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Revisiting Asian American Poetics  

Juliana Chang

The most discussed and cited works of Asian American writing in literary studies include mainly novels, memoirs, short fiction, essays, and plays. To use Sau-ling Wong’s terms Necessity and Extravagance, the study of prose narrative has become a Necessity in the establishment of an Asian American literary canon, while poetry appears to occupy the status of the Extravagant—not excluded, but not as important or basic as prose. However, considering Asian American studies through the framework of not just poetry as a genre but also the poetic as a mode leads to some fresh understandings of canonical narratives, as well as criticism and theory. The power of poetry and the poetic do lie in their alignment with Extravagance, especially in their play with rules and expectations of language, convention, and form. Poems by Asian American writers point to the underside of play, the ways in which play can threaten minority subjects. At the same time the poems enact their own forms of play, through literary allusion and figurative language, for example. Asian American poetry and the Asian American poetic harness the energies of recreation and enjoyment to build and repurpose literary and discursive forms that articulate racial, ethnic, and gendered perils and promises.

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

Contemporary Voices in Asian American Lyric Poetry  

Jennifer Chang

Asian American poetry flourished in the first two decades of the 21st century. In 2004, the Asian American literary organization Kundiman hosted their inaugural workshop-based retreat at the University of Virginia, connecting poets from the United States and North America across generations. (The retreat continues to be held annually at Fordham University and has included fiction writers, as fellows and faculty, since 2017.) The first year of Kundiman’s retreat coincided with the publication of Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, edited by Victoria Chang, which introduced emerging poets Kazim Ali, Cathy Park Hong, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Srikanth Reddy, and Paisley Rekdal, among others, to a broader audience of readers and critics and, at the same time, urged a reassessment of the contemporary poetry field. Both events signaled an emergent generation’s desire to find community and acknowledgment for their work. Not only were these goals accomplished, but the collectivization of young Asian American poets and critical attention from universities and other cultural institutions also evinced how powerfully the impact of a previous generation of Asian American poets had been felt. That generation arguably began with the publication of Cathy Song’s Yale Younger Poets Prize–winning book Picture Bride in 1982 and grew to include Marilyn Chin, Li-Young Lee, Garrett Hongo, and Agha Shahid Ali, whose work can be found in Norton anthologies of poetry and various other canon-defining projects. The critical and cultural acceptance these poets enjoyed at the end of the 20th century blazed a trail for Asian American poets of the 21st century, who increasingly balance the lyric conventions of emotional expressiveness and imagistic language with audacious political subjectivity. In doing so, Asian American poets of the 21st century have opened up conceptions of lyric, particularly regarding voice, to incorporate questions of identity, immigration and migration, and American cultural experience. Contemporary Asian American poets frequently reimagine the lyric tradition through a distinctly Asian American political imagination.

Article

Race and Blackness in Premodern Arabic Literature  

Rachel Schine

The signal works of poetry that prominently feature racialized Blackness in early Arabic literature (c. ad 500–1250) include works composed by authors of Afro-Arab heritage as well as by Arab authors who satirized and panegyrized Black subjects. These poets include the pre-Islamic author ʿAntarah ibn Shaddād and the ʿAbbasid-era figures al-Mutanabbī and Ibn al-Rūmī, and thus reflect the shift, across an extensive timeline, from a local, Bedouin poetics to a self-styled cosmopolitan, courtly aesthetic characterized as muḥdath, or modernist. The works are situated not only within the changing conventions of genre, but also within an arc that traces the emergence of new race concepts and racialized social institutions in the transition from the pre-Islamic era to Islam and from the early conquests to ʿAbbasid imperialization. Critical instances of these works’ intertextual movements demonstrate how racial logic accretes in various Arab-Muslim textual traditions, showing how poetry intersects with popular epic as well as high literary geographical, ethnological, and commentarial corpuses. As verse moves across a myriad of later literary forms, its context-specific representations of racial difference are recontextualized and received in ways that contribute to a broader transregional and transtemporal discourse of racialized Blackness.

Article

Baca, Jimmy Santiago  

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.

Article

Cuban American Literatures  

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.

Article

Mixed Race Asian American Literature  

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.