What to Read When You Want to Celebrate APIA Heritage Month
May is Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, and while The Rumpus celebrates writing by APIA artists year-round, we think it’s especially important to share a list of work written exclusively by APIA writers this month. This year, we’ve asked our editors to share new and forthcoming books from the APIA community that they’re especially excited for—and we hope you’ll consider ordering and pre-ordering more than a few in support of these amazing authors!
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That Was Then, This Is Now by Vijay Seshadri
No one blends ironic intelligence, emotional frankness, radical self-awareness, and complex humor the way Vijay Seshadri does. That Was Now, This Is Then takes on the planar paradoxes of time and space, destabilizing highly tuned lyrics and elegies with dizzying turns in poems of unrequitable longing, of longing for longing, of longing to be found, of grief. In these poems, Seshadri’s speaker becomes the subject, the reader becomes the writer, and the multiplying refracted narratives yield an “anguish so pure it almost / feels like joy.” A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
David Tung Can’t Get a Girlfriend until He Gets into an Ivy League College by Ed Lin
David Tung Can’t Get a Girlfriend until He Gets into an Ivy League College is the first official young adult novel from Ed Lin, author of the acclaimed novels Waylaid and This Is a Bust. Humorous and socially complex, the book tells the story of an Asian American New Jersey high-school student as he navigates multiple social circles as well as parental pressures to get As and conform to cultural norms and expectations. Amid these pressures from outside is the fear he will die alone, whether he gets into Harvard or not.
Arrow by Sumita Chakraborty
“This powerful and endlessly mysterious collection of poems is a book of fables, of spells, of revised narratives, and of realigned songs, brightly lifted above our bodies by music that is as unpredictable as it is marvelous. The lyricism is everywhere apparent as Sumita Chakraborty addresses us, our bodies and their stories, our planet, and our sense of time itself. How does she do it? Mad Ireland hurt him into poetry, W. H. Auden wrote about Yeats, and as the hurt enters Chakraborty’s language, we see that in speech violated, sounds and meanings—and even the oldest of human mysteries, like ‘the etymology of love’—are redefined. All one can do is repeat: this is an endlessly compelling book. Bravo.” – Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang
One evening, Mother tells Daughter a story about a tiger spirit who lived in a woman’s body. She was called Hu Gu Po, and she hungered to eat children, especially their toes. Soon afterwards, Daughter awakes with a tiger tail. And more mysterious events follow: Holes in the backyard spit up letters penned by her grandmother; a visiting aunt arrives with snakes in her belly; a brother tests the possibility of flight. All the while, Daughter is falling for Ben, a neighborhood girl with mysterious powers of her own. As the two young lovers translate the grandmother’s letters, Daughter begins to understand that each woman in her family embodies a myth—and that she will have to bring her family’s secrets to light in order to change their destiny.
Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear by Matthew Salesses
Matt Kim is always tired. He keeps passing out. His cat is dead. His wife and daughter have left him. He’s estranged from his adoptive family. People bump into him on the street as if he isn’t there. He is pretty sure he’s disappearing. His girlfriend, Yumi, is less convinced. But then she runs into someone who looks exactly like her, and her doppelgänger turns out to have dated someone who looks exactly like Matt. Except the other Matt was superior in every way. He was clever, successful, generous, and beloved—until one day he suddenly and completely vanished without warning. How can Matt Kim protect his existence when a better version of him wasn’t able to? Or is his worse life a reason for his survival? A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
As a child, Nezhukumatathil called many places home: the grounds of a Kansas mental institution, where her Filipina mother was a doctor; the open skies and tall mountains of Arizona, where she hiked with her Indian father; and the chillier climes of western New York and Ohio. But no matter where she was transplanted―no matter how awkward the fit or forbidding the landscape―she was able to turn to our world’s fierce and funny creatures for guidance. “What the peacock can do,” she tells us, “is remind you of a home you will run away from and run back to all your life.” The axolotl teaches us to smile, even in the face of unkindness; the touch-me-not plant shows us how to shake off unwanted advances; the narwhal demonstrates how to survive in hostile environments. Even in the strange and the unlovely, Nezhukumatathil finds beauty and kinship. For it is this way with wonder: it requires that we are curious enough to look past the distractions in order to fully appreciate the world’s gifts. Gorgeously illustrated by Fumi Nakamura, World of Wonders is a book of sustenance and joy.
The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio
Excel spends his days trying to seem like an unremarkable American teenager. When he’s not working at The Pie Who Loved Me (a spy-themed pizza shop) or passing the time with his girlfriend Sab (occasionally in one of their town’s seventeen cemeteries), he carefully avoids the spotlight. But Excel knows that his family is far from normal. His mother, Maxima, was once a Filipina B-movie action star who now makes her living scamming men online. The old man they live with is not his grandfather, but Maxima’s lifelong martial arts trainer. And years ago, on Excel’s tenth birthday, Maxima revealed a secret that he must keep forever. “We are ‘TNT’—tago ng tago,” she told him, “hiding and hiding.” Excel is undocumented—and one accidental slip could uproot his entire life. Casting aside the paranoia and secrecy of his childhood, Excel takes a leap, joining Sab on a journey south to a ramshackle desert town called Hello City. Populated by drifters, old hippies, and washed-up techies—and existing outside the normal constructs of American society—Hello City offers Excel a chance to forge his own path for the first time. But after so many years of trying to be invisible, who does he want to become? And is it possible to put down roots in a country that has always considered you an outsider?
Members Only by Sameer Pandya
Raj Bhatt is often unsure of where he belongs. Having moved to America from Bombay as a child, he knew few Indian kids. Now middle-aged, he lives mostly happily in California, with a job at a university. Still, his white wife seems to fit in better than he does at times, especially at their tennis club, a place he’s cautiously come to love. But it’s there that, in one week, his life unravels. It begins at a meeting for potential new members: Raj thrills to find an African American couple on the list; he dreams of a more diverse club. But in an effort to connect, he makes a racist joke. The committee turns on him, no matter the years of prejudice he’s put up with. And worse still, he soon finds his job is in jeopardy after a group of students report him as a reverse racist, thanks to his alleged “anti-Western bias.” Members Only explores what membership and belonging mean, as Raj navigates the complicated space between black and white America.
Inconvenient Daughter by Lauren J. Sharkey
Rowan Kelly knows she’s lucky. After all, if she hadn’t been adopted by Marie and Joseph, she could have spent her days in a rice paddy, or a windowless warehouse assembling iPhones—they make iPhones in Korea, right? Either way, slowly dying of boredom on Long Island is surely better than the alternative. According to Marie and Joseph, being adopted means Rowan is “special,” but when she’s sent to kindergarten at an all-white Catholic girls’ school, she realizes that “special” means “different,” and not in a good way. It occurs to her that she’ll never know if she has her mother’s eyes, or if she’d be in America at all, had her adoptive parents been able to conceive. She sets out to prove that she can be someone’s first choice—that she isn’t just a consolation prize. After running away from home—and her parents’ rules—and ending up beaten, barefoot, and topless on a Pennsylvania street courtesy of Bad Boy Number One, Rowan attaches herself to Never-Going-to-Commit. When that doesn’t work out, she fully abandons self-respect and begins browsing the Craigslist personals. But as Rowan dives deeper and deeper into the world of casual encounters with strangers, she discovers what she’s really looking for. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
A Fish Growing Lungs by Alysia Sawchyn
At age eighteen Alysia Sawchyn was diagnosed with bipolar I. Seven years later she learned she had been misdiagnosed. A Fish Growing Lungs takes the form of linked essays that reflect on Sawchyn’s diagnosis and its unraveling, the process of withdrawal and recovery, and the search for identity as she emerges from a difficult past into a cautiously hopeful present. Sawchyn captures the precariousness of life under the watchful eye of doctors, friends, and family, in which saying or doing the wrong thing could lead to involuntary confinement. This scrutiny is compounded by the stigmas of mental illness and the societal expectations placed on the bodies of women and women of color. And yet, amid juggling medications, doubting her diagnosis, and struggling with addiction and cutting, there is also joy, friendship, love, and Slayer concerts. Drawing from life experience, literature, music, medical journals, films, and recovery communities, each essay illuminates the richness of self-knowledge that comes from the act of writing itself. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
The Groom Will Keep His Name by Matt Ortile
When Matt Ortile moved from Manila to Las Vegas, the locals couldn’t pronounce his name. Harassed as a kid for his brown skin, accent, and femininity, he believed he could belong in America by marrying a white man and shedding his Filipino identity. This was the first myth he told himself. The Groom Will Keep His Name explores the various tales Ortile spun about what it means to be a Vassar Girl, an American Boy, and a Filipino immigrant in New York looking to build a home. As we meet and mate, we tell stories about ourselves, revealing not just who we are, but who we want to be. Ortile recounts the relationships and whateverships that pushed him to confront his notions of sex, power, and the model minority myth. Whether swiping on Grindr, analyzing DMs, or cruising steam rooms, Ortile brings us on his journey toward radical self-love with intelligence, wit, and his heart on his sleeve.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
Jivan is a Muslim girl from the slums, determined to move up in life, who is accused of executing a terrorist attack on a train because of a careless comment on Facebook. PT Sir is an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party, and finds that his own ascent becomes linked to Jivan’s fall. Lovely—an irresistible outcast whose exuberant voice and dreams of glory fill the novel with warmth and hope and humor—has the alibi that can set Jivan free, but it will cost her everything she holds dear. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance at a breakneck pace on complex themes that read here as the components of a thriller: class, fate, corruption, justice, and what it feels like to face profound obstacles and yet nurture big dreams in a country spinning toward extremism.
This Is One Way to Dance by Sejal Shah
In the linked essays that make up her debut collection, Sejal Shah explores culture, language, family, and place. Throughout, Shah reflects on what it means to make oneself visible and legible through writing in a country that struggles with race and maps her identity as an American, South Asian American, writer of color, and feminist. Shah invites us to consider writing as a somatic practice, a composition of digressions, repetitions―movement as transformation, incantation. Her essays―some narrative, others lyrical and poetic―explore how we are all marked by culture, gender, and race; by the limits of our bodies, by our losses and regrets, by who and what we love, by our ambivalences, and by trauma and silence. Language fractures in its attempt to be spoken. Shah asks and attempts to answer the question: How do you move in such a way that loss does not limit you?
Fairest: A Memoir by Meredith Talusan
Fairest is a memoir about a precocious boy with albinism, a “sun child” from a rural Philippine village, who would grow up to become a woman in America. Coping with the strain of parental neglect and the elusive promise of US citizenship, Talusan found childhood comfort from her devoted grandmother, a grounding force as she was treated by others with special preference or public curiosity. As an immigrant to the United States, Talusan came to be perceived as white. An academic scholarship to Harvard provided access to elite circles of privilege but required Talusan to navigate through the complex spheres of race, class, sexuality, and her place within the gay community. She emerged as an artist and an activist questioning the boundaries of gender. Talusan realized she did not want to be confined to a prescribed role as a man, and transitioned to become a woman, despite the risk of losing a man she deeply loved. Throughout her journey, Talusan shares poignant and powerful episodes of desirability and love. Her evocative reflections shift our own perceptions of love, identity, gender, and the fairness of life.
Brown Album: Essays on Exile and Identity by Porochista Khakpour
Porochista Khakpour’s family moved to Los Angeles after fleeing the Iranian Revolution, giving up their successes only to be greeted by an alienating culture. Growing up as an immigrant in America means that one has to make one’s way through a confusing tangle of conflicting cultures and expectations. And Porochista is pulled between the glitzy culture of Tehrangeles, an enclave of wealthy Iranians and Persians in LA, her own family’s modest life and culture, and becoming an assimilated American. Porochista rebels—she bleaches her hair and flees to the East Coast, where she finds her community: other people writing and thinking at the fringes. But, 9/11 happens and with horror, Porochista watches from her apartment window as the towers fall. Extremism and fear of the Middle East rises in the aftermath and then again with the election of Donald Trump. Porochista is forced to finally grapple with what it means to be Middle-Eastern and Iranian, an immigrant, and a refugee in our country today. Brown Album is a stirring collection of essays drawn from more than a decade of Porochista’s work and with new material included. Altogether, it reveals the tolls that immigrant life in this country can take on a person and the joys that life can give.
My Baby First Birthday by Jenny Zhang
Jenny Zhang writes about accepting pain, about the way we fetishize womanhood and motherhood, and reduce women to their violations, traumas, and body parts. She questions the way we feminize and racialize nurturing, and live in service of other people’s dreams. Her poems explore the obscenity of patriarchy, whiteness, and capitalism, the violence of rescue and heroism. The magic trick in this book is that despite all these themes, the book never feels like some jeremiad. Zhang uses friendship as a lyric. She seeks tenderness, radiant beauty, and having love for your mistakes. Through all this, she writes about being alone—really alone, like why-was-I-ever-born alone—and trying, despite everything, to reach out and touch something—skin to skin, animal to animal.
Quotients by Tracy O’Neill
Jeremy Jordan and Alexandra Chen hope to make a quiet home together but struggle to find a space safe from their personal secrets. For Jeremy, this means leaving behind his former life as an intelligence operative during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. For Alexandra, a high-powered job in image management for whole countries cannot prepare her for her missing brother’s sudden reappearance. In a culture of limitless surveillance, Jeremy and Alexandra will go to great lengths to protect what is closest to them and answer the question of whether their love will be returned. Spanning decades and continents, their saga brings them into contact with a down-and-out online journalist, shadowy security professionals, and jockeying technology experts, each of whom has a different understanding of whether information really protects us, and how we might build a world worth trusting in our paranoid age. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly
Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas are three siblings in seventh grade together in Park, Delaware. In 1986, as the country waits expectantly for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, they each struggle with their own personal anxieties. Cash, who loves basketball but has a newly broken wrist, is in danger of failing seventh grade for the second time. Fitch spends every afternoon playing Major Havoc at the arcade on Main and wrestles with an explosive temper that he doesn’t understand. And Bird, his twelve-year-old twin, dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but feels like she’s disappearing. The Thomas children exist in their own orbits, circling a tense and unpredictable household, with little in common except an enthusiastic science teacher named Ms. Salonga. As the launch of the Challenger approaches, Ms. Salonga gives her students a project—they are separated into spacecraft crews and must create and complete a mission. When the fated day finally arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.
Sansei and Sensibility by Karen Tei Yamashita
Karen Tei Yamashita transfers classic tales across boundaries and questions what an inheritance—familial, cultural, emotional, artistic—really means. In a California of the ’60s and ’70s, characters examine the contents of deceased relatives’ freezers, tape-record high school locker-room chatter, or collect a community’s gossip while cleaning the teeth of its inhabitants. Mr. Darcy is the captain of the football team, Mansfield Park materializes in a suburb of LA, bake sales replace ballroom dances, and station wagons, not horse-drawn carriages, are the preferred mode of transit. These stories of traversing class, race, and gender leap into our modern world with wit and humor.
The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit edited by Leah Silvieus and Lee Herrick
The first anthology of its kind, The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit spotlights poets of Asian descent, representing many cultures and religious traditions, including Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. Among these poets are active religious practitioners, recent converts, and those who do not follow a religious tradition but practice a personal devotion in the negative space of the unknown. The sixty-two poets included here create a varied and nuanced portrait of today’s Asian American poets and their spiritual engagements.
Muslim Women Are Everything by Seema Yasmin
Featuring forty full-color illustrations by illustrator Fahmida Azim throughout, Muslim Women Are Everything is a celebration of the ways in which past and present Muslim women from around the world are singing, dancing, reading, writing, laughing, experimenting, driving, and rocking their way into the history books. Showcasing women who defy categorization, Muslim Women Are Everything proves that to be Muslim and a woman is to be many things: strong, vulnerable, trans, disabled, funny, entrepreneurial, burqa or bikini clad, and so much more.
Habitat Threshold by Craig Santos Perez
With Habitat Threshold, Craig Santos Perez has crafted a timely collection of ecopoetry that explores his ancestry as a native Pacific Islander, the ecological plight of his homeland, and his fears for the future. The book begins with the birth of the author’s daughter, capturing her growth and childlike awe at the wonders of nature. As it progresses, Perez confronts the impacts of environmental injustice, the ravages of global capitalism, toxic waste, animal extinction, water rights, human violence, mass migration, and climate change. Throughout, he mourns lost habitats and species, and confronts his fears for the future world his daughter will inherit. Amid meditations on calamity, this work does not stop at the threshold of elegy. Instead, the poet envisions a sustainable future in which our ethics are shaped by the indigenous belief that the earth is sacred and all beings are interconnected—a future in which we cultivate love and “carry each other towards the horizon of care.”
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd
Breasts and Eggs tells the story of three women: thirty-year-old Natsu, her older sister, Makiko, and Makiko’s daughter, Midoriko. Makiko has traveled to Tokyo in search of an affordable breast enhancement procedure. She is accompanied by Midoriko, who has recently grown silent, finding herself unable to voice the vague yet overwhelming pressures associated with growing up. Her silence proves a catalyst for each woman to confront her fears and frustrations. On another hot summer’s day ten years later, Natsu, on a journey back to her native city, struggles with her own indeterminate identity as she confronts anxieties about growing old alone and childless.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
Ba dies in the night; Ma is already gone. Newly orphaned children of immigrants, Lucy and Sam are suddenly alone in a land that refutes their existence. Fleeing the threats of their western mining town, they set off to bury their father in the only way that will set them free from their past. Along the way, they encounter giant buffalo bones, tiger paw prints, and the specters of a ravaged landscape as well as family secrets, sibling rivalry, and glimpses of a different kind of future. Both epic and intimate, blending Chinese symbolism and reimagined history with fiercely original language and storytelling, How Much of These Hills Is Gold explores race in an expanding country and the question of where immigrants are allowed to belong. But page by page, it’s about the memories that bind and divide families, and the yearning for home.
Obit by Victoria Chang
After her mother died, poet Victoria Chang refused to write elegies. Rather, she distilled her grief during a feverish two weeks by writing scores of poetic obituaries for all she lost in the world. In Obit, Chang writes of “the way memory gets up after someone has died and starts walking.” These poems reinvent the form of newspaper obituary to both name what has died (“civility,” “language,” “the future,” “Mother’s blue dress”) and the cultural impact of death on the living. Whereas elegy attempts to immortalize the dead, an obituary expresses loss, and the love for the dead becomes a conduit for self-expression. In this unflinching and lyrical book, Chang meets her grief and creates a powerful testament for the living.
American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
For over one hundred years, the Mockett family has owned a seven-thousand-acre wheat farm in the panhandle of Nebraska, where Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s father was raised. Mockett, who grew up in bohemian Carmel, California, with her father and her Japanese mother, knew little about farming when she inherited this land. Her father had all but forsworn it. In American Harvest, Mockett accompanies a group of evangelical Christian wheat harvesters through the heartland at the invitation of Eric Wolgemuth, the conservative farmer who has cut her family’s fields for decades. As Mockett follows Wolgemuth’s crew on the trail of ripening wheat from Texas to Idaho, they contemplate what Wolgemuth refers to as “the divide,” inadvertently peeling back layers of the American story to expose its contradictions and unhealed wounds. She joins the crew in the fields, attends church, and struggles to adapt to the rhythms of rural life, all the while continually reminded of her own status as a person who signals “not white,” but who people she encounters can’t quite categorize.
Birthright by George Abraham
Birthright is a book that balances the weight of place. The pride and shame and worth of homeland. Palestine, a homeland under siege and under scrutiny from a world that doesn’t occupy its borders. It is a book of immense nuance, pulling together all corners of the author’s pride in home, but also a desire to understand the violent cycles of the American machinery of war
Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
On their first date, Mina told Oscar that she was bisexual, vegetarian, and on meds. He married her anyhow. A challenge to be met. She had low days, sure, but manageable. But now, maybe not so much… Mina is standing on the George Washington Bridge late at night, staring over the edge, when a patrol car drives up. She tries to convince the policeman she’s not about to jump, but he doesn’t believe her. Oscar is called to pick her up. With the idea of leaving New York for London—a place for Mina “to learn the floorplan of this sadness”—Oscar arranges a move. In London, Mina, a classicist, tries grappling with her mental health issues by making lists. Of WOMEN WHO SURVIVED—Penelope, Psyche, Leda. Iphigenia, but only in one of the tellings. Of things that make her HAPPY—enamel coffee cups. But what else? She at last finds a beam of light in Phoebe, and friendship and attraction blossom until Oscar and Mina’s complicated love is tested.
Cut to Bloom by Arhm Choi Wild
While talking back to the colonialism of strict poetic form, this book attempts to disrupt clear definitions and redefine the American identity as one that is constructed more by questions than answers. This book celebrates the self-made, rogue bouquet, the taking of what you were given and transforming it into something you could make a gift of, and examines what needs to be pruned in order to arrive at this transformation.
The Fish & The Dove by Mary-Kim Arnold
“The Fish & The Dove considers the history of occupation, the legacy of the Korean War, and the ways in which official and institutional language of war obfuscates lived experience. In it, I bear witness to what girlhood, womanhood, and motherhood might mean in the context of family, nation, and history. The legendary Assyrian warrior goddess Semiramis haunts this book, and by giving her voice, I attempt to foreground women’s experience in narratives that so often tokenize, dehumanize, and exclude them. The text is informed by and appropriates institutional language, including reports of the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission on governmental atrocities committed during the Korean War.” – Mary-Kim Arnold A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang
The plan is to leave. As for how, when, to where, and even why—she doesn’t know yet. So begins a journey for the twenty-four-year-old narrator of Days of Distraction. As a staff writer at a prestigious tech publication, she reports on the achievements of smug Silicon Valley billionaires and start-up bros while her own request for a raise gets bumped from manager to manager. And when her longtime boyfriend, J, decides to move to a quiet upstate New York town for grad school, she sees an excuse to cut and run. Moving is supposed to be a grand gesture of her commitment to J and a way to reshape her sense of self. But in the process, she finds herself facing misgivings about her role in an interracial relationship. Captivated by the stories of her ancestors and other Asian Americans in history, she must confront a question at the core of her identity: What does it mean to exist in a society that does not notice or understand you?
The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer by Eric Tran
In The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer, Eric Tran contends with the aftermath of a close friend’s suicide while he simultaneously explores the complexities of being a gay man of color. Grief opens into unraveling circles of inquiry as Tran reflects on the loss of his friend and of their shared identity as gay Asian American men. Through mourning and acute observations, these poems consider how those who experience marginalization, the poet included, may live and fall victim to tragedy. Tran explores how his life, even while in the company of desire and the pursuit of freedom, is never far from danger. Like grief that makes the whole world seem strange, Tran’s poetry merges into fantasy lands and rides the lines between imagined worlds and the reality of inescapable loss. A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully. Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.
More Than Organs by Kay Ulanday Barrett
A love letter to Brown, Queer, and Trans futures, Kay Ulanday Barrett’s More Than Organs questions “whatever wholeness means” for bodies always in transit, for the safeties and dangers they silo. These poems remix people of color as earthbenders, replay “the choreography of loss” after the 2015 Pulse shooting, and till joy from the cosmic sweetness of a family’s culinary history. Barrett works “to build / a shelter // of / everyone / [they] meet,” from aunties to the legendary Princess Urduja to their favorite air sign. More Than Organs tattoos grief across the knuckles of its left hand and love across the knuckles of its right, leaving the reader physically changed by the intensity of experience, longing, strength, desire, and the need, above all else, to survive.
Connor & Seal by Jee Leong Koh
Inspired by Rita Dove’s groundbreaking Thomas and Beulah, Connor & Seal is a masterful queering of poetic lineage. With oracular grace and whimsy, these poems innovate the public and private axes of gay love in a tumescent future. We meet Connor, a native Nebraskan and fledgling grant writer, and Seal, a financial analyst from Kingston, Jamaica, as they flummox the space between desire and demise, “the sun again a big orange pill / stuck in the blue throat of the sky.” Connor & Seal serves as almanac to a time not far off, of techno-queer bots, state-sponsored violence, and individual resistance. With imaginative dexterity and stylistic flexibility, each poem in Connor & Seal becomes a cipher of the labor of tomorrow’s construction: “a bench where two old faggots had to stop,” an emblem of a future history, “as quiet as the siren / is alarming.”
Deceit and Other Possibilities: Stories by Vanessa Hua
In her powerful collection, first published in 2016 and now featuring new stories, Vanessa Hua gives voice to immigrant families navigating a shifting America. Tied to their ancestral and adopted homelands in ways unimaginable in generations past, these memorable characters span both worlds but belong to none, illustrating the conflict between self and society, tradition and change.
New Waves by Kevin Nguyen
Lucas and Margo are fed up. Margo is a brilliant programmer tired of being talked over as the company’s sole black employee, and while Lucas is one of many Asians at the firm, he’s nearly invisible as a low-paid customer service rep. Together, they decide to steal their tech startup’s user database in an attempt at revenge. The heist takes a sudden turn when Margo dies in a car accident, and Lucas is left reeling, wondering what to do with their secret—and wondering whether her death really was an accident. When Lucas hacks into Margo’s computer looking for answers, he is drawn into her private online life and realizes just how little he knew about his best friend.
Foreign Bodies by Kimiko Hahn
Inspired by her encounter with Dr. Chevalier Jackson’s collection of ingested curiosities at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, Kimiko Hahn’s tenth collection investigates the grip that seemingly insignificant objects exert on our lives. Itself a cabinet of curiosities, the collection provokes the same surprise, wonder, and pangs of recognition Hahn felt upon opening drawer after drawer of these swallowed, and retrieved, objects. As Hahn remakes the lyric sequence in chains reminiscent of the Japanese tanka, the foreign bodies of the title expand to include the immigrant woman’s trafficked body, fossilized remains, a grandmother’s Japanese body. Foreign Bodies investigates the power of possession, replete with Hahn’s electric originality and thrilling mastery of ever-changing forms.
Shahr-E-Jaanaan: The City of the Beloved by Adeeba Shahid Talukder
Shahr-e-jaanaan sets out to recreate the universe of Urdu and Persian poetic tradition. As the speaker maps her romances onto legends, directing their characters perform her own tragedy, their fantastical metaphors easily lend themselves to her fluctuating mental state. Cycling between delirious grandeur and wretched despair, she is torn between two selves—the pitiable lover continually rejected, and the cruel, unattainable beloved comparable in her exaltation to a god.
A Nail the Evening Hangs On by Monica Sok
In her debut collection, Monica Sok uses poetry to reshape a family’s memory about the Khmer Rouge regime―memory that is both real and imagined―according to a child of refugees. Driven by myth-making and fables, the poems examine the inheritance of the genocide and the profound struggles of searing grief and PTSD. Though the landscape of Cambodia is always present, it is the liminal space, the in-betweenness of diaspora, in which younger generations must reconcile their history and create new rituals. A Nail the Evening Hangs On seeks to reclaim the Cambodian narrative with tenderness and an imagination that moves towards wholeness and possibility.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
Part memoir and part cultural criticism, this collection is vulnerable, humorous, and provocative—and its relentless and riveting pursuit of vital questions around family and friendship, art and politics, identity and individuality, will change the way you think about our world. Binding these essays together is Hong’s theory of “minor feelings.” As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these “minor feelings” occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality—when you believe the lies you’re told about your own racial identity. Minor feelings are not small, they’re dissonant—and in their tension Hong finds the key to the questions that haunt her.
The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Ken Liu is one of the most lauded short story writers of our time. This collection includes a selection of his science fiction and fantasy stories from the last five years plus a new novella. In addition to these seventeen selections, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories also features an excerpt from book three in the Dandelion Dynasty series, The Veiled Throne.
Good Boys by Megan Fernandes
Megan Fernandes’s Good Boys follows a restless, nervy, cosmically abandoned speaker failing at the aspirational markers of adulthood as she flips from city to city, from enchantment to disgust, always reemerging―just barely―on the trains and bridges and bar stools of New York City. A child of the Indian ocean diaspora, Fernandes enacts the humor and devastation of what it means to exist as a body of contradictions. Her interpretations are muddied. Her feminism is accusatory, messy. Her homelands are theoretical and rootless. The poet converses with goats and throws a fit at a tarot reading; she loves the intimacy of strangers during turbulent plane rides and has dark fantasies about the “hydrogen fruit” of nuclear fallout. Ultimately, these poems possess an affection for the doomed: false beloveds, the hounded earth, civilizations intent on their own ruin. Fernandes skillfully interrogates where to put our fury and, more importantly, where to direct our mercy.
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: He’s merely a Generic Asian Man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but he is always relegated to a prop. Yet every day he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. At least that’s what he has been told, time and time again. Except by one person, his mother, who says to him: Be more.
Little Gods by Meng Jin
On the night of June Fourth, a woman gives birth in a Beijing hospital alone. Thus begins the unraveling of Su Lan, a brilliant physicist who until this moment has successfully erased her past. When Su Lan dies unexpectedly seventeen years later, it is her daughter Liya who inherits the silences and contradictions of her life. Liya, who grew up in America, takes her mother’s ashes to China—to her, an unknown country. In a territory inhabited by the ghosts of the living and the dead, Liya’s memories are joined by those of two others: Zhu Wen, the woman last to know Su Lan before she left China, and Yongzong, the father Liya has never known. In this way a portrait of Su Lan emerges: an ambitious scientist, an ambivalent mother, and a woman whose relationship to her own past shapes and ultimately unmakes Liya’s own sense of displacement. A story of migrations literal and emotional, spanning time, space and class, Little Gods is a sharp yet expansive exploration of the aftermath of unfulfilled dreams, an immigrant story in negative that grapples with our tenuous connections to memory, history, and self.
The Magical Language of Others by E. J. Koh
After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and adrift in a world made strange by her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters, in Korean, over the years seeking forgiveness and love―letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box. As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history―her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the horrors her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre―and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us: Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words―in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language―to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love?
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha
In the wake of the police shooting of a black teenager, Los Angeles is as tense as it’s been since the unrest of the early 1990s. But Grace Park and Shawn Matthews have their own problems. Grace is sheltered and largely oblivious, living in the Valley with her Korean-immigrant parents, working long hours at the family pharmacy. She’s distraught that her sister hasn’t spoken to their mother in two years, for reasons beyond Grace’s understanding. Shawn has already had enough of politics and protest after an act of violence shattered his family years ago. He just wants to be left alone to enjoy his quiet life in Palmdale. But when another shocking crime hits LA, both the Park and Matthews families are forced to face down their history while navigating the tumult of a city on the brink of more violence.
Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong
In her hit Netflix comedy special Baby Cobra, an eight-month pregnant Ali Wong resonated so strongly that she even became a popular Halloween costume. Wong told the world her remarkably unfiltered thoughts on marriage, sex, Asian culture, working women, and why you never see new mom comics on stage but you sure see plenty of new dads. The sharp insights and humor are even more personal in this collection. Wong shares the wisdom she’s learned from a life in comedy and reveals stories from her life off stage, including the brutal single life in New York (i.e. the inevitable confrontation with erectile dysfunction), reconnecting with her roots (and drinking snake blood) in Vietnam, tales of being a wild child growing up in San Francisco, and parenting war stories. Though addressed to her daughters, Ali Wong’s letters are absurdly funny, surprisingly moving, and enlightening (and gross) for all.
Bodega by Su Hwang
In Su Hwang’s rich lyrical and narrative poetics, the bodega and its surrounding neighborhoods are cast not as mere setting, but as an ecosystem of human interactions where a dollar passed from one stranger to another is an act of peaceful revolution, and desperate acts of violence are “the price / of doing business in the projects where we / were trapped inside human cages―binding us / in a strange circus where atoms of haves / and have-nots always forcefully collide.” These poems also reveal stark contrasts in the domestic lives of immigrants, as the speaker’s own family must navigate the many personal, cultural, and generational chasms that arise from having to assume a hyphenated identity. “We each suffer alone in / tandem,” Hwang declares, but in Bodega, she has written an antidote to this solitary hurt―an incisive poetic debut that acknowledges and gives shape to anguish as much as it cherishes human life, suggesting frameworks for how we might collectively move forward with awareness and compassion.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral—viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time. Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways—there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.
No Good Very Bad Asian by Leland Cheuk
Meet Sirius Lee, a fictive famous Chinese American comedian. He’s a no good, very bad Asian. He’s not good at math (or any other subject, really). He has no interest in finding a “good Chinese girlfriend.” And he refuses to put any effort into becoming the CEO/lawyer/doctor his parents so desperately want him to be. All he wants to do is make people laugh. No Good Very Bad Asian follows Sirius from his poor upbringing in the immigrant enclaves of Los Angeles to the loftiest heights of stardom as he struggles with substance abuse and persistent racism despite his fame. Ultimately, when he becomes a father himself, he must come to terms with who he is, where he came from, and the legacy he’ll leave behind.
The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong
The lives of writers can often best be understood through the eyes of those who nurtured them and made their work possible. In The Sweetest Fruits, three women tell the story of their time with Lafcadio Hearn, a globetrotting writer best known for his books about Meiji-era Japan. In their own unorthodox ways, these women are also intrepid travelers and explorers. Their accounts witness Hearn’s remarkable life but also seek to witness their own existence and luminous will to live unbounded by gender, race, and the mores of their time. Each is a gifted storyteller with her own precise reason for sharing her story, and together their voices offer a revealing, often contradictory portrait of Hearn. With brilliant sensitivity and an unstinting eye, Truong illuminates the women’s tenacity and their struggles in a novel that circumnavigates the globe in the search for love, family, home, and belonging.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly through a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Tolentino writes about a cultural prism: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the advent of scamming as the definitive millennial ethos; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the punitive dream of optimization, which insists that everything, including our bodies, should become more efficient and beautiful until we die. Gleaming with Tolentino’s sense of humor and capacity to elucidate the impossibly complex in an instant, and marked by her desire to treat the reader with profound honesty, Trick Mirror is an instant classic of the worst decade yet.
A Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika Tomar
Cale Lambert, a bookish loner of mysterious parentage, lives in a dusty town near the California-Nevada border, a place where coyotes scavenge for backyard dogs and long-haul truckers scavenge for pills and girls. Cale was raised by her grandfather in a loving, if codependent, household, but as soon as she’s left high school his health begins an agonizing decline. Set adrift for the first time, Cale starts waitressing at the local diner, where she reconnects with Penélope Reyes, a charismatic former classmate running mysterious side-hustles to fund her dreams. Penny exposes Cale to the reality that exists beyond their small town, and the girls become inseparable—until one terrifying act of violence shatters their world. When Penny vanishes without a trace, Cale must set off on a dangerous quest across the desert to find her friend, and discover herself.
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story. Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth—and the part he played in it.