Cancelled: Breaking the Canon: Asian American Voices in U.S. Literature and the Significance of Aiiieeeee!


Tuesday, April 14, 2020 6:00PM

Cancelled: Breaking the Canon: Asian American Voices in U.S. Literature and the Significance of Aiiieeeee!
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Where: California Historical Society Headquarters, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

Cost: $12 General Admission. Free for CHS Members, plus one guest per membership.

In 1974, during a time of social upheaval and Third World solidarity in the U.S., Howard University Press published Aiiieeeee!, a groundbreaking anthology of Asian American literature, which provided an outlet for generations of long-neglected writers, addressed the neglect and exclusion of Asian American voices, and introduced new writers who issued an unprecedented challenge to the keepers of the literary canon. The manuscript had been rejected by white, mainstream publishers. It took the academic press of a historically black college in Washington, D.C. to issue the volume. The four young editors – Shawn Wong, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Inada, and Frank Chin – were all based in California at the time. They were gifted writers themselves, part of the cultural transformation in the country, from a generation questioning the sins and omissions of the past.

Now legendary, the anthology has been reissued by University of Washington Press to celebrate its 45th anniversary. The release of the new edition of Aiiieeeee! has been noted in a variety of venues, notably the New Yorker magazine which deemed the book "a canon breaker," and in an article in the Paris Review by Tara Fickle, University of Washington professor, and author of the forward to the newly reissued Aiiieeeee!

On Tuesday, April 14, the California Historical Society will host a panel discussion with Shawn Wong, Lawrence Inada, and Jeff Chang, three of editors of the original 1974 anthology, and of the reissue, to discuss its genesis, impact and continued relevance. The panel will be moderated by scholar Tara Fickle. With this program, the California Historical Society will be making a bit of history itself by bringing together the editors for the first time in twenty years.

About the Panelists:

Jeffery Paul Chan [b. 1942 Stockton, California]. Emeritus Professor, San Francisco State University, co-founder of the Asian American Studies Department and the College of Ethnic Studies. Teacher, literary scholar, and writer, Professor Chan counts his co-editorship of Aiiieeeee! and The Big Aiiieeeee, his novel Eat Everything Before You Die [University of Washington Press, 2005], and his reflections on the Chinese Italian diaspora [“L’ama non ci ama, Lost & Found in Translation,” Amerasia Journal 34:2 2008], as well as the literary adoption of the term “aiiieeeee” (sampling the comic books and funny papers of the day) as milestones cast into an ocean of irony.

Shawn Wong [b. 1949, Oakland, California] Professor Wong’s second novel, American Knees, was made into an award-winning movie titled “Americanese”. Wong’s first novel, Homebase, won both the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and the 15th Annual Governor’s Writers Day Award of Washington. He is also the co-editor and editor of six Asian American and American multicultural literary anthologies including the pioneering anthology Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers. He is currently a Professor in the Department of English and Department of Cinema & Media Studies. He has served as Chair of the Department of English, Director of the Creative Writing Program and, Director of the University Honors Program.

Lawson Fusao Inada [b. 1939, Fresno, California]. Lawson Inada is a distinguished poet who has taught at the University of New Hampshire and Southern Oregon University. His volume of poetry, Legends from Camp, won an American Book Award, and he has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2006, he was appointed Oregon’s fifth poet laureate. He studied writing at the Fresno State University, the University of Oregon, where he earned an MFA, and the University of Iowa. His family’s experiences in internment camps during WWII, as well as his background as a jazz musician have influenced his work. He is a third-generation Japanese American (Sansei).

About the Moderator:

Tara Fickle is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Oregon, and Affiliated Faculty of the Department of Ethnic Studies, the New Media & Culture Certificate, and the Center for Asian & Pacific Studies. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her B.A. from Wesleyan University. Her book, “The Race Card: From Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities,” (NYU Press, 2019), explores how games have been used to establish and combat Asian American racial stereotypes. Professor Fickle wrote the forward and worked with Shawn Wong to publish the reissue of Aiiieeeee! by University of Washington Press in 2019.