Across the Asian Americas: An APA Heritage Month Reading List Book Covers

This week’s reading list is the product of a collaboration between PEN America and Kaya Press, a book publisher dedicated to advancing the most challenging, thoughtful, and provocative literature being produced throughout the Asian and Pacific Island diasporas. The selections below were curated by Kaya Press author Rajiv Mohabir, who received the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for his groundbreaking translation of Lalbihari Sharma’s I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (Kaya Press, 2019). He is also the author of the poetry collections The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books, 2016) and The Cowherd’s Son (Tupelo Press, 2017), and has been awarded the Kundiman Poetry Prize and the 2015 AWP Intro Journal Award.

This reading list is a continuation of our efforts to amplify Asian American voices in literature, in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Rajiv’s list features books from the Asian Americas, and invites us, as we close out the month of May, to reexamine “Asian American” as a complicated category, the boundaries of which still continue to grow and shift.

The word “America” is fraught. Ask anyone from South America or the Caribbean, and they will say something about the United States not being “America,” and about being overlooked for inclusion in discussions around who exactly is American. Who is Asian American? For this APA Heritage Month, I wanted to list some books by brown and black authors from the Asian Americas with complicated immigration stories—not just writers who (or whose parents) are recent immigrants from Asia.

Focusing mainly on Trinidad and Tobago, as well as including some voices from Jamaica, Canada, and the United States, this list does not represent the diversity of the Asian Americas in its totality. Yet, each of these books contributes to and deepens the conversations around national inclusion, U.S. hegemonies, racial reckoning, mental health, and sexuality—showing how the boundaries of the Asian Americas extend to fit its own identity markers.