Maxine Hong Kingston. Amy Tan. Celeste Ng. For decades, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) writers have been combining their personal experiences, history, and their creativity to tell vivid stories of what it’s like to be an Asian American or Pacific Islander. To celebrate this May’s AAPI month, we turned to some of our favorite novelists: Lisa Ko, Rachel Khong, Sanjena Sathian, and Kelly Loy Gilbert. Their works have touched on important issues including immigration and finding a sense of belonging in America.
Growing up, I loved reading books by AAPI authors and particularly enjoyed writer and illustrator Grace Lin’s work. From fantasy such as Where the Mountain Meets the Moon to relatable realistic fiction like The Year of the Rat, her work contained fresh insights about the unique experiences of being Asian in America. In recent years there’s been increased representation, but there’s still a long way to go: The New York Times reported that in 2018 only 11% of books published were by BIPOC authors.
“The more representation there is in the publishing industry, the less pressure there’s put on any one Asian person to represent or speak for all Asians,” Goodbye, Vitamin author Rachel Khong said. “That’s the problematic side of the ‘Asian American’ label or any sweeping label. People in those groups are expected to speak on behalf of everyone in their group. White people have always been afforded the privilege of being seen (and read) as individuals, where we’ve been pressured to speak on behalf of our group. With more representation—of all kinds of people, across the board—maybe we’ll finally be afforded that same privilege.”
Other authors agreed, citing how increased representation and diversity in publishing can enable marginalized authors to take more creative risks, counter the attacks against the AAPI community, and tell their own stories.
Keep reading for their book recommendations by AAPI authors, for the AAPI community and readers at large.
Victoria Feng is a freelance journalist based in Illinois and can be found on Twitter @byvictoriafeng.