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Chinese American Authors in the Spotlight

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a yearly celebration replete with the histories and cultures of the many nations and heritages it represents.

Several Chinese American authors have shared and continue to share their experiences and perspectives as Asian Americans. The literary works of Yiyun Li, Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Lisa See address both historical and contemporary issues shaping the lives of Asian Americans, particularly Chinese Americans.

Author Yiyun Li <br \> Courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

Author Yiyun Li
Courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation [CC BY 4.0],
via Wikimedia Commons

Author Yiyun Li, born in Beijing in 1972, moved to Iowa at age 24. Her novels and short stories, written in her adopted language of English, embody the nuance and inflections of her native Mandarin and offer readers a unique voice in Asian-American literature. In her short-story collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, she tells the stories of Chinese people exiled from their country, as well as stories of Chinese nationalists. Her novel The Vagrants explores life in small-town China in the aftermath of Chairman Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. Rare and seldom told stories populate her writings, offering enlightening and moving perspectives of the Chinese experience.

Author Amy Tan <br \> by David Sifry, via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license [Public Domain]

Author Amy Tan
By David Sifry (Amy Tan Portrait 2) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Amy Tan may be best known for her explorations of mother-daughter relationships–most notably between Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters. She mines conflicts between generations and the consequences of such discord. The issues and emotions in her books are universal while remaining distinctly Chinese. As a daughter of first-generation Chinese immigrants, she learned firsthand how to navigate cultural differences with her mother. She also learned of her mother’s tumultuous life in China, which she used as the foundation for her celebrated The Joy Luck Club.

Author Maxine Hong Kingston <br \> by David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.5 attribution [Public Domain]

Author Maxine Hong Kingston
By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Chinese folktales and myths are weaved into the memoirs and fiction of Maxine Hong Kingston. She delves into her own family history and journeys into themes of identity, aging, mortality, and culture. Born to first-generation Chinese immigrants, her writings are inspired by her experiences growing up in two clashing cultures, as in her first book, Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts.

Author Lisa See <br \> by Asís G. Ayerbe, via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported [Public Domain]

Author Lisa See
By Asís G. Ayerbe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lisa See, whose great-grandfather was Chinese,  writes historical novels on Asian and Asian-American themes. She relates the story of Asian American entertainers of the 1930s and 40s in China Dolls, a fascinating look at the adversities and triumphs of Chinese American women in San Francisco at that time. Gender issues are prominent, as are broader issues of race and multiculturalism. Several of her novels, including Dreams of Joy, focus on familial relationships and how the Chinese American experience can inspire or damage them.

To celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the American experience. Join SKS and its May Spotlight of the Month for articles and Web sites on the authors discussed above, and on other Asian Americans who have influenced and chronicled the Asian American experience.