kaya publishes books of the asian pacific diaspora


Welcome back to THROUGHLINES, Kaya Press’s newsletter that bridges the gap between contemporary Asian Pacific literature and scholars/educators. In our third issue, Porntip Israsena Twishimem shares her syllabus for Asian American Stories, and we continue with the second installment of our running inventory, taking stock of recent publications by API diasporic authors. Claire Light (pen name Jadie Jang) also offers her thoughts on her new novel, Monkey Around, and its place in the classroom in the first installment of our author interview series. You can find updates on Kaya Press’s newest release, Sutra and Bible, and information on how to obtain desk copies at the end of this newsletter.

If you have questions, comments, or content for THROUGHLINES, we invite you to email us at neela@kaya.com

Syllabus: Asian American Stories
Porntip Israsena Twishime, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Porntip Israsena Twishime is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she researches narratives about Asian Americans and Asian American storytelling as a mode of relation and knowledge production.

I designed Asian American Stories as a course that does the “double work” of performance studies; it introduces students to “Asian American” stories, artists, writers, creators, and communities, and simultaneously challenges our impulse to label this grandiose and often contradictory body of work as “Asian American.” In other words, this class introduces “Asian American” as a concept and then provides the opportunity to examine, deconstruct, and reimagine that concept through our encounters with a variety of Asian American stories. A primary course objective is to conceptualize Asian American studies as more than an identity-based project. I present Asian American studies as a project concerned more broadly with power and the process of knowledge production about social issues such as race. In these ways, our interest in Asian American stories will be less about who Asian American subjects are, and more about how Asian America is constituted through operations of power, knowledge, and cultural production. By reading Asian American stories in these ways, we will learn that Asian American stories are not only for Asian Americans and are not just another marginalized group’s stories about race. Rather, and more importantly, Asian American stories are stories about race, racial formation, and power in the United States.

This course examines contemporary issues of race, including media consumption and representation, U.S. empire across Asia, environmental justice, and the racialization of COVID-19, alongside issues of gender, sexuality, class, and migration. We will approach these issues through stories, a prevalent and familiar mode of communication. Stories about race in the United States abound. Dominant stories of race assign and affix individuals and communities of people with particular meanings that often recycle tropes and stereotypes. Stories about Asian America and Asian American people, however, are rendered invisible in the larger story about race in the United States which is often told through a Black-white binary. We will turn to contemporary Asian American literature as an alternative entry point into the story of race in the United States.

Our class will begin by developing a conceptual framework we use to read, consume, analyze, and respond to the stories we will read this semester. Our conceptual framework will be built upon readings in performance studies, ethnic studies, and Asian American feminisms. Then, we will read/watch/listen to novels, poetry, film, plays, and essays by Asian Americans as communicative strategies that generate alternative stories about the history and culture of race in the United States. Our literary texts are organized into four Modules and are paired with selected “Keywords” from Asian American Studies, American Cultural Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Introductions to Each Other, the Course, and Performance Studies Course Introductions
From Performance Studies ReaderCh 4, “Performance Studies” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett)
From Keywords for American Cultural Studies: “Performance” (Manning)
From Keywords for Gender and Sexuality Studies: “Performativity” (Nyong’o)


Stories as a Mode of Communication From Storytelling in Daily Life (Langellier & Peterson): “A Communication Approach to Storytelling”
“When We Call One Another By Our Names” (Pérez)
“A Crucial Collaboration” (Ozeki)


Theorizing Stories of Race From Racial Formation in the United States (Omi & Wina): Ch 4, “The Theory of Racial Formation”
From Keywords for Asian American Studies: “Race” (Rana)
From Immigrant Acts (Lowe): Ch 1, “Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique
From Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Politics: “Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Feminisms” (Tzu-Chun Wu)


Module 1: Race, Time, and Difference From Keywords for Gender and Sexuality Studies: “Difference” (Kahaleole Hall), “Temporality” (Freeman)
From Keywords for Asian American Studies: “Multiculturalism” (Lee)
Play: Snowflakes, or Rare White People (Chinn)


Module 2: Race, Health, Land, and the Environment From Keywords for Gender and Sexuality Studies: “Biopower” (Wazana Tompkins), “Ecology” (Powys Whyte)
From Keywords for Asian American Studies: “Health” (Yoo)
Novel: On Such a Full Sea (Lee) *Audiobook recommended


Module 3: Race, Gender, Sexuality, Class, and Empire From Keywords for Asian American Studies: “Empire” (Jung)
From Keywords for Gender and Sexuality Studies: “Intersectionality (Nash), “Queer” (Reddy)
“At Least Prostitutes Bring Home Money”“Daughter in Waiting”“Dear Grandmother” (Svay)
“Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong”“Telemachus” (Vuong)
Novel: Rolling the R’s (Linmark)


Module 4: Race, Media, and Representation From Keywords for Asian American Studies:
“Commodification” (Lieu), “Film” (Desai), “Media” (Davé)
Essays: “Always Be Optimizing,” “The Cult of the Difficult Woman” (Trick Mirror, Tolentino)
Webseries: “Brown Girls” (Asghar) 


Final Presentations & Course Reflections Present final papers and creative projects
Offer course reflections


A List of Recent Books from API Diasporic Writers, 2018-2022
This incomplete list is one in a series of inventories THROUGHLINES is developing as an informal resource for students, researchers and writers to find adjacencies among established and new writers alike. For an updated list of titles, visit: http://kaya.com/throughlines/inventories/.

Eye Level – Jenny Xie
Registers of Illuminated Villages – Tarfia Faizullah
A Cruelty Special to Our Species – Emily Jungmin Yoon
If They Come for Us – Fatimah Asghar
Ghost Of – Diana Khoi Nguyen

The Incendiaries – RO Kwon
Severance – Ling Ma
A River of Stars – Vanessa Hua
America Is Not the Heart – Elaine Castillo
Immigrant, Montana – Amitava Kumar 
A Place for Us – Fatima Farheen Mirza
If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi – Neel Patel
Number One Chinese Restaurant: A Novel – Lilian Li
Emergency Contact – Mary H.K. Choi

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays – Alexander Chee
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir – Nicole Chung

Read the full list of titles here.

Interview with Claire Light

In this new series of author interviews, THROUGHLINES presents writers with standard questions that reveal where their releases fit in the world of academia.

Claire Light is an activist and author, working in the Asian American and disabled communities. Monkey Around, her new novel written under the pen name Jadie Jang, meshes urban fantasy, ancient legend, and Bay Area activism into one thrilling adventure. In our interview, Light discusses how genre literature can provide much needed energy and commentary in the classroom.

THROUGHLINES: What class would your book be perfect to be taught in and why?

Claire Light: I’d love to see Monkey Around taught in a contemporary Asian American, ethnic, immigrant, or diasporic fiction course. Of course, Monkey Around is also perfect for courses on diversity in speculative fiction, contemporary fantasy, or genre fiction; and it would also be interesting in courses on Asian American culture, political and activist movements, and community and identity building. Monkey not only features characters who are Asian American and immigrant American, it also takes place in the world of ethnic community organizing, among characters who are hyper-aware of their identities, of identity formation, and of the importance of representation. Monkey can model the kind of awareness these classes teach and give a possible answer to “where do we go from here?”

THROUGHLINES: What themes in your book make it a good fit for Ethnic Studies, English, or other literature-based courses?

Light: Deracination, loss of culture through migration, strategies for adapting culture and skills to migration, diasporic communities, social justice activism, community responsibility and collective values … Monkey Around’s protagonist, Maya, is a mixed race transracial adoptee who studied Asian American Studies at UC Berkeley and stayed in the Bay Area to try to connect with her Asian roots. She works in the social justice communities of the Bay Area—is most recently involved in Occupy Oakland—and weaves in and out of newcomer and later generation ethnic enclaves, especially Asian ones. Maya encounters a Chicano family who consist of naguals—in this conception, people with inherited magic that allows them to shapeshift, and whose cultural role is as wise/medicine people. The family discovers an artifact dating back to the Conquest that allowed their Aztec ancestors to magically connect to whatever land they migrated to. The book is also populated with a plethora of other creatures from nonwestern cultures, each of whom have their own story.

THROUGHLINES: How can your book bring new perspectives to students?

Light: Speculative fiction offers a distorted mirror to real life situations and dynamics, both for the reader and writer. Magical analogies—like shapeshifting for code switching, or wearing glamours for “passing”—make sociological buzzwords fun, and give readers a bit of breathing room between themselves and the often troubling realities they live every day. Moreover, Asian American immigrant fiction has become a subgenre in itself, with tropes so road-worn, they can’t be properly experienced in fiction anymore, even when truthful or factual. Using the tropes of a different genre in a new way can refresh stories that have been deadened by retelling.

And Monkey Around tackles Asian American life even more directly, focusing on “professional Asian Americans”: those whose calling is to organize their communities and give them a voice. Strangely enough, “watching” the APIAs who redefine, on an ongoing basis, what it means to be APIA, inside an entertaining story—complete with magic, fight scenes, love triangles, and MacGuffins—humanizes their struggles and experiences in a way that mimetic fictions, with their dreamy, distancing, “poetic” language, increasingly can’t.

THROUGHLINES: Does your book feature any experiences, settings, or characters that you wish were better represented in academia?

Light: Monkey Around tells the story of a character who is both a female Monkey King, and a mixed race Asian American living and working in the SF Bay Area’s social justice activist communities. I’d like to see all of that better represented: the experiences of Asian Americans on the ground in activism—both advocacy and direct action—not as history but as a constant stream of contemporary life. I’d like to see mixed race characters in more than just identity-celebrating children’s books or filleted for their metaphorical power. I’d like to see the kinds of issues that urban fantasy grapples with better represented: young adults in professional urban settings dealing with structural and interpersonal power dynamics. Urban fantasy, with its coercive werewolf packs and bloodsucking vampire covens and asskicking enforcers falling in love with outcast enemies, is about nothing so much as structural power dynamics—more so than any other genre, including lit fic. But because of its status as a genre, what it has to say about these dynamics is largely ignored by the academy.

THROUGHLINES: What would it mean to you to see your book taught in classrooms?

Light: I think genre fiction too often gets siloed, not treated as part of the same stream as literary fiction. But often, the most experimentation on how to tell Asian American/diaspora stories happens in genre, particularly in speculative fiction. If Asian American studies is ignoring the incredible surge of Asian-culture-based fantasy by Asian diaspora writers that’s come upon us in the past decade, it really shouldn’t. In fact, I deliberately chose to write speculative fiction because I found Asian American mimetic fiction too stuck in narrative trammels—be they “ethnic lit” ruts, or “lit fic” ones. Narrative straits have hemmed in Asian American fiction too much already; already stories that lit fic can’t find ways to tell are finding amazing new paths in speculative fiction, enabled by the inherent tropes, rather than hindered by them. Our communities would be richer if our imaginations were freed up a little more by our formal educations.

Kaya’s Newest Release: Sutra and Bible

Sutra and Bible is the companion catalog to the Japanese American National Museum’s exhibit, “Sutra and Bible: Faith and the Japanese American World War II Incarceration.” You can visit in person until November 27, 2022 or enjoy a video walkthrough of the gallery. This is the first museum exhibition to feature religion as a central prism through which we understand the wartime Japanese American experience. Sutra and Bible is an excellent resource for courses on Japanese Internment, religion, and the Asian American experience. Email neela@kaya.com to request desk copies.

The Sutra and Bible catalog is here! It is the latest project from our Ito Center Editions imprint. Co-edited by Duncan Ryuken Williams and Emily Anderson, the beautiful Sutra and Bible book journeys through Japanese American spiritual adaptation during WWII, weaving visual storytelling with auxiliary essays from over thirty prominent voices across academic, arts, spiritual, and social justice communities. Sutra and Bible brings us closer to the heart of the Japanese American wartime experience, spiritual resilience, and movements toward solidarity and reparations in the aftermath of state-sanctioned racial-religious animus.

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