Seminar in American Literature: Asian American Literature & Theory

This proposed course will focus on texts produced by and on Asian Americans since the mid-1990s to the present. The reading list consists of films, television shows, novels, short fiction, graphic narratives, drama, poetry, cultural sites (Chinese American Museum in New York and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles). Some attention will be paid to the depictions of Asian Americans in widely disseminated news media (relatively recent articles in The New Yorker, (Linmania”).

This course is based on the thesis that, beginning in the mid- to late-1990’s, the main cultural and political currents engaging Asian American writers and scholars differ significantly from the concerns of various Asian American communities in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s. The class will approach the reading list using the following thematic foci: 1) in the 1990s, Asian American texts began to represent the impact of globalization in cultural and geo-political terms; 2) in the same period, Asian American texts began to instantiate what has become known in the area as the “transnational turn”; 3) texts became much more critical of normative, American metaphors of model minorities; 4) Asian American writers such as Monique Truong and Chang Rae Lee wrote about topics and protagonists outside of Asian or Asian American concerns; 5) increasing numbers of Asian American writers wrote science fiction, graphic novels, and stories to do with mixed race, sexuality, and cross-cultural adoption. Those shifts were different aspects of a significant transformation in Asian American literature and culture.

The course will use Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel as a nodal text in the sense that the class will read most of its ten novellas in tandem with other Asian American literary and cultural texts that critically articulate both thematically and aesthetically with a specific novella. Yamashita’s provocative, multi-genre narrative depicts the Asian American movement, from 1968 to 1997. Each novella deals with key events and actors in the movement and is contextualized within the larger canvas of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the even larger canvas of Asian and Euro-American literary traditions. The narrative is a mashup of short fiction, comics, poetry, aphorisms from Mao, Confucius, Marx, allusions to Gertrude Stein and Charlie Chan, the faux Chinaman detective. I Hotel would allow the class to explore the socio-political history of the decades leading up to the Asian American battle over civil rights. Additionally, the class working through the complicated use of tone in I Hotel—at times, ironic, parodic, satirical—would motivate us to explore the Asian American movement and the civil rights era as they are represented in a novel that speaks to and that speaks from this most recent phase of globalizing cultural and economic processes.

The rest of the reading list will be organized according to thematic issues found in “1968: Eye Hotel,” “1971: AIIIEEEEE! Hotel,” “1972: Inter-national Hotel,” and “1974: I-Migrant Hotel,” and so on.


Primary texts include:

David Henry Hwang, Kung Fu, 2016 (play):

The Hmong American Writer’s Circle, How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology, 2011 (selection);

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer, 2016 (novel)

Quang Bao, Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America, 2000 (selection);

Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints, 2013 (graphic novel)

Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel, 2010 (novel; selection)

Monique Truong, Book of Salt

Ho Chih Minh Archive (selection; Marxists Internet Archive)

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (selection)

Mao Tse Tung, On Practice and Contradiction (selection)

Nahnatchka Kahn, Fresh Off the Boat, 2017 (ABC; selection of episodes)


Secondary texts include:

Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns, “’How in the Light of Night Did We Come So Far?’ Working Miss Saigon,” from Puro Arte: Filipinos on the Stage of Empire (2012);

Jeff Chang, Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil Rights America, 2016 (selection);

Shelley Sang-Hee Lee, A New History of Asian America, 2013 (selection);

David Palumbo-Liu, The Deliverance of Others: Reading Literature in a Global Age, 2012 (selection);

Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American. Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier. 1999 (selection);

Jean Yu-Wen Shen Wu, et al. eds., Asian American Studies Now: A Critical Reader, 2010 (selection)


Student Learning Outcomes:

Develop a complex understanding of the contributions of Asian American literature and cultural identity to the formation of the field of English Studies in the 21st Century;


A stronger ability to undertake advanced critical analysis in both written and oral formats (especially in relation to the unconventional elements of some of the primary texts in this course);


A stronger ability to undertake advanced research methods and to prepare an essay for submission to an academic or literary journal;


Develop a complex understanding of the origins and consequences of literary and cultural interpretative frameworks based on concepts of identity and subjectivity, at varying discursive scales.


Writing Assignments:


1) Essay — 15- to 20-page essay on a substantial topic; 2) Leading Class Discussion — Class members will be responsible for leading two class discussions on a specific work (1-page single-spaced handout); 3) 3-4 Forums post on Laulima