"There aren't a lot of you out there": What? Let's fix our female Asian-American writer blind spot now

Who says Asian American women aren't writing fiction? "We are everywhere if you only look!"

Published January 1, 2015 11:59PM (EST)

Celeste Ng (center), surrounded by (clockwise, from top left): Lan Samantha Chang, Nina McConigley, Hanya Yanagihara, Ru Freeman      (Penguin/Kevin Day/W.W. Norton/Miranda Meyer/ninamcconigley.com/mit.edu/Graywolf Press/Brenda Carpenter)
Celeste Ng (center), surrounded by (clockwise, from top left): Lan Samantha Chang, Nina McConigley, Hanya Yanagihara, Ru Freeman (Penguin/Kevin Day/W.W. Norton/Miranda Meyer/ninamcconigley.com/mit.edu/Graywolf Press/Brenda Carpenter)

This summer, I traveled around the U.S. to promote my debut novel, "Everything I Never Told You."  At one university where I’d been invited to speak, I asked the professor hosting me how he’d found me.  He admitted he’d needed an Asian American woman fiction writer to balance his speaker lineup. “There aren’t a lot of you out there,” he said, with evident embarrassment.

Many universities and events deliberately try to select diverse speakers, and I think it’s a fine way to expose audiences to writers of different backgrounds. But I was startled to hear there weren’t many Asian American women fiction writers.  Off the top of my head, I could think of several dozen.

Still, I’d heard similar statements throughout my book tour, in multiple cities: sometimes in delighted surprise at having found me, sometimes in disappointment at finding only me. I heard it enough to realize that even many serious readers — the kind of people who come to author readings on gorgeous summer evenings — just can’t name any Asian American women writers beyond the phenomenally well-known Amy Tan.

This blind spot is all the more surprising because 2014 has been full of attempts to highlight issues of diversity in literature, and to move the literary default away from, well, white men.

Early on, 2014 was designated the “Year of Reading Women.” Partly inspired by the annual VIDA count — which for four straight years has shown a huge gender disparity in major literary publications — the #ReadWomen2014 movement encouraged readers to do just that.

In May, Book Expo America was widely criticized when the initial lineup for BookCon, its public event, contained virtually no women and virtually no people of color.  The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign arose in response, to promote greater diversity in children’s and YA literature. (Full disclosure: I took part in a BookCon panel myself, in the awkward position of a woman of color who had actually been invited months before the controversy.)

In June, a ranting essay by the blogger Ed Champion sparked a discussion on the misogyny and sexism that still pervade the literary sphere. And a reprise in September, in which Champion went after the novelist Porochista Khakpour on Twitter, put yet another spotlight on the way women writers are often perceived and criticized.

In other words, in 2014, we might have expected awareness of women writers and writers of color to be on the rise.  And I still hope it is, on the whole.  Yet there it was, that statement I heard surprisingly often: “There just aren’t many Asian American women writers.”

Several years ago, frustrated by similar remarks about authors of color, the writer and critic Roxane Gay compiled a list of them, aptly titled “We Are Many. We Are Everywhere.” Inspired by Gay’s list, I put out a call on Twitter for names of Asian American women writers. Within hours, I was deluged with suggestions.  Even after I narrowed the focus to authors who had published a book of fiction — the type of speaker most venues seek — the list swelled into the hundreds.

* * *

Why is there such a blind spot when it comes to Asian American women writers?  Women, writers of color, and Asians are all often overlooked, so this particular demographic faces a triple challenge. But after putting together this list, I suspect there may be some other factors as well.

First, we need to widen what we think of when we think “Asian.”  The default tendency is to think East Asian — Chinese, Japanese, Korean and so on — but there are also huge numbers of Southeast Asian and South Asian authors. All of these writers add new voices and new perspectives to the culture.

Second, we need to look beyond the “typical” Asian.  Look at the list below; you’ll see names like Nguyen, Banerjee and Wong, but you’ll also see names we don’t immediately associate with Asia: Ruthanne Lum McCunn, for example, author of "A Thousand Pieces of Gold"; Sherry Thomas, author of more than 15 romance novels and two-time winner of the Romance Writers of America's RITA Award; Nina McConigley, whose debut collection, "Cowboys and East Indians," won the 2014 PEN Open Book Award.  Some of the authors on this list identify as fully Asian; some are part Asian; some are adopted; some use their married names; some use pen names.  In short, many more authors identify as Asian American writers than you might realize from a quick glance at the spines on the bookshelf.

Third, when we talk about “writers,” we’re often really thinking “writers of literary fiction.” In fact, there are quite a few Asian American women writing literary fiction, but there are also dozens writing in other genres, everything from YA to middle grade fiction to historical fiction to romance to sci-fi/fantasy to graphic novels. Many are bestsellers and/or award-winners within their genres. Just as we need to recognize and overcome our blind spot toward Asian American women writers, we need to recognize and overcome the blind spot many critics also have toward so-called genre fiction.

* * *

On social media, many people were understandably offended at the suggestion that Asian American women weren’t writing fiction.  “People think we don’t exist???” tweeted @NayomiMunaweera. “Like Bigfoot? Ridiculous. We are everywhere if you only look!” But I’ve mostly found that this perception comes from lack of awareness, rather than dismissiveness.  The readers, professors and event organizers who’ve said such things to me sincerely want to add diversity to their lineups.  They just don’t know where to look.

That’s where I hope this list will help. If you want to find us, here’s where some of us are.  No list can ever include all Asian American women writers — which is part of the point — but it’s a place to start.

* * *

An Incomplete List of Asian American Women Writers Who Have Published at Least One Book of Fiction

What do you mean by “Asian”?

If the writer self-identified as Asian or was identified to me as such, I included her.

What do you mean by “American”?

If the writer has/had a significant presence in the U.S. (was born here, moved here, works here, etc.) I included her regardless of nationality.

What do you mean by “women”?

If the writer self-identified as female or was identified to me as female, I included her.

Why only writers who have “published at least one book”?

One aim of this list is to help universities, conferences and bookstores increase the diversity in their speakers, so I narrowed the list to authors with published books, which is typically expected of presenters. (Below you’ll also find a partial list of Asian American writers who’ve published fiction but haven’t yet published full-length works.)

The list includes author information — website, Twitter handle, etc.  — where possible, as provided by the authors or the people who suggested these authors, to encourage readers to discover their works and event organizers to get in touch.

Why only writers “of fiction”?

I’ve included only fiction writers here (in any genre), partly because of the comments I heard here about the lack of Asian American women fiction writers, in particular, and partly to save my own sanity.  There were many, many names I left off in nonfiction, poetry, playwriting and more.

I encourage anyone who’s interested to compile lists for these other genres, as well as to consult other excellent lists others have created, including this list of Asian American speculative fiction writers, Roxane Gay’s list of writers of color and this list of Canadian women writers of Asian descent.

Why didn’t you include …?

This list is not complete.  This list can never be complete. It’s impossible to list every Asian American woman fiction writer, because there are, in fact, a lot of us out there.  I encourage you to add other names in the comments.

Renée Ahdieh (@rahdieh; "The Wrath and the Dawn")

Sharbari Ahmed (@sharbarizohra; "The Ocean of Mrs. Nagai: Stories")

Mia Alvar (@MiaAlvar; "In the Country: Stories")

Solace Ames (@solacewrites; "The Dom Project; The Submission Gift")

Gina Apostal (@ginaapostol; "Gun Dealer’s Daughter" and others)

Swati Avasthi (@SwatiAvasthi; "Chasing Shadows"; "Split")

Varsha Bajaj (@varshabajaj; "Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood")

Shauna Singh Baldwin (@SSinghBaldwin; "The Selector of Souls"; "What the Body Remembers"; and others)

Shoban Bantwal ("The Full Moon Bride")

Monica Bhide (@mbhide; "The Devil in Us: Stories")

Livia Blackburne (@lkblackburne; "Midnight Thief" and others)

Kendare Blake (@KendareBlake; "Anna Dressed in Blood" and others)

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard ("When the Rainbow Goddess Wept"; "Woman With Horns and Other Stories"; and others)

Lori Bryant-Woolridge (@StillettoU; "Read Between the Lies"; "Hitts and Mrs."; and others)

Marina Budhos ("The Professor of Light"; "Tell Us We’re Home"; and others)

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum ("Ms. Hempel Chronicles"; "Madeleine Is Sleeping")

Lan Cao (@lancaowrites;"Monkey Bridge"; "The Lotus and the Storm")

Jax Cassidy (@jaxcassidy; "Shibuya Moment"; "Brush With Desire"; and others)

Stepthh Cha (@stephycha; "Follow Her Home"; "Beware Beware")

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha ("Dictee")

Crystal Chan ("Bird")

Lan Samantha Chang ("Hunger"; "Inheritance"; and others)

Sona Charaipotra (@sona_c; "Tiny Pretty Things")

Justina Chen (@JustinaYChen; "North of Beautiful"; "Return to Me"; and others)

Kirstin Chen (@kirstin_chen; "Soy Sauce for Beginners")

Cherry Cheva (@cherrycheva; "She’s So Money"; "DupliKate"; and others)

Sook Nyul Choi ("The Year of Impossible Goodbyes" and others)

Susan Choi ("My Education"; "American Woman"; and others)

Yangsze Choo (@yangszechoo; "The Ghost Bride")

Catherine Chung (@chung_catherine; "Forgotten Country")

Sonya Chung ("Long for This World")

Ying Chang Compestine ("Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party" and others)

Sylvia Day/Livia Dare/S.J. Day) ("Captivated by You" and others)

Sonali Dev (@Sonali_Dev; "A Bollywood Affair")

Chitra B. Divakaruni (@cdivakaruni; "Oleander Girl"; "The Mistress of Spices"; and others)

Anjali Mitter Duva (@AnjaliMDuva; "Faint Promise of Rain")

Deanna Fei (@deannafei; "A Thread of Sky")

Eilis Flynn ("The Sleeper Awakes"; "Wear Black"; and others)

Ru Freeman (@rufreeman; "On Sal Mal Lane"; "A Disobedient Girl")

Kim Fu (@skimfu; "For Today I Am a Boy")

M. Evelina Galang (@herwildamself; "Her Wild American Self: Stories"; "Angel de la Luna"; and others)

Indira Ganesan (@GanesanI; "As Sweet As Honey"; "Inheritance"; and others)

V.V. Ganeshananthan (@vasugi; "Love Marriage")

Anju Gattani (@Anju_Gattani; "Duty and Desire")

Molly Gaudry (@MollyGaudry; "We Take Me Apart" and others)

Tess Gerritsen (@tessgerritsen; The Rizzoli/Isles series and others)

Kelly Loy Gilbert (@KellyLoyGilbert; "Conviction"; "Nothing Gold Can Stay")

Maurene Goo (@mauxbot; "Since You Asked")

Ilene W. Gregorio (@IWGregorio; "None of the Above")

Jessica Hagedorn ("Dogeaters"; "Toxicology"; and others)

Frances Lee Hall (@fleehall; "Fried Wonton")

Jenny Han (@jennyhan; "To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before" and others)

Tanuja Desai Hidier (@ThisIsTanuja; "Born Confused"; "Bombay Blues")

Tess Uriza Holthe ("When the Elephants Dance"; "The Five-Forty-Five to Cannes")

Charlotte Huang (@charlottexhuang; "For the Record")

Yang Huang ("Living Treasures")

Mindy Hung (@MindyHungSpace; "Trip")

Angela Mi-Young Hur ("The Queens of K-Town")

Tasneem Zehra Husain (@tasneemzhusain; "Only the Longest Threads")

Tania James (@taniajam; "Aerogrammes: Stories"; "Atlas of Unknowns")

Mira Jacob (@mirajacob; "The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing")

Gish Jen (@GishJen; "Typical American"; "Who’s Irish"; and others)

Grace Hj Jung (@aechjay; "Deli Ideology")

Cynthia Kadohata ("Kira-Kira"; "The Thing About Luck"; and others)

Julie Kagawa (@Jkagawa; the Iron Fey Series; the Blood of Eden series; and others)

Soniah Kamal (@SoniahKamal; "An Isolated Incident")

Lydia Kang (@LydiaYKang; "Control"; "Catalyst")

Keshni Kashyap (@keshnikashyap; "Tina’s Mouth")

Mina Khan (@spicebites; "The Djinn’s Dilemma" and others)

Amy Kim Kibuishi (@amykibuishi, "Sorcerers & Secretaries")

Suki Kim ("The Interpreter")

Maxine Hong Kingston (@maxineHong1; "Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book")

Katie Kitamura (@katiekitamura; "Gone to the Forest"; "The Longshot")

Alexandra Kleeman (@AlexKleeman; "You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine")

EJ Koh (@thisisEJKoh; "Red")

Falguni Kothari (@F2tweet; "Bootie and the Beast" and others)

Uma Krishnaswami ("The Grand Plan to Fix Everything" and others)

Jean Kwok (@JeanKwok; "Girl in Translation"; "Mambo in Chinatown")

Jhumpa Lahiri ("The Lowland"; "Interpreter of Maladies"; and others)

Lê Thị Diễm Thúy ("The Gangster We Are All Looking For")

Fonda Lee (@FondaJLee; "Zeroboxer")

Jade Lee/Kathy Lyons (@JadeLeeAuthor; Tigress Series and others)

Janice Lee (@janiceylee; "The Piano Teacher")

Lori M. Lee (@LoriMLee; "Gates of Thread and Stone")

Krys Lee (@krysleewriter; "Drifting House")

Marie Myung-Ok Lee (@MarieMyungOkLee; "Somebody’s Daughter" and others)

Min Jin Lee (@minjinlee11; "Free Food for Millionaires")

Stacy Heather Lee (@staceyleeauthor; "Under a Painted Sky")

Tosca Lee ("Demon"; The Books of Mortals series; and others)

Wendy Lee ("Happy Family"; "Across a Green Ocean")

Yiyun Li ("Kinder Than Solitude"; "The Vagrants"; and others)

Grace Lin (@pacylin; "The Year of the Dog" and others)

Jeannie Lin (@JeannieLin; "The Jade Temptress" and others)

Aimee Liu ("Flash House"; "Cloud Mountain"; and others)

Marjorie Liu (@marjoriemliu; "Labyrinth of Stars" and others)

Malinda Lo (@malindalo; "Inheritance"; "Adaptation"; and others)

Vyvyane Loh ("Breaking the Tongue")

Sandra Tsing Loh ("If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now")

Lenore Look (@lenorelook; Ruby Lu series; Alvin Ho series; and others)

Marie Lu (@Marie_Lu; The Legend Trilogy; "The Young Elites")

Pamela Lu ("Ambient Parking Lot"; "Pamela: A Novel")

Valynne E. Maetani (@valynnemaetani; "Ink and Ashes")

Bhargavi Mandava ("Where the Oceans Meet")

Ruthanne Lum McCunn ("Thousand Pieces of Gold" and others)

Kathryn Ma (@kathryn_e_ma; "The Year She Left Us"; "All That Work and Still No Boys")

Nina McConigley (@ninawyo; "Cowboys and East Indians")

Neesha Meminger (@NeeshaMem; "Shinne, Coconut Moon"; "Into the Wise Dark"; and others)

Hannah Michell (@hannahmichell; "The Defections")

Courtney Milan (@courtneymilan; The Carhart series; The Worth Saga; and others)

Anchee Min ("Empress Orchid"; "Red Azalea"; and others)

Katherine Min ("Secondhand World")

Donna Miscolta (@donnamiscolta; "When the de la Cruz Family Danced")

Marie Mutsuki Mockett (@mariemockett; "Picking Bones From Ash")

Mary Anne Mohanraj (@mamohanraj; "Bodies in Motion" and others)

Bharati Mukherjee (@missnewindia; "Miss New India"; "Jasmine"; and others )

Nami Mun (@nami_mun; "Miles From Nowhere")

Nayomi Munaweera (@NayomiMunaweera; "Island of a Thousand Mirrors")

An Na ("The Fold"; "A Step From Heaven"; and others)

Meera Nair (@MeeraNairNY; "Video: Stories")

Lensey Namioka ("Who’s Hu?"; "Mismatch"; and others)

Fae Myenne Ng ("Bone"; "Steer Toward Rock")

Mei Ng ("Eating Chinese Food Naked")

Bich Minh Nguyen (@bichminhnguyen; "Pioneer Girl"; "Short Girls")

Audra North (@AudraNorth; Stanton Family Novellas and others)

Sigrid Nunez ("A Feather on the Breath of God"; "Salvation City"; and others)

Ellen Oh (@elloecho; "Prophecy"; "Warrior")

Julie Otsuka ("The Buddha in the Attic"; "When the Emperor Was Divine")

Ruth Ozeki (@ozekiland; "A Tale for the Time Being" and others)

Tara Pammi (@TaraPammi; "A Deal With Demakis"; "The Last Prince of Dahaar"; and others)

Linda Sue Park (@lindasuepark; "A Long Walk to Water"; "A Single Shard"; and others)

Patricia Park (@patriciapark718; "Re Jane")

Ayesha Patel (@ByAyeshaPatel; "Priya in Heels")

Rajdeep Paulus (@RajdeepPaulus; "Seeing Through Stones"; "Swimming Through Clouds")

Kimberly Pauley (@KimberlyRPauley; "Ask Me"; "Cat Girl’s Day Off"; and others)

Mitali Perkins (@mitaliperkins; "Tiger Boy"; "Bamboo People"; and others)

Aimee Phan (@aimeephan; "The Reeducation of Cherry Truong"; "We Should Never Meet")

Cindy Pon (@cindypon; "Silver Phoenix" and others)

Vaddey Ratner (@VaddeyRatner; "In the Shadow of the Banyan")

Rishi Reddi ("Karma and Other Stories")

Bushra Rehman (@authorbushra; "Corona")

Nina Revoyr ("Southland" and others)

Caroline Tung Richmond (@ctrichmond; "The Only Thing to Fear")

Ninotchka Rosca ("State of War"; "Twice Blessed")

Amara Royce (@amararoyce; "Never Too Late"; "Always a Stranger")

Aisha Saeed (@aishacs; "Written in the Stars")

Yumi Sakugawa (@yumisakugawa; "I Think I Am in Friend-Love With You")

Preeta Samarasan ("Evening Is the Whole Day")

PJ Schnyder (@pjschnyder; "Survive to Dawn" and others)

Lisa See (@Lisa_See; "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan"; "China Dolls"; and others)

Nisha Sharma (@Nishawrites; "My So-Called Bollywood Life")

Kristy Shen (@Kristyshen; "Little Miss Evil")

Karen Shepard (@karenlshepard; "The Celestials"; "Don’t I Know You?"; and others)

Kashmira Sheth ("Blue Jasmine"; "Keeping Corner"; and others)

Suleikha Snyder (@suleikhasnyder; "Opening Act"; "Bollywood Confidential" series; and others)

Marivi Soliven ("The Mango Bride")

Dao Strom ("Grass Roof, Tin Roof"; "The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys")

Sabaa Tahir (@sabaatahir; "An Ember in the Ashes")

Amy Tan (@AmyTan; "The Joy Luck Club"; "The Valley of Amazement"; and others)

Cecilia Tan (@ceciliatan; The Magic University Series; The Prince’s Boy Series; and others)

Camy Tang (@camytang; The Sushi series; The Sonoma series, and others)

Yuko Taniguchi ("The Ocean in the Closet")

Sherry Thomas (@sherrythomas; "The Burning Sky"; "The Perilous Sea"; and others)

Monique Truong (@Monique_Truong; "Bitter in the Mouth"; "The Book of Salt")

Gail Tsukiyama ("The Samurai’s Garden"; "A Hundred Flowers"; and others)

Yoshiko Uchida ("Journey to Topaz"; "Jar of Dreams"; and others)

Sweta Vikram (@swetavikram; "Perfectly Untraditional")

Helen Wan (@helenwan1; "The Partner Track")

Wang Ping (@wangjingping; "Foreign Devil" and others)

Natalie Whipple (@nataliewhipple; "Transparent"; "Blindsided"; and others)

Jo Whittemore (@jowhittemore; "D Is for Drama"; "Escape From Arylon"; and others)

Naomi Williams (@NaomiWilliams; "Landfalls")

Janet Wong (@janetwongauthor; "Minn and Jake" and others)

Julie Wu (@JulieWuAuthor; "The Third Son")

Ruiyan Xu (@ruiyanxu; "The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai")

Xu Xi ("Habit of a Foreign Sky" and others)

Lois-Ann Yamanaka ("Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater" and others)

Karen Tei Yamashita ("I Hotel" and others)

Hanya Yanagahira ("The People in the Trees")

Lisa Yee (@LisaYee1; "Millicent Min, Girl Genius"; "Absolutely Maybe"; and others)

Kat Yeh (@yehface; "The Truth About Twinkie Pie")

Mingmei Yip ("Skeleton Woman"; "Song of the Silk Road"; and others)

Kat Zhang (@KatZhang; "What’s Left of Me"; "Once We Were"; and others)

Authors with published stories:

Lisa Abellera (@Writrgrrl)

Humera Afridi (@madsufi)

Mary-Kim Arnold (@mkimarnold)

Neelanjana Banerjee (@NeelanjanaB)

Grace Bello (@grace_land)

Ayse Papatya Bucak (@TheFreeMFA)

Elaine Castillo (@_elainecastillo)

Jessamine Chan

Anelise Chen (@anelise_chen)

Karissa Chen (@karissachen)

Aja Gabel (@AjaMaybe)

Jimin Han (@jiminhanwriter)

Jean Ho (@jeanho)

Reese Okyong Kwon (@reesekwon)

Jenna Le

Sonya Larson (@SonyaLarson)

Christine Hyung-Oak Lee (@xtinehlee)

Tien-Yi Lee

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (@rcloenenruiz)

T. Kira Madden (@TKMadden)

Bel Poblador (@belpobs)

Tabitha Sin (@tabithameep)

Melissa Sipin (@msipin)

Hasanthika Sirisena

Mathangi Subramanian ‏(@Mathangisub)

Grace Talusan (@gracet09)

Madhuri Vijay (@madhuri_vijay)

By Celeste Ng

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