Celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month by reading these 32 incredibly talented writers. For the purpose of this post, “Asian-American” refers to Americans (or those who identify as American) of any Asian descent.
1. Alexander Chee
Alexander Chee is an essayist and the author of the novel Edinburgh and the forthcoming The Queen of the Night. Chee was the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award in 2003.
Why you should read him: Alexander Chee’s work thoughtfully touches upon sexuality, race, and identity, but beyond that, his writing strives to capture the universal experience of what it means to be human, and all the flawed beauty that it entails.
2. Paul Yoon
Paul Yoon is the author of the story collection Once the Shore and the novel Snow Hunters.
Why you should read him: Paul Yoon’s lyrical prose burns brightly on the page, and his work addresses some of the bleakest circumstances: the legacy of war and the loneliness and isolation that can accompany it.
3. Amy Tan
Amy Tan is the author of novels such as The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and Saving Fish From Drowning, as well as the nonfiction essay collection The Opposite of Fate and two children’s books.
Why you should read her: Drawing on her own personal experiences, Amy Tan’s work beautifully explores the complex facets of Chinese-American identity as well as the dynamics of mother-daughter relationships troubled by cultural and generational differences.
4. Hanya Yanagihara
Hanya Yanagihara is the author of the novels The People in the Trees and A Little Life.
Why you should read her: Dark and haunting, Hanya Yanagihara’s novels explore the persistence of trauma, bravely delving into the deepest recesses of the psyche to expose the roots of the pain and suffering that afflicts modern human life.
5. Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, as well as the collection Unaccustomed Earth and two novels.
Why you should read her: Informed by her own experience as an immigrant, Jhumpa Lahiri’s work addresses the anxieties and struggles of Indian-American immigrants and the deeply felt cultural gaps they encounter in a country very different from their homeland.
6. Maxine Hong Kingston
Maxine Hong Kingston is the National Book Award–winning author of the nonfiction collection China Men and the memoir The Woman Warrior, in addition to several novels and other works of nonfiction. Kingston was the recipient of a National Medal of Arts in 2013.
Why you should read her: Maxine Hong Kingston is one of the most influential voices in Asian-American literature, and her work often blends fiction and nonfiction — myth and memory — while critically exploring themes of ethnicity, gender, cultural conflict, and womanhood.
7. Porochista Khakpour
Porochista Khakpour is an essayist and the author of the novels Sons and Other Flammable Objects and The Last Illusion.
Why you should read her: Porochista Khakpour’s novels examine what it means to be Persian in America through the lens of vivid, relatable characters, with sharp humor and large-hearted wisdom laced throughout.
8. Celeste Ng
Celeste Ng is an essayist and the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You.
Why you should read her: Celeste Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You is a moving commentary on the complexities of race and gender, and a heartrending portrait of a Chinese-American family who must grapple with an unspeakable tragedy.
9. Cathy Park Hong
Cathy Park Hong is the author of the poetry collections Translating Mo’Um, Dance Dance Revolution, and Engine Empire.
Why you should read her: Cathy Park Hong’s poetry is daring and refreshingly original, examining the boundaries we erect between disparate cultures and languages, and sometimes even experimenting with language itself.
10. Chang-rae Lee
Chang-rae Lee is the Pulitzer Prize–nominated author of the novels Native Speaker, A Gesture Life, Aloft, The Surrendered, and On Such a Full Sea.
Why you should read him: Chang-rae Lee’s novels capture the painful realities of the Asian-American immigrant experience with tenderness through his examination of identity, alienation, and assimilation.
11. Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen is the author of the novel The Sympathizer and a book of literary criticism.
Why you should read him: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s gripping debut novel The Sympathizer shimmers with brilliance, offering an important new perspective on the Vietnam War and announcing Nguyen as a literary voice to be reckoned with.
12. Anchee Min
Anchee Min is the author of the memoirs Red Azalea and The Cooked Seed, as well as six historical novels.
Why you should read her: Not only are Anchee Min’s memoirs of her experience as a Chinese immigrant in America both poignant and illuminating, but also her historical novels brim brightly with strong female protagonists — a whole set of fearless, literary role models to inspire readers.
13. Mira Jacob
Mira Jacob is the author of the novel The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing.
Why you should read her: Mira Jacob’s luminous debut novel The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing spans different generations and cultures, powerfully illustrating the enduring bonds of family in prose that is as often funny as it is tender and heartbreaking.
14. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of many critically acclaimed works of fiction and poetry, including the short story collection Arranged Marriage and the novels The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart.
Why you should read her: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s writing insightfully depicts the Indian immigrant experience in contemporary America, particularly from the perspective of women, and all of the challenges that it can present.
15. Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini is the author of the novels The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed.
Why you should read him: Khaled Hosseini’s novels revolve around Afghan characters, importantly exploring themes of honor, ethnic tensions, familial sacrifice, and the Afghan immigrant experience.
16. Lysley Tenorio
Lysley Tenorio is a short story writer and the author of the collection Monstress. Tenorio was the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award in 2008.
Why you should read him: Lysley Tenorio’s debut short story collection Monstress tenderly peers at the lives of those who find themselves caught between Filipino and American cultures, and his heartfelt, often funny writing both brings vivid characters to life and comments poignantly on the human condition.
17. Lisa See
Lisa See is the author of novels such as Shanghai Girls, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and China Dolls.
Why you should read her: Lisa See’s novels strive to uncover and revive forgotten Chinese history, delving into fascinating stories of war, immigration, womanhood, and identity, and are necessarily informed by her experience in a bi-racial, bi-cultural family.
18. Justin Chin
Justin Chin is an essayist and the author of the poetry collections Bite Hard, Harmless Medicine, and Gutted, in addition to two works of nonfiction, Mongrel and Burden of Ashes.
Why you should read him: Justin Chin’s poetry reads like a very raw and real map of the queer Asian-American experience and all of its complexities and implications, and his writing is often as witty and defiant as it is vulnerable.
19. Paisley Rekdal
Paisley Rekdal is the author of the poetry collections A Crash of Rhinos, Six Girls Without Pants, The Invention of the Kaleidoscope, and Animal Eye, as well as a memoir and a collection of essays.
Why you should read her: Paisley Rekdal’s poems probe at the very heart of what makes us human, examining love, sexuality, power, and memory with a restless energy.
20. Vu Tran
Vu Tran is a short story writer and the author of the forthcoming novel Dragonfish. Tran was the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award in 2009.
Why you should read him: Vu Tran’s work thoughtfully contemplates cultural identity in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and the ways in which historical trauma both shapes and obligates us.
21. Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of the poetry collections Miracle Fruit, At the Drive-In Volcano, and Lucky Fish.
Why you should read her: Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poetry draws upon her mixed Filipina and Indian heritage, brimming with rich images and colors and textures from each culture to form a lush, multilayered body of work.
22. Matthew Salesses
Matthew Salesses is an essayist and the author of the novel I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying and the forthcoming The Hundred-Year Flood, as well as two e-books and a novella.
Why you should read him: Matthew Salesses’ fiction beautifully captures the disorder and yearning that threads modern human life, painting devastatingly honest vignettes of our flaws and desires.
23. Thrity Umrigar
Thrity Umrigar is the author of novels such as The Space Between Us, The Weight of Heaven, and The Story Hour, as well as a memoir, First Darling of the Morning.
Why you should read her: Much of Thrity Umrigar’s work examines cultural divides between India and America, but the way in which she creates universally relatable characters — and stories that spur introspection in the reader — transcends any one culture.
24. Catherine Chung
Catherine Chung is an essayist and the author of the novel Forgotten Country.
Why you should read her: Catherine Chung’s haunting debut novel Forgotten Country is an elegant, heartrending story of identity, immigration, and familial obligation that expertly weaves Korean myth and history into a modern narrative.
25. Patrick Rosal
Patrick Rosal is the author of the poetry collections Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive, My American Kundiman, Boneshepherds, and the forthcoming Brooklyn Antediluvian.
Why you should read him: Patrick Rosal’s vibrant poems often reflect on his own lineage, unflinchingly looking at nationality and family and how our present is haunted by the ghosts of complex pasts, and urging readers to do the same.
26. Bharati Mukherjee
Bharati Mukherjee is the National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author of the short story collection The Middleman and Other Stories as well as many other works of both fiction and nonfiction, including the novel Jasmine.
Why you should read her: Bharati Mukherjee’s work insightfully depicts the difficulties of being an Asian immigrant in America, particularly the transformations that South Asian women undergo to adjust to a new home and culture, and the ways in which American society also adjusts to embrace them.
27. Jenny Zhang
Jenny Zhang is the author of the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find.
Why you should read her: Jenny Zhang’s poetry is deliciously original, both exceedingly intimate in its revelations and brazenly unapologetic in its honesty.
28. Oliver de la Paz
Oliver de la Paz is the author of the poetry collections Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, Requiem for the Orchard, and Post Subject.
Why you should read him: Oliver de la Paz’s poems are simultaneously fierce and tender, a celebration of language that is achingly beautiful and even seems to sing off the page.
29. Daniyal Mueenuddin
Daniyal Mueenuddin is the Pulitzer Prize–nominated author of the short story collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, which won numerous awards and was also a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award.
Why you should read him: Daniyal Mueenuddin’s illuminating short story collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders paints a stunning portrait of feudal Pakistan through linked stories that are enthralling in their beauty.
30. Wang Ping
Wang Ping is an essayist and the author of several works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including the short story collection The Last Communist Virgin and the poetry collection Ten Thousand Waves.
Why you should read her: Wang Ping’s work fearlessly tackles questions of identity, language, and culture, and her poetry masterfully conveys all the wonder and interconnectedness of nature.
31. Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, as well as two chapbooks, Burnings and No.
Why you should read him: Ocean Vuong is a fierce new voice in contemporary poetry, and his stunning lines have a vulnerable, dreamlike quality that speaks to the raw core of human existence.
32. Hieu Minh Nguyen
Hieu Minh Nguyen is the author of the poetry collection This Way to the Sugar.
Why you should read him: Hieu Minh Nguyen’s debut poetry collection This Way to the Sugar is bold and dizzyingly alive and relentless in its poignant observations of race and sexuality.
Is your favorite contemporary Asian-American author not on this list? Tell us in the comments below!
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