It’s important to read widely and diversely all the time, not just when something terrible happens or during a month-long celebration. To amplify and uplift Asian American voices, I’ve created a list of eight writers of all genres to read and support.
Reviews have declared Mike Chen’s newest book We Could Be Heroes the “Thor: Ragnarok of superhero fiction,” and it truly is a lot of fun. His work is also strangely prescient, with his previous novel A Beginning at the End detailing a global flu pandemic. Terrifying subject matter aside, Chen’s work is charming and perfect for anyone looking for science-fiction with heart and humor.
It’s appropriate to mention Ted Chiang early on, as he has the longest career (so far) out of anyone on this list. His first short story, Tower of Babylon, came out in Omni magazine in 1990. Since then, he’s won four Hugo, four Nebula and four Locus Awards and published two collections. If you liked the 2016 film Arrival starring Amy Adams, check out its inspiration, Chiang’s 1998 Story of Your Life. It’s incredible.
Chiang’s work is both intellectual and emotional, inspiring readers to grapple with hard questions and feel deeply.
Mira Jacob is a novelist, critic, illustrator and memoirist. She drew upon her childhood growing up as the child of East Indian immigrants in New Mexico for her novel The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. Her graphic memoir Good Talk features conversations with her six-year-old son who asks if the new president hates people like him. Touching on race, color, sexuality, interracial relationships and so much more, Good Talk provides a starting point for uncomfortable or seemingly unapproachable conversations.
Yoon Ha Lee’s debut, Ninefox Gambit, came out in 2016 and went on to win the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Since then, he’s completed the Machineries of Empire trilogy, a novel for Rick Riordan’s middle-grade imprint, written tons of short stories and even co-authored several interactive fiction games and tabletop RPGs. You can find his work pretty much anywhere that publishes science fiction. You’ll definitely enjoy it if you’re a fan of math and technology. Lee received mathematics degrees from Cornell and Stanford and puts them to good use in his fiction.
In August 2018, Ling Ma’s Severance came out to critical acclaim. Now, with its focus on a zombie-creating pandemic, it might be hard for some people to read. While her novel’s global virus is horrendous, it’s also slow and even banal. Rather than attacking, the “fevered” stick mindlessly to their everyday routines until their bodies rot away.
While at first glance Severance is straightforward science fiction, it’s really about immigration, assimilation and disillusionment. During her time as an MFA student, Ma says she “felt pressured to write a traditional immigration novel.” Instead, she wrote about a different sort of Asian American experience: that of a young Chinese immigrant in New York during a slow-creep zombie apocalypse. Her work is powerful, addressing otherness and alienation through familiar tropes, and I’m excited to see what she writes next.
T Kira Mahealani Madden describes herself as a “lesbian APIA writer, photographer and amateur magician.” She’s published widely online and is founding Editor-in-Chief of No Tokens Journal which is run entirely by women, queer, trans and non-binary individuals dedicated to keeping stories alive.
Madden’s memoir Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls details her coming of age in Boca Raton as a queer, biracial daughter of addicts. Her voice is distinctive and unflinchingly honest. She writes about trauma and forgiveness with equal degrees of humor and gravity.
Nghi Vo’s first novellas only came out in 2020, but she’s already a force to be reckoned with. The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain both premiered to critical acclaim, with reviews describing them as “a masterpiece of understatement and implication” and “an elegant gut-punch.” Vo’s first novel The Chosen and the Beautiful comes out soon with a release expected for June 1. The book is a retelling of The Great Gatsby, focusing on Jordan Baker. She is still wealthy and talented, but she’s also queer, Asian and adopted. Vo’s career is just beginning and I’m excited to follow along with it.
Charles Yu is known for a lot of things. He’s a short story writer, a novelist, a television writer, an essayist and an editor. His second novel Interior Chinatown came out in early 2020 and went on to win the National Book Award. It’s written as a screenplay led by “Generic Asian Man” actor Willis Wu. Wu questions his role as the protagonist. He starts to feel like he isn’t even the main character in his own life. Other characters represent Asian American stereotypes which include Disgraced Son, Old Asian Man and the coveted role of Kung Fu Guy.
Yu has also written for Westworld (receiving two nominations for Writers Guild of America Awards), Legion, Here and Now and Sorry for Your Loss. Keep an eye on him! Charles Yu is definitely one to watch.
You can purchase any and all of these writers’ books from your local independent bookstore or from Bookshop.org. If you’re looking for more ways to support the Asian American community, Stop AAPI Hate is a good place to start.
This article was originally published on 3/30/21
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