Course One: Literature

Course One – Literature

This course seeks to examine contemporary Asian American literature through its different parts: novels, short stories, and personal essays. While reading all of the texts is highly recommended, the course objectives can be applied to individual texts as well. Prominent themes that emerge throughout the readings in this course include form, national identity, intergenerational family, blackness, and fiction versus nonfiction.

Course Readings

Discussion Questions

In groups, discuss the following questions as they pertain to the readings:

  1. How does Chang-Rae Lee present intergenerational conflict between the protagonist’s father and the protagonist? What commentary does this make on assimilation and the immigrant narrative?
  2. What role does memoir serve in producing the reader’s understanding of Staceyann Chin’s blackness? How do we see her relate to her Asian identity?
  3. How does science fiction and fantasy as presented in “The Paper Menagerie” expand understandings of the Asian American lived experience in reality?
  4. What does home mean for Lee and Kim in their respective essays? How does being Asian American color their perception of home and belonging?
  5. How do each of these texts expand conventional understandings of Asian American identity as understood by American society?


Essay Questions

Examine the following questions as potential prompts for essays (5-7 pages double spaced):

  1. “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” – W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
    • How do the characters in Native Speaker, and specifically the protagonist, demonstrate Du Bois’s concept of double consciousness? How does a reading of double consciousness in Native Speaker illuminate understandings of the protagonist’s Asian American identity and the whiteness of the characters around him?
  2. In their texts, Chang-Rae Lee, Staceyann Chin, and Elaine Kim all examine the relationship between Asian American identity and blackness. Placing them in conversation with one another, engage in a reading that examines conflict and solidarity between Asian and Black Americans in different American spheres: Los Angeles, New York, and Jamaica.




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