Asian American Literature Syllabus

 Course Description and Outcomes

This class in Asian American Literature will include poetry, short fiction, drama, and novels. “Asian” is a broad category that includes, but is not limited to, persons who trace their roots to at least China, Japan, Korea, Burma (or Myanmar), Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Pacific Islands, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, or Pakistan. As such, it represents people whose common racial categorization belies their very diverse histories and traditions—not only in their mother or home nations, but also in the United States, where waves of immigration, labor practices, attempts at assimilation, and shifting prejudices (among other factors) have variously affected the often difficult transition from “Asian” to “Asian American.” Even for writers born and raised in the United States, the unique perspective of one “between worlds,” as one critic has phrased it, makes their writing of great interest.

Obviously race (with all of the complicated things that term might mean) will be a primary topic of analysis this semester, and gender (ditto) will be as well. The pain and beauty of forging a racialized and gendered self while one negotiates the expectations, stereotypes, and limitations of different cultures is expressed in numerous important works of literature by Asian American writers, literature which has flourished in the last forty years. The availability of texts will keep our focus this semester primarily contemporary (post 1945), but we will also study the work of one author from early in the twentieth century whose personal story is of additional interest in understanding the publishing history of Asian American literature.  Representing a variety of Asian ethnicities and experiences, our readings this semester will be drawn from writers of Japanese, Chinese, Filipina, Vietnamese, Korean, and Indian descent. Appropriate theory, criticism, and historical documents will also inform our readings.

We will consider questions such as these: how do Asian American writers represent the United States? How do they represent their nations of origin or the traditions and history of their ancestors? How are they affected by the racial prejudice of whites, and are they themselves also fearful or disdainful of racial others? How do they understand the very concept of “race”? How does gender intersect with race or ethnicity? What constructions of identity control or liberate them? What models of selfhood do they embrace? If they are bi- or multilingual, how do the writers balance their languages, and what does it mean to make the choice to write in English? Are the texts themselves remarkable in genre, style, form, or language? What historical events or experiences do they examine and illuminate? How does history shape their contemporary lives and attitudes?


Our course will develop in two spaces: the physical classroom and our collaborative website, which can be accessed at


This course is an elective for the English major, an elective for the Asian Studies minor, an elective for the American Studies major, and an elective for the Women’s and Gender Studies major.  For the English major, it specifically addresses the following desired topics and skills:

  • Literary history, including an understanding of historical context and its impact on literary periods;
  • Literatures in English, including literatures in translation;
  • Literary theory and its application;
  • The major genres of literature;
  • How issues of culture, race, gender, class, and historical period influence the development and interpretation of literary works;


  • Adapting writing to a variety of purposes, contexts, and audiences;
  • Completing competent seminar quality research;
  • Applying literary methods as a means for analyzing oral and written discourse.


Required Texts

Frank Chin, The Chickencoop Chinaman 

Jessica Hagedorn, Dogeaters

Suji Kwock Kim, Notes from the Divided Country 

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

lê thi diem thuy, The Gangster We Are All Looking For

Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker

John Okada, No-No Boy

Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor was Divine

Rajesh Parameswaran, I am an Executioner: Love Stories

Bao Phi, Sông I Sing

Onoto Watanna, A Japanese Nightingale (pdf on the blog) Selected Essays available on the blog


Course Requirements 

Assigned Readings: This course is reading intensive; it has a demanding and constant reading load, often several hundred pages a week from challenging texts. You must complete assigned readings before class and should bring the necessary books to each meeting. For pdf files, bring a printed copy or a device on which you can read in digital form.

Reading Quizzes (10 pts.): Many or most days we will begin class with a brief quiz designed to test your completion and understanding of the reading. There are no make-ups if you miss the quiz due to being tardy or absent because the final grade for these will be weighted based on actual class performance.

Oral and Digital Participation (20 pts.): This course asks you to respond thoughtfully in several ways to our readings as we progress through the semester. Active participation is essential to doing well in this course. A primary way is through class discussion, which will be the typical mode of each class period, whether in large or small groups. You needn’t in any way be an “expert” to participate; our purpose here is dialogue and collaborative learning, not monologues that establish individual brilliance. Oral participation naturally is not possible if you are not present for the class meeting; therefore, attendance is a must. Excessive absences (5 or more) will significantly lower this portion of the grade. Chronically tardy arrivals are not acceptable. It is your responsibility to find out what you have missed when you are absent.

The course blog should also be seen as a primary site for participation, a digital extension of the physical classroom. It is always open for free blogging, which I expect you to do. The blog will function as a place to develop threads we begin in class, to introduce topics of interest we didn’t talk about, to supplement our knowledge with outside materials, links, or information, to respond personally or creatively to the literature we read, and more. (Don’t know how to start? Check out the links on the blog and discuss something you find there.) Though class discussion may shift primarily to new literary texts every week, it is appropriate to free blog about any book from class throughout the semester.

Original posts and comments on posts are equally valuable; as with oral participation, this should emerge as a dialogue, not a series of disconnected soliloquys.  It is a nearly limitless space in which we may build our community, our voices as readers/writers, and our collective knowledge, and my anticipation is that it will be animated. Even on days that you do not post, you should be reading the blog to keep up with the conversation and check for class announcements.

Some of the works we read may raise strong responses; I should not need to say that I expect respect and civility even in disagreement both in the classroom and on the blog.

Participation, both oral and free blogging, is heavily weighted in this course because it gives you the opportunity to take initiative and to engage on your own terms with the course material, and it encourages a model of learning that is collaborative and fluid. Don’t take this part of your grade for granted or assume that showing up is enough. Participation in both forums will be assessed for frequency and quality.

Formal Blog Work:

     A. Two “formal” posts (2 at 15 pts. each=30 pts.): The course schedule shows a distribution throughout the semester of assigned posting. For each author we read, one group (designated at the start of the semester) will be responsible for posting to the blog a (more formalized) response or analysis of at least 800 words. (Essentially, this is a short essay.) These posts may be made throughout our study of that author, with the deadline being midnight on the final day we discuss the specific author. (For example, for Maxine Hong Kingston, each member of Group B will post sometime between when we finish Chin in class September 7 and midnight on September 16, the last day we read Hong Kingston.) A post may closely analyze a passage, compare a work to another piece of literature or consider it through a helpful theoretical lens, respond personally (but remember that this is a paper, not a diary entry), respond to or develop something from class discussion, etc.  In any of these cases, you will be well served to use textual evidence, write with grace and correctness, and choose a focus that can be meaningfully developed in such a short piece of writing but indicates the depth and sophistication of your reading.  You will title these posts “[Name]’s Post on [Author]”—e.g., “Upma’s Post on Kingston.”  When you complete your essay and post it to the blog, you must also submit it on Canvas for assessment: 1) click on the title of your post once it is published; 2) copy the URL; 3) drop that URL in Canvas as your submission for the assignment.

     B. Required comments on formal blog work (2 at 5 pts. each=10 pts.): The course schedule shows a system of assigned comments on these required posts, also on a rotating group system. In the weeks you are assigned to comment, you should write a substantial reply to any one of the required posts. “Substantial” may indicate its length, since these comments should be well developed (use 200 words as a ballpark figure), but it speaks more importantly to its richness. A good comment will not just praise the post; it will respond to it thoughtfully and extend the conversation in some way. To be on time, these comments should be posted before the class period when we begin the following author. (For instance, if you are in Group E, assigned to comment on Okada posts, you could comment any time between the moment the first Okada post is made by someone in Group C and class time on September 28, when we begin Otsuka). When you complete your comment, you must also submit it on Canvas for assessment: 1) after you have published your comment, click on the title of the post on which you have commented; 2) copy the URL; 3) drop that URL in Canvas as your submission for the assignment.

Researched Multimedia Project (25 pts.): This assignment, which will be completed with partners or in groups for due dates throughout the semester as shown on the course schedule, is designed to use all of our combined person-power to increase our collective knowledge base. The purpose is to provide the class with helpful background knowledge that is historical, political, or cultural that contextualizes our specific readings. Some projects may concern an aspect of the Asian culture or nation and others will focus on something about the appropriate group’s American experience.

The projects will be completed on a Google doc that will be linked to the class blog and will make use of full multimedia capabilities. Though they will include substantial explanatory text (at least 500 words per student is a decent guideline, and you should color code your writing in the Google doc so I can easily separate your work), they must also use images, video, audio, links, or other methods to enrich and support the traditional scholarship.

**College-level, appropriate research (UMW Libraries databases, books, or journals, with some use of high-quality open web sources like the CIA Factbook) is the heart of your project. The project must include citations (for all material) and a bibliography of all sources in MLA format (link on blog for help) so I can see your research and classmates can explore further if they want to.**


RMP Topics

  1. Legal and human history of Chinese immigration
  2. Political/cultural history of China in the 20th century
  3. Traditional Chinese family structure and marriage
  4. 4. militaryinWorld WarII
  5. Japanese American containment and resettlement during World War II
  6. South Asian immigration patterns and immigrant profiles
  7. 7. marriage familystructure
  8. 8. patterns profiles
  9. Political history of Korea 1900-1955
  10. 10. historyof the 1850-1990
  11. Language, class, ethnicity, religion in the Philippines
  12. Vietnamese refugees and immigration patterns
  13. Angel Island
  14. The Hmong people (culture, relation to US, immigration patterns)

In order for these projects to fulfill the goal of contextualizing our literary works, they must be READ by the class.  My expectation is that all students will read the RMPs within a reasonable period of time after they are posted; I reserve the right to include material from the RMPs on our reading quizzes.

You may certainly write blog posts that comment on or use the RMPs—for instance, you could discuss the research in relation to the literary texts or to the theoretical articles/issues, drawing out its significance to our course of study.


Final Activity (5 pts.): Details TBA


Provisional Course Schedule


Week 1

M Aug 24                    Introductions

W Aug 26                   Essays from blog: Said, excerpt from Orientalism; Okihiro, “When and Where I Enter.” Add yourself to the blog!

F Aug 28                     Essay from blog: Zhou and Gatewood, excerpt from “Introduction: Revisiting Contemporary Asian America”; you need to have chosen an RMP group by today!

Watanna and/or Chin—Formal Blog: Group A; Required Comment: Group C


Week 2

M Aug 31                    Watanna, A Japanese Nightingale 85-124 (blog)

W Sept 2                     Watanna 125-171

F Sept 4                       Chin, The Chickencoop Chinaman Act I and “Chinese Exclusion Act” (blog)


Week 3

M Sept 7                     Chin Act II and Wing Sue et al, “Racial Microaggressions and the Asian American Experience” (blog); RMP #1 and #2 due

Kingston—Formal Blog: Group B; Required Comment: Group D

W Sept 9                     Kingston, The Woman Warrior 1-53 (“No Name Woman” and “White Tigers”);

RMP #3 due

F Sept 11                     Kingston 57-109 (“Shaman”)


Week 4

M Sept 14                   Kingston 113-160 (“At the Western Palace”)

W Sept 16                   Kingston 163-209 (“A Song for the Barbarian Reed Pipe”)

F Sept 18                     mns at an academic conference; class will not meet

Okada—Formal Blog: Group C; Required Comment: Group E


Week 5

M Sept 21                   Okada, No-No Boy 1-143 (chapters 1-6); RMP #4 and #5 due

W Sept 23                   Okada 145-188 (chapters 7-8) and “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese” (blog)

F Sept 25                        Okada 189-251 (chapters 9-11)

Otsuka—Formal Blog: Group D; Required Comment: Group A


Week 6

M Sept 28                   Otsuka, When the Emperor was Divine 1-48

W Sept 30                   Otsuka 49-105

F Oct 2                        Otsuka 106-144 and “Japanese American Creed” (blog)

Parameswaran—Formal Blog: Group E; Required Comment: Group B


Week 7

M Oct 5                       Parameswaran, I am an Executioner 3-44; RMP #6 and #7 due

W Oct 7                      Parameswaran 110-131 and 150-185

F Oct 9                        Parameswaran 186-260


Week 8

M Oct 12                     Fall Break

Lee—Formal Blog: Group A; Required Comment: Group C

W Oct 14                    Lee, Native Speaker 1-130

F Oct 16                      Lee 131-202; RMP #8 due


Week 9

M Oct 19                     Lee 203-292

W Oct 21                    Lee 293-349

Kim—Formal Blog: Group B; Required Comment: Group D

F Oct 23                      Kim, Notes from the Divided Country I


Week 10

M Oct 26                     Kim II; RMP #9 due

W Oct 28                    Kim III

F Oct 30                      Kim IV


Week 11

M Nov 2                      Kim

Hagedorn—Formal Blog: Group C; Required Comment: Group E

W Nov 4                     Hagedorn, Dogeaters 1-54; RMP #10 and #11 due

F Nov 6                       Hagedorn 55-118



Week 12

M Nov 9                      Hagedorn 119-187

W Nov 11                   Hagedorn 188-251

lê—Formal Blog: Group D; Required Comment: Group A

F Nov 13                     , The Gangster We Are All Looking For 3-35 (“suh-top!”); RMP #12 due


Week 13

M Nov 16                    36-99 (“palm” and “the gangster we are all looking for”)

W Nov 18                   100-158 (“the bones of birds” and “nu’ó’c”

F Nov 20                     mns at an academic conference; class will not meet


Week 14

M Nov 23                    Poems from Angel Island and the Japanese internment camps (blog); RMP #13 and #14 due

W Nov 25                   Thanksgiving Break

F Nov 27                     Thanksgiving Break

Phi—Formal Blog: Group E; Required Comment: Group B


Week 15

M Nov 30                    Phi, Sông I Sing parts I and II

W Dec 2                      Phi parts III and IV

F Dec 4                       Phi



FINALS WEEK         Final examination period: Friday, December 11, 12-2:30



Mara Scanlon, University of Mary Washington

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.