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Asian American Literature: The State of the Art

- By Mai-Linh K. Hong

Literature is, and has always been, a social endeavor. As such, it is also an ethical endeavor, for it has to do with how humans imagine, know, and recognize ourselves and each other. We co-inhabit a searingly unequal world, yet we are also surrounded by awesome beauty, creativity, and possibility. It is through the stories we tell and retell (or not), the spaces we create for art (or not), and the broad range of human experiences we honor (or not) that we will continue to mold a future that might serve us all.

One of the great lessons of American ethnic literatures—here, Asian American literature in particular—is that literary imaginings can constitute public assertions of who is human, who speaks, and who belongs. Our political...


10 Questions for L.S. McKee

- By Edward Clifford

You hold my fists of loneliness
that clench the clumsy weight
of last ditch caresses. Beat into
your vinyl sheen is the pain I lug
to your altar to put the pain in
my hands:busted knuckle,
bound wrist, sprained heart,
—from "Alva and the Ode to a Punching Bag," Volume 61, Issue 2 (Summer 2020)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I was a bookworm growing up, so I took a stab at writing a few “novels” in elementary school. One was called “Enemy Lovers,” which is hilarious to me on many levels. I probably got the idea from a vague understanding of Romeo and Juliet and—even more likely—my sneaky watching of soap operas after school. I also found several...


A Response to the Literary Address by Kazim Ali

- By Timothy Yu

It’s fascinating that Kazim’s response to the question of a South Asian American “canon” is to consider poetic careers cut short, truncated.  The untimely deaths of Agha Shahid Ali and Reetika Vazirani deprived younger South Asian American writers of figures who might now be considered eminences within the field.  For Kazim, Ali and Vazirani seem to represent an aesthetic spectrum, from Ali’s virtuosic, playful formalism to what he calls the “spiky,” fractured experimentation of Vazirani’s last writings. 

For me, though, it’s the very question of a canon, or its...


A Response to the Literary Address by Bryan Thao Worra

- By Aline Lo

Thank you to CAALS, especially Mai-Linh and Caroline, for inviting me to speak, and thanks, also, to Bryan who wrote such a thoughtful address. In my response, I’ll return to a few major points from Bryan’s address and end with a thought or two of my own. And, I’m really looking forward to the larger conversation and hearing from those in the audience.

I grew up consuming popular American culture; it was the easiest (and maybe the worst way, too) for an immigrant child of refugees to learn how to be American. So, I immediately recalled that King of the Hill moment where Kahn is asked whether he’s Chinese or Japanese. Like Bryan, I related to that moment, knowing full well the burden of always having to explain who I am....


A Response to the Literary Address by Cathy Schlund-Vials

- By Mai-Linh K. Hong

The “tireless telling of alternative stories,” to echo Cathy Schlund-Vials’ words, is how Asian American literature combats xenophobia and closed-mindedness—the stubbornly repeated, and frankly boring, stories told by madmen. Asian Americans have many ways to tell our many stories. And, as we grow into our immense, unwieldy diversity as a social-political community, we will come up with more. Literature doesn’t always look or sound like Literature with a capital L. Part of our task as writers, scholars, and teachers is to name the literary in the world around us—the ordinary and extraordinary acts of language and story-making that texture our lives.

When Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior...

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