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Asian American Literature: The State of the Art

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 moment has given us a summer of social distancing, violence, grief, and exhaustion. Now more than ever, as climate change becomes fiery reality and we adapt to new norms of loss and inequity, it is incumbent upon us to imagine harder.

In this moment, I think of the spaces we create for literature, including the Circle for Asian American Literary Studies (CAALS), an association of scholars and writers I have had the honor of co-chairing for several years now, and the biannual Smithsonian Asian American Literature Festival, which debuted brilliantly in 2017 and will continue to serve as a generative public meeting place for literature, art, and scholarship. At the 2017 and 2019 Festivals, CAALS co-sponsored, along with the Massachusetts Review, panels in which writers and scholars in Asian American literature gave wide-ranging “Literary Addresses” on the state of the field as they saw it, and others gave equally provocative, moving “Literary Address Responses.” It was a sort of call-and-response, a slow-moving dialogue, that reflected the very social and mutually dependent nature of the work we each do. We are pleased to share many of the Literary Addresses and Responses here, and more may be found on the website of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

We invite you into this virtual space to continue our dialogue and the collaborative work of social imagination. May we listen and respond to one another with care. May we create together.

Mai-Linh K. Hong
Co-Chair, Circle for Asian American Literary Studies
(with gratitude to Caroline Kyungah Hong, past Co-Chair of CAALS; and Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, Curator, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center)

Literary Addresses and Responses:

Patricia P. Chu, Literary Response to Min Hyoung Song
Min Hyoung Song, Literary Address: Asian American Literature in the Twenty-First Century

Mai-Linh K. Hong, Literary Response to Cathy Schlund-Vials
Cathy Schlund-Vials, Literary Address: Deconstructing Madmen: Mapping the Relevance
  of Asian American Literature

Christine Kitano, Literary Response to Franny Choi
Franny Choi, Literary Address: (B)Aiiieeeee!: The Future is Femme and Queer

Aline Lo, Literary Response to Bryan Thao Worra
Bryan Thao Worra, Literary Address: “So are you Chinese or Japanese?”

Timothy Yu, Literary Response to Kazim Ali
Kazim Ali, Literary Address: The End of Canon


Click to purchase Asian American Literature: Rethinking the Canon (MR Volume 59, Issue 4)

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