Tamiko F. Nimura
Introductory survey of Asian-American literature provides introduction to Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Hawaiian, South-Asian, and Southeast-Asian American literatures and a comparative study of the basic cultural histories of those Asian-American communities from the 1800s to the present.
“Chinese-Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, to insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? What is Chinese tradition and what is the movies?” –Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior (1976), 2-3
Using this quotation from Maxine Hong Kingston’s famous memoir, we’ll consider the terms of the course title as we cover a variety of Asian American literatures. In many ways, the quotation frames our central questions: what’s “Asian”, what’s “American,” and what’s “Asian American”? What’s literature? What does it mean to study Asian American literature? Building on these questions, how have Asian Americans been represented in U.S. culture, and how have they represented themselves in literature?
This class is an introduction to, rather than a survey of, Asian American literatures. The difference between an “introduction” and a “survey” is that a survey aims to be comprehensive, a sort of “greatest hits” version of a literary tradition, while an introduction is just that: a sampling. Survey classes also tend to move in one direction historically, while this class will move between time periods, focusing mostly on decades within the contemporary period (1950-present). This movement doesn’t mean than we’ll forget about history, and in fact, the chronological variety will actually make history even more important. Though I’ve tried to provide a wide variety of readings across the ethnicities that are racially considered Asian American, no one class can represent “all” of Asian American literature and no one text can represent an entire ethnic group. We’re fortunate to be studying Asian American literature at a time when I can make a statement like this—its variety and availability has changed dramatically over the last 30, 20, and even 10 years. Due to the short quarter and the limited number of class meetings, I’ve chosen to focus on two literary genres (short stories and novels). But, I’m open to your writing about other genres (poetry, drama, memoir, essays) and other time periods in your papers and I’m happy to provide suggestions for other readings for any of these categories.
This class is largely a discussion-based class; I will not spend much time lecturing. Thus the quality of our discussions will depend largely on your preparation for class discussion and engagement with the material. Small-group discussions as well as large-group discussions will occur regularly.
Class Assignments and Grading