Asian American Voices: An Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month Reading List
“Racism is indiscriminate, carpet bombing groups that bear the slightest resemblance to one another,” wrote Cathy Park Hong, in her recent New York Times Magazine essay. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, verbal and physical violence directed at individuals of Asian descent has reminded us of the ugliness of racism and its ability to silence certain voices by telling them they don’t belong. In response, we’ve sought to help amplify contemporary Asian American voices in this reading list by showcasing titles from Asian American authors.
From poetry and fiction, to experimental sportswriting and biography, each of these books share striking insights about the Asian American experience through new and unexpected lenses. In addition to reminding us of the many robust contributions that Asian Americans have made to contemporary literature, these works share another common thread, in that they interrogate and examine our notions of identity in startling and innovative ways.
Jason Bayani’s poetry explores the many facets of the Philipinx American experience in the wake of the 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act. Echoing the mixing and layering of fragments used in DJ culture, Bayani draws on memory to share a distinctly Philipinx American voice and story.
America Is Not the Heart explores the experiences of Filipina and Filipina American women in San Francisco’s South Bay. In this multi-generational family saga, Castillo meditates on immigration and its costs, class structures, and cultural divides, while inviting readers into a vibrant community where love and anguish flourish within the hearts of her dynamic characters.
In his first nonfiction collection, renowned writer Alexander Chee charts his growth and education as an artist through the formative moments of his personal life and our nation’s history. In wry, masterful prose, Chee explores everything from his father’s death, to the AIDS crisis, to the election of Donald Trump, all while exploring the central question of how to create a life as a working artist.
So Many Olympic Exertions earned Anelise Chen the National Book Foundation’s prestigious 5 Under 35 honor for promising young writers and blends elements of self-help, memoir, and sports writing to explore the history of human acts of will. Chen’s experimental novel is written in what resembles ancient Greek hypomnemata, or “notes to the self” in the form of observations, reminders, and self-exhortations.
Nicole Chung’s memoir charts her story as a transracial Korean adoptee who grew up in a white family. All You Can Ever Know describes her experiences of facing prejudices that her adoptive family couldn’t see or understand, and as she grew up, becoming more and more curious about her biological family. As she consults letters and emails, uncovering more about her birth family and the truth about her adoption, she also gleans key insights about how being an adoptee has figured into her views on motherhood, race, and belonging.
Set in post-Reagan America, Kumar’s novel tells the story of Kailash, a student from India who immigrates to the United States for graduate school, and how his life comes to be shaped by the women he meets. Written with humor, insight, and longing, Immigrant, Montana is at its core an investigation of love and its ability to shape, reshape, or destroy borders.
A 2017 National Book Award Finalist, Pachinko is the tale of a Korean family told over four generations beginning in 1910, during the era of Japanese colonization, and ending in 1989. After leaving their homeland for Japan, the family makes countless sacrifices to feel at home in their new country, but find that the specter of foreignness lingers, despite their initial aspirations and attempts to assimilate.
Following its publication, The Sympathizer received numerous honors, including the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Now a modern classic, The Sympathizer is a powerful story that details how the histories of Asian American immigration, war, and American imperialism are much more closely tied than we might think.
Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong unpacks the truths behind American racialized consciousness in this collection of whip-smart and hilarious essays that blend memoir and cultural criticism. Reflecting on her own experiences as a child of Korean immigrants and growing up steeped in shame, suspicion and melancholy, Hong recalls reckoning with her “minor feelings,” which she describes as occurring when the realities of living as a racialized subject are contradicted by American optimism.
Ocean Vuong’s stunning debut poetry collection deftly explores memory, trauma, war, and romance. Each poem in Vuong’s collection combines personal narrative with powerful imagery, and the collection as a whole shimmers with the lyric, incandescent style for which Vuong’s work is now celebrated.
A modern-day epic of love, heartbreak, and trauma, A Little Life dips into the depths of addiction and unimaginable childhood trauma. The novel charts the experiences of four classmates from a small Massachusetts college as they come of age in New York City, while also doubling as an examination of the power and limitations of memory, ambition, and friendship.
In Last Boat Out of Shanghai, Zia weaves together four accounts of life in the wake of China’s 1949 Communist revolution, from members of the last generation to fully recall the historic exodus. She chronicles the unexpected migrations of her biographical subjects, formerly residents of Shanghai, as they grapple with their new lives as immigrants and refugees in America and elsewhere.