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Dr. Roberta Wolfson

An Introduction to Asian American Literature

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Before her role at Stanford, Dr. Wolfson taught many literature classes at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. I had the privilege of being her student in ENGL 348 Asian- American Literature. I wanted to interview her because she introduced me to the depths of the Asian-American Literature genre. 

What is Asian American Literature?

A common realization many narrators of Asian American Literature have is one in which they see themselves through the eyes of white Americans. This phenomenon was termed by W.E.B Du Bois as double consciousness. Why do Asian American authors include this awakening in their texts?

In Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel, The Sympathizer, the narrator has a job as an “Asian consultant” for a Hollywood film about the Vietnam War. During his time on set, he ponders,

“Not to own the means of production can lead to premature death, but not to own the means of representation is also a kind of death. For if we are represented by others, might they not, one day, hose our deaths off memory’s laminated floor? Still smarting from my wounds even now, I cannot help but wonder, writing this confession, whether I own my own representation or whether you, my confessor, do” (Nguyen 194).

How is Asian American Literature a pathway for Asian Americans to “own [their] own representation,” and why do they need to?

In “Screams and Silence,” a recent episode of NPR’s podcast Code Switch, an Asian American student explains she did not learn about her own Asian American culture until she took an Asian American Studies class in college. Why is this a common experience
for many Asian Americans, and why is it important for all Americans to learn about Asian American history?

Where do you hope the future of Asian American Literature lies?

What are some forms of media (i.e. literature, films, podcasts) you would recommend to people who want to know more about Asian American Literature?

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