This class in Asian American Literature will include poetry, short fiction, and novels. “Asian” is a broad category that includes but is not limited to persons who trace their roots to at least China, Japan, Korea, Burma (or Myanmar), Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Pacific Islands, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, or Pakistan. As such, it represents people whose common racial categorization belies their very diverse histories and traditions–not only in their mother or home nations, but also in the United States, where waves of immigration, labor practices, attempts at assimilation, and shifting prejudices (among other factors) have variously affected the often difficult transition from “Asian” to “Asian American.” Even for writers born and raised in the United States, the unique perspective of one “between worlds,” as one critic has phrased it, makes their writing of great interest.
Obviously race (with all of the complicated things that term might mean) will be a primary topic of analysis this semester, and gender (ditto) will be as well. The pain and beauty of forging a racialized and gendered self while one negotiates the expectations, stereotypes, and limitations of different cultures is expressed in numerous important works of literature by Asian American writers, literature which has flourished in the last forty years. The availability of texts will keep our focus this semester primarily contemporary (post 1945), but we will also study the work of one author from early in the twentieth century whose personal story is of additional interest in understanding the publishing history of Asian American literature. Representing a variety of Asian ethnicities and experiences, our readings this semester will be drawn from writers of Japanese, Chinese, Filipina, Vietnamese, Korean, and Indian descent. Appropriate theory, criticism, and historical documents will also inform our readings.
We will consider questions such as these: how do Asian American writers represent the United States? how do they represent their nations of origin or the traditions and history of their ancestors? how are they affected by the racial prejudice of whites, and are they themselves also fearful or disdainful of racial others? how do they understand the very concept of “race”? how does gender intersect with race or ethnicity? where are they positioned in complex intersectional networks? what constructions of identity control or liberate them? what models of selfhood do they embrace? if they are bi- or multilingual, how do the writers balance their languages, and what does it mean to make the choice to write in English? are the texts themselves remarkable in genre, style, form, or language? what historical events or experiences do they examine and illuminate? how does history shape their contemporary lives and attitudes? ↑