Beyond Literary Chinatown
Jeffrey F. L. Partridge
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American Book Award Winner (Before Columbus Foundation)
- Published: August 2015
- Subject Listing: Asian American Studies; Literary Studies
- Bibliographic information: 272 pp., 6 x 9 in.
- Territorial rights: World Rights
- Series: McLellan Endowed Series
The phenomenon of "literary Chinatown" - the ghettoization of Chinese American literature - was produced by the same dynamics of race and representation that ghettoized the Chinese American community into literal Chinatowns. In a 1982 response to reviews of Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston pinpointed the crux of the matter: "How dare they make their ignorance our inscrutability!"
Jeffrey F. L. Partridge examines the dynamic relationship between reader expectations of Chinese American literature and the challenges to these expectations posed by recent Chinese American texts, challenges that push our understanding of a multicultural society to new horizons. Partridge builds on the concept of a "reading horizon" - a set of expectations and assumptions that a reader brings to a text - to explore the crucial interplay between reader, author, and text. Arguing that authors like Kingston, Li-Young Lee, Gish Jen, Shawn Wong, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, and David Wong Louie are aware of their readers' horizons and write to challenge those assumptions, Partridge demonstrates how their writings function as a potent medium of cultural transformation.
With attentive readings not only of literary texts but also of book reviews and publishers' marketing materials, Partridge enables us to chart and to understand the changes in Chinese American literature and its reception in the past fifty years. In doing so, he threads a new path forward in the discussion of race and ethnicity in America, one that encompasses the historical valence of multiculturalism and the cross-fertilizing perspectives of postmodern hybridity theory while remaining cognizant of the persistence of racist and racialized thinking in contemporary American society. Beyond Literary Chinatown demonstrates how Chinese American literature has come to negotiate the tensions between the expression of ethnic identity and a resistance to racialization.
This important contribution to the growing body of critical works on Asian American literature will be of interest to reception theorists and scholars of American ethnic studies and American literature.
Jeffrey F. L. Partridge has taught Asian American literature at the National University of Singapore, Central Connecticut State University, and the University of Connecticut. He currently coordinates the Liberal Arts and Sciences program for Capital Community College in Hartford, Connecticut.
"This is the first work to consider the importance of Asia and the global economy and the influence of an Asian diaspora on Chinese American literature."
-Shawn Wong, University of Washington
"Beyond Literary Chinatown takes polycultural theory into Asian American aesthetics. Thoughtful and sensitive, Jeffrey Partridge revises many established ideas about Asian American fiction and offers a pathway out of the undertow of the ideology of assimilation."
-Vijay Prashad, author of Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity
Introduction: Reading Horizons
Part I: Literary Chinatown and the Reader's Horizon
1. Literary Chinatown: Dynamics of Race and Reading
2. What Is an Ethnic Author?
Part II: Exceeding the Margins
3. The Politics of Ethnic Authorship: Li-Young Lee, Emerson, and Whitman at the Banquet Table
4. Claiming Diaspora in Shirley Geok-lin Lim's Joss and Gold
Part III: Change and the Phenomenology of Reading
5. Changing Signifiers and Changing Horizons: Baseball in Three Stories by David Wong Louie
6. Change and the Playful Reader: Reading Shawn Wong's American Knees
Part IV: Reading New Horizons
7. Beyond Multicultural: Cultural Hybridity in the Novels of Gish Jen
Conclusion: The Emergence of the Polycultural