Although immigrants from Asia and Americans of Asian descent have been writing in the United States since the 19th century, Asian American literature as a category of writing only came into existence in the early 1970s. Perhaps the earliest references to "Asian American literature" appeared with David Hsin-fu Wand's Asian American Heritage: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry, published in 1974, and Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers, edited by Frank Chin, Jeffery Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong, also published in 1974. Elaine Kim's seminal book of criticism, Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context, was published in 1982 and was the first critical book on the topic.
Since then, the field of Asian American literature and of Asian American literary criticism has grown remarkably. But defining "Asian American literature" remains a troublesome task. Most critics who have written about Asian American literature implicitly or explicitly define it as being written by Asian Americans, and usually about Asian Americans. This definition poses a number of problems that are an ongoing source of discussion for Asian American literary critics: who is an Asian American? Is "America" only the United States, or does it include the rest of the Americas? If an Asian American writes about characters who are not Asian American, is this Asian American literature? If someone who is not Asian American writes about Asian Americans, is this Asian American literature?
The challenges around defining Asian American literature are not unique to it and indicate difficulties not so much with the field of Asian American literature but with issues of race, culture, and national identity that are endemic to United States history and culture.
Some key Asian American authors include:
- Carlos Bulosan
- Frank Chin
- Louis Chu
- Sui Sin Far (1865-1914)
- Gish Jen
- Maxine Hong Kingston
- Jhumpa Lahiri
- Chang-Rae Lee
- Toshio Mori (1910-1980)
- John Okada (1923-1971)
- Han Ong
- Bienvenido Santos
- Lisa See
- Amy Tan
- le thi diem thuy
- Adrian Tomine
- Shawn Wong
- Bryan Thao Worra
- Hisaye Yamamoto (1921-2011)
- Lois-Ann Yamanaka
- Wand, David Hsin-fu, ed. Asian American Heritage: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry. New York: Pocket Books, 1974.
- Chin, Frank, et al, eds. Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Writers. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1974.
- Kim, Elaine. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982.
- Asian American literature
- Chinese American literature
- List of Asian American writers
- List of American writers of Korean descent
- Asian American Literary Awards
- Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature
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