Meet the New Generation of Asian-American Writers

The Asian authors that have woven their work into American culture sadly don’t get enough literary space as they should. Even modernist Chinese writers that grew up in China and have profound literary clout globally are easily cast to the fringes. Lu Xun, Wang Anyi and the likes are rarely read in literary courses. Even the incredible short story and novelist, Eileen Chang had her masterful oeuvre reduced to watermarks on an English dominated scene, passing away unnoticed in her Los Angeles home in the 90’s. For this reason we’re thrilled to hear that a new generation of Asian American writers are on the rise. Their work is “fierce analytical, and dangerously confessional,” providing the literary world with a new face for Asian American writing, and another incentive to broaden your book list.


Jenny Zhang

(Image courtesy of The Stranger)


Zhang has been writing non-stop since a young age. It was a passion that lead her to an inordinate amount of creative writing classes at Stanford, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop for fiction, and the publication of her debut poetry collection, Dear Jenny, We Are All Find (available above). The collection is a literary feat encompassing roughly 13 years of Zhang’s life. Her work is biting, political, and wonderfully addictive. In her interview with VICE, she talked of the difficulties concerned with titling her work ‘Asian-American writing’, and breaking free of the ethnic niche into ‘writing’, period:

“There’s […] a sense, I suspect, when people pick up a book written by an Asian American writer, they want it to be useful in some way. I’m testing out this idea, guys, and don’t know if it’s right, but I think that’s why someone like Amy Tan was embraced in the 90s—it wasn’t just a novel; it was also treated like a textbook…. I want to be afforded the right to be carefree, I want freedom, at the very least for my imagination. I don’t want to be burdened with the responsibility of thinking: How can this be instructive or valuable? I try to go into writing already believing anything I have to say, no matter how small or petty or weird, is already valuable.”

Tao Lin

(Image courtesy of Chuck Palahnuik)


Tao Lin, author of novel Richard Yates (above), short stories (like “Shoplifting from American Apparel”), and poetry collections Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and You Are a Little Bit Happier than I Am, Lin has made a name for himself that subscribes to a variety of descriptors. He’s been called awkward, irritating, insanely intelligent, and incredibly talented – but even the less flattering were given with a touch of awe and admiration. His work focuses on the millennial age he belongs to, taking his writers through urban cultures, battles with depression, and the ailments of every millennial: over-stimulation and boredom.


Hanya Yanagihara

(Image courtesy of Kirkus Reviews)


A name you hopefully already know, Hanya is the author of A Little Life (above), a novel both profoundly beautiful and wounding. Born in Hawaii, Hanya’s roots trace back to Seoul, South Korea. Although many of her characters (all of them in A Little Life) don’t share her Asian-American heritage, they are rich in the unbalancing, often contradictory elements of cultural hybridity. Her characters frequently balance between two worlds: private and public, secrecy and honesty, straight and gay, reckless and pragmatic, so on and so forth. Her first book, The People in the Trees was praised as one of the best reads in 2013, and A Little Life, her 2015 novel, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and selected as a finalist for the National Book Award. 


Tanwi Nandini Islam

(Image courtesy of NY City Lens)


This Brooklyn native began her first novel in 2009. Shortly after, she found her work praised by Penguin and sent off for printing. Inspired by American writers like Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Baldwin and Borges, Islam’s work is laced with politics and a simultaneous repulsion towards politics. Her work features characters of color “just living” without the poignant residue of race, yet seeped in a racial culture at the same time. It’s an interesting move she makes from pole to pole – acknowledging cultural mores and dismissing them – and one that gives her debut novel, Bright Lines, continuous momentum. The novel, which centers on three young women living in New York City, has been praised by the Denver Post as

“A Brooklyn-by-way-of-Bangladesh Royal Tenenbaums. A pot-tinged, PTSD Muslim Sesame Street. With sex. Hallucinations, hijabs and handlebars on the always-busy Atlantic Avenue. The New York sense of place in Bright Lines rivals the recent memory of Teju Cole’s Open City.”

In addition to these authors, also check out Hua Hsu, Eddie Huang, Amy Chua, Jay Caspian Kang, and a whole list of rising provocateurs and masterful writers – all courtesy of VICE magazine. 


Featured image courtesy of Tanwin and Dini.