shift in the literature from the Americas being the primary locus of attachment to Asia as a site of possible reinvestment, both psychic and material. Asian American writers frequently focus on parallels between the experience of international migration and that of in-country migration to India’s major cities. They also tacitly register the rise of India in narratives about the abortive promises of the American dream. In comparison to Asian American literatures of the 20th century, which were primarily read as part of the multiethnic canon of American literature, Asian American literatures written under the sign of Global India are equally legible as part of diasporic, postcolonial, world, and global Anglophone literary formations. Many writers considered postcolonial in the 20th century may be profitably read in the 21st century as Asian American as well, whether because of a move to the United States or a professed affiliation. This expansion of the field is a consequence of the evolving diasporic and global imaginaries of Asian American writers and scholars.

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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.