Memoirs are a key source for gaining historical insight into the AAPI experience. They hold a distinct power in letting readers walk in another person’s shoes and better understand different cultures and traditions. Plus, a memoirist’s first-hand testimony and reflection create a unique window into different time periods and world events. All the more reason to check out these 7 AAPI memoirists who share their stories of resilience, war, family, identity, and love with emotional candor and eloquence.
Ly Tran is a graduate of Columbia University, where she studied creative writing and linguistics. Her debut book, House of Sticks, is a remarkable coming-of-age tale that follows her childhood transition immigrating from Vietnam to Queens, New York. Tran’s memoir brings forth a searing portrait of the immigrant experience that examines complicated family ties and traumas, education, poverty, mental health, acculturation, and more.
Elizabeth Miki Brina holds an MFA from the University of New Orleans. Her creative work has appeared in the likes of The Sun, River Teeth, Gulf Coast, and Hyphen Magazine, among other publications. Speak, Okinawa, her debut book, was quickly lauded as a contemporary classic examining cultural inheritance and parent/child relationships. At the heart of her multi-layered memoir is a desire to reconcile her mixed-race identity and upbringing with her complex parents and Okinawan history.
Founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, David Chang is a 21st-century culinary celebrity with six James Beard Awards. His memoir, Eat a Peach, co-written with food writer, Gabe Ulla, provides a vulnerable look into his rise as a restauranteur – discussing his struggles with depression and anxiety, self-confidence, and maneuvering the hectic culinary work environment. If you think chef memoirs aren’t your jam, think again, because Chang’s book is a charming display of honesty and humanity.
Putsata Reang is an author and journalist who has lived and worked in over a dozen countries. Today, she teaches memoir writing at the University of Washington. Her recent release, Ma and Me, recalls her near death as an infant fleeing a war-torn Cambodia, which became a family legend. Further, it chronicles the frayed emotional bond with her mother after coming out to her as an adult. In all, this Pacific Northwest Book Award winner is a stunning exposition on love, identity, and filial duty you won’t be able to put down.
E.J. Koh is not only a memoirist but a renowned poet and translator of Korean literature. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and completed her Ph.D. at the University of Washington. Her award-winning memoir, The Magical Language of Others, blossoms from the letters sent to her by her mother as a teenager, which invoke a discussion of forgiveness and estrangement, family, and selfhood. Make sure to look out for her debut novel, The Liberators, hitting shelves this year!
Activist, speaker, philanthropist, and humanitarian Le Ly Hayslip is the author of two incredible memoirs: When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Child of War, Woman of Peace. Both of these stem from her experience growing up during the American-Vietnam War and her return to her childhood home decades later. Her inspiring books have become a cornerstone in studying war history and were later adapted into the film Heaven & Earth in 1993.
Qian Julie Wang is a graduate of Yale Law School with over a decade of experience working as a litigator. She is a managing partner of Gottlieb & Wang LLC – a firm devoted to advancing education, disability rights, and civil rights for marginalized communities. Her debut memoir, Beautiful Country, is a story of her undocumented childhood after moving to the US at age 7. Both of her parents were professors in China but now endure harsh labor in sweatshops. Told from her childhood eye, this quintessential story of survival in the face of fear, poverty, and exclusion is honest, heartfelt, and eye-opening.
Read more on AAPI voices here.