In a recent virtual book talk  on the Asian American experience, renowned writers Cathy Park Hong,  Kevin Nguyen and Mira Jacob, joked about the white author portrayal of Asian AmericansThe characters are the same: “woke-ness was the destination and overcoming racism was the plot line.”

Luckily, we have seen a “renaissance” of Asian American literature in recent years. The “renaissance” goes beyond the homogenization of Asian American experiences and immigrant stories. 

Curious but not sure where to start? Here is a list of recommended nonfiction books by celebrated Asian American writers. They capture their diverse experiences and identities. 

With extra time at hand due to self-quarantine, now is the perfect time to read for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month!

  1. 1 Know My Name: A Memoir, by Chanel Miller

    In 2016, Brock Turner, a former Stanford swimmer, was sentenced to only 6 months for sexually assaulting 22-year old "Emily Doe"Following the sentencing, "Emily Doe's" victim impact statement was published on Buzzfeed and read 11 million times in 4 days.

    3 years after the heart-wrenching statement, the survivor  “Emily Doe” relinquished her anonymity. "Emily Doe" is Chanel Miller, a  courageous young woman of Chinese descent. In her memoir, "Know My Name,"  Miller reclaims her own identity by telling her story of trauma, pain, and transcendenceBrilliantly written and unapologetically honest, the book exposes the darkness of our culture and legal system. That darkness  protects perpetrators and reduces survivors into nameless victims.  Reclaiming the voice of sexual assault survivors, "Know My Name" is celebrated as a modern classic, a long-awaited must-read.

  2. 2 Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, by Cathy Park Hong

    In this part memoir and part cultural criticism, Hong, a poet and   daughter of Korean immigrants, humorously and provocatively reflects on her childhood and friendshipShe recalls the feeling of shame, internalized self-contempt, racism, erasure and painful wrestling between white approval and her own identity.

    With anti-Asian racism  on the rise due to COVID-19, "Minor Feelings" is a timely read on the racial consciousness and Asian American conditions in the US. Here are  some thought-provoking excerpts:

    • “In the popular imagination, Asian Americans inhabit a vague purgatorial status...ignored by whites, unless we’re being used by whites to keep the black man down. We are the carpenter ants of the service industry, the apparatchiks of the corporate world.”
    • “I have to address whiteness because Asian Americans have yet to truly reckon with where we stand in the capitalist white supremacist hierarchy of this country. We are so far from reckoning with it that some Asians think that race has no bearing on their lives, that it doesn’t ‘come up,’ which is as misguided as white people saying the same thing about themselves, not only because of discrimination we have faced but because of the entitlements we’ve been granted due to our racial identity.”

    Anti-Asian racism has reminded us again how ephemeral the model minority myth is. I  urge everyone to read this book to check their internalized racism towards Asian Americans.

    For our Asian American readers,  it is especially urgent to read "Minor Feelings" and perhaps ask themselves: who should we choose to have an affinity and alliance with?  Who do we see ourselves as? Pawns aspiring to be in proximity to whiteness that invariably uphold white supremacy and our own erasureOr  immigrants/Americans who are able to reckon with their own privilege  and pains, and to forge a path forward that is not premised on the  exclusion of others

  3. 3 Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

    In this amazing collection of personal essays, the award-winning  novelist Alexander Chee delves into the topics of writing, of beauty,  and of traumaAll of that while dealing with his identities as a gay  Korean American, writer, student, teacher, an activist during the AIDS  crisis, and so much moreIncredibly intimate, arresting, awe-inspiring.

    “All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.” 

    In "Nothing Ever Dies," Viet Thanh Nguyen meditates on the memories of war and how memories are commercialized,  capitalized and weaponized.

    A captivating read, Nguyen’s gripping  analysis sheds new light on not just the remembrance of war, but also broader collective memories. She recognizes our shared  humanity and inhumanity for justice and reconciliation. 

  4. 4 How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by Alexander Chee

    In this amazing collection of personal essays, the award-winning novelist Alexander Chee delves into the topics of writing, of beauty, and of trauma. All of that while dealing with his identities as a gay Korean American, writer, student, teacher, an activist during the AIDS crisis, and so much more. Incredibly intimate, arresting, awe-inspiring.

  5. 5 Trick Mirror: Reflections of Self-Delusion, by Jia Tolentino

    "Trick Mirror" is written by the amazing Jia Tolentino, a Filipina American writer for The New Yorker and former writer for JezebelTrick Mirror  is a refreshing, engaging read on social media, gender, feminism, and  the cultural prisms we inhabit. A much-needed piece of cultural  criticism for the digital age.

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