This class, an iteration of Asian American Literature that focuses almost solely on works written by women, will include essays, poetry, short fiction, and novels.  “Asian” is a broad category that includes but is not limited to persons who trace their roots to China, Japan, Korea, Burma (or Myanmar), Vietnam, the Pacific Islands, or India and Pakistan.  As such, it represents people whose common racial categorization belies their very diverse histories and traditions–not only in their mother or home nations, but also in the United States, where waves of immigration, labor practices, attempts at assimilation, and shifting prejudices (among other factors) have variously affected the often difficult transition from “Asian” to “Asian American.”  Even for writers born and raised in the United States, the unique perspective of one “between worlds,” as one critic has phrased it, makes their writing of great interest.

For women, this transition has often been doubly complicated as they negotiate the gender biases, expectations, and limitations of different cultures.  The pain and beauty of forging a racialized and gendered self in our society is expressed in numerous important works of literature by Asian American women, literature which has flourished in the last thirty years and even gained popular attention through works such as Chinese-American Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (and the movie closely based on it).  Our readings will incorporate authors from several different ethnicities; the availability of texts will keep our focus primarily contemporary, but we will also study one older novel in exploring Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism.  Representing a variety of Asian ethnicities and experiences, our texts this semester will be drawn from writers of Japanese, Chinese, Filipina, Vietnamese, Korean, and Indian descent.  Appropriate theory and criticism will also inform our readings.

We will consider questions such as how do Asian American women writers represent the United States?  how do they represent their nations of origin or the traditions and history of their ancestors?  how are they affected by the racial prejudice of whites, and are they themselves also fearful or disdainful of racial others?  how do they understand the very concept of “race”?  how does gender intersect with race or ethnicity?  what constructions of identity control or liberate them?  what models of selfhood do they embrace?  if they are bilingual, how do the women balance their languages, and what does it mean to make the choice to write in English?  are the texts themselves remarkable in genre, style, form, or language?  what historical events or experiences do they examine and illuminate?  how does history shape their contemporary lives and attitudes?