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Asian American literature is rich, challenging, interesting and fun; wildly diverse in form and content; and worthy of attention from all readers, both Asian American and non-Asian American. This course challenges the assumption that literature by white writers is neutral and universal—for everyone—while literature by minority writers is narrow, specialized, “different”, and reserved for people of those groups. In this class, students of all backgrounds are encouraged to think, talk honestly, and explore Asian American literature and the issues surrounding and within it.
We read essays, fiction, drama and poetry by writers of East Asian, Pacific Islander, South Asian and Southeast Asian descent who live or have spent significant time in the United States of America (who may or may not primarily identify themselves as Asian American or their work as Asian American literature). In the fall, we read Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake, and in the spring, Chang-rae Lee’s novel Native Speaker. Each semester features Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir The Woman Warrior and David Henry Hwang’s play M. Butterfly. Other works may include poetry from Poetry Magazine’s July/August 2017 Issue: Asian American Poets; stories from Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World (an anthology of contemporary Asian American fiction), and many other essays, plays, poems and stories. New Asian American literature is created every day, and the reading list is constantly being refreshed.
We’ll explore some special issues of immigrant or “ethnic” literature, as well as the term “Asian American” and the issues surrounding this construct. We’ll consider whether, and how, this writing reflects and produces Asian American identity and culture. We will look at some literary and cultural theory, to help us understand how identity is produced and reflected in these works that imagine Asian American possibilities. Class involves daily lively discussion. There are several short writing assignments (analytical, creative and personal). There is an important class trip to see a play by and about Asian Americans (previous classes have seen Jaclyn Backhaus’s India Pale Ale, Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone, the musical Allegiance and the revival of M. Butterfly on Broadway). There is also a short play assignment, and some student plays are selected to be performed by professional actors in a reading at school sponsored by 2G, an Asian American theater company, which is open to all in the Stuyvesant community.
This one-semester class is open to juniors as an English selective that can replace a semester of core American Literature, and to all juniors and seniors as an elective.
Some Course Essential Questions
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