Honoring Asian American Women

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| By Carol Schwartz, Senior Content Developer, Gale |

I set out to write a blog post about literature for Women’s History Month and was struggling to hone in on a specific topic to cover in this broad area of study. The horrific events on March 17 in Atlanta, in which six Asian American women and two men were shot by a white gunman, gave me my focus: Asian American women writers. I wrote this to honor them.

The Asian American writer category represents a much wider swath of diverse backgrounds and experiences than the term implies. When focusing on women authors within this group of authors, readers can find a rich source of literature that, while it has gained wider recognition in recent years, is still often marginalized within the mainstream.

Below is a select list of lauded Asian American women writers, with a sampling of opportunities to further explore their lives and work through a collection of resources in Gale Literature, including biographies, work overviews, critical discussion, and sometimes full text of their works.

SUI SIN FAR (1865–1914) and ONOTO WATANNA (1875–1954), Chinese Canadian writers

Sisters Edith Maude Eaton and Winnifred Eaton each wrote under the above pseudonyms, respectively. They were born to a British father and Chinese mother, who immigrated with their 14 children to Montreal. Sui Sin Far, a short story writer, journalist, and essayist, is recognized as the first writer of Asian descent to be published in North America. Onoto Watanna, author and screenwriter, was the first novelist of Chinese descent to be published in the United States. While Edith Maude adopted a Chinese nom de plume, her younger sister, Winnifred, adopted a Japanese persona and wrote on Japanese themes.

● Biography of Far, followed by a critical discussion of her work, available in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 232.

● Biography of Watanna and an overview of her work, available in Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors.

● “Sui Sin Far and Onoto Watanna: Two Early Chinese-Canadian Authors,” an article from Canadian Literature, available in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 62.

● “The Multicultural Perspective of Sui Sin Far,” an essay from American Narratives: Multiethnic Writing in the Age of Realism, available in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 232.

● Full text of “The Marriage of Okiku-San,” a short story by Watanna, from Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, available in Gale Literature Resource Center.

MAXINE HONG KINGSTON (1940–), Chinese American autobiographer, novelist, poet, editor, short story writer, and nonfiction author

Maxine Hong Kingston is best known for The Woman Warrior: A Girlhood among Ghosts (1976), which uses history and myth passed on to her by family members and other Chinese American “story talkers” in an attempt to reconcile American and Chinese female identities. Her works have been recognized with numerous awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award.

● Biography and overview of her work, available in Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors.

● Biography, followed by critical discussion of her work, available in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 271.

● Transcript of an interview with Kingston, available in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 136.

CATHY SONG (1955–), Korean American poet

Many of Cathy Song’s poems are autobiographical and reveal the difficult aspects of having an Asian American identity, but many also transcend the boundaries of race, gender, class, or culture—conveying universal themes of family, love, and death. “I’m a poet who happens to be Asian American,” Song once stated during an interview in the International Examiner. Her poems have won many prizes, including the Pushcart Prize.

● Biography and overview of her work, available in Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors.

● Biography, followed by critical discussion of her work, available in Poetry Criticism, Vol. 21.

● Overview of her poetry collection, Picture Bride, available in Gale Literature Resource Center.

● Full text of her poem “Fur,” available in Gale Literature Resource Center.

CYNTHIA KADOHATA (1956–), Japanese American novelist and short story writer

Cynthia Kadohata was originally best known for her portrayal of a Japanese American family in her first novel, The Floating World, written in 1989. After two more adult novels, she began writing for children and young adults with continued success. In 2005, she received the prestigious Newbery Medal for Kira-Kira, a semiautobiographical tale about a Japanese American girl growing up in a small town in rural Georgia.

● Biography and overview of her work, available in Gale Literature: Something about the Author.

● Transcript of her 2005 Newbery Medal acceptance speech from Horn Book Magazine, available in Children’s Literature Review.

● Brief biography, followed by critical discussion of her debut novel, The Floating World, available in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 59.

ESMÉ WEIJUN WANG (1983–), Taiwanese American writer and mental health advocate

Esmé Weijun Wang’s writing has focused on mental and physical illness, in both fiction and essays, that intertwine with issues of identity. Wang, who identifies as queer, won the 2019 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize for the essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias. She received a 2018 Whiting Award and was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists in 2017.

● Biography and overview of her work, available in Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors.

Kirkus review of her novel, The Border of Paradise, available in Gale Literature Resource Center.

● “Hallucinations Kidnap the Senses in ‘The Collected Schizophrenias,’” transcript and audio file of a short interview, available in Gale Literature Resource Center

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