Neela Banerjee

The Content of One’s Characters

For some Asian American writers, ethnicity issues ease into the backdrop.

FIRST-TIME NOVELIST Sang Pak says much of the inspiration for his Southern Gothic-esque Wait Until Twilight came to him in his sleep.

Some three decades since Asian American writing first gained wide popularity, more writers like Pak are venturing away from the ethnicity-focused approach that was once thought to be the key to getting published.

Report Back from the Asian American Literary Symposium

Photo: Poet Srikanth Reddy and novelist Ed Lin exemplify the diversity in the Asian American writing community and at a recent Asian American literature symposium. Photo by Kira Wisniewski.

Eight amazing Asian American writers gathered at the University of Maryland this past Saturday to read their work and talk about the state of Asian American literature. Kira Wisniewski of 826DC was on the scene for Hyphen to report on the day-long festivities:  


Q&A with Grace Lee Boggs

Equal opportunity activist Grace Lee Boggs, 94, has been significantly involved in most of the major movements of the 20th century. At age 77, she founded an intergeneratlonal youth program to uplift Detroit, the city she has made her home since 1953. From her days of Marxist factionalism with AfroTrinidadian theorist C.L.R.

Hyphen and AAWW Short Story Contest DEADLINE EXTENDED!

Entries are pouring in for the 2010 Asian American Short Story Contest, brought to you by Hyphen and the Asian American Writers' Workshop, but we want more! So, we've decided to extend the deadline until Monday April 12th (postmark deadline), so you can get that story in and maybe even win $1000!

Check out all the details here.

Here are a few FAQs we've been encountering:

SFIAAFF 2010: Raspberry Magic Director Leena Pendharkar's Road to Success

A few years before filmmaker Leena Pendhakar finished Raspberry Magic -- playing this weekend at the SFIAAFF -- she wrote a commentary for Hyphen (Issue 12) about her dream to make an independent film about a little South Asian American girl. I guess dream do come true. 

Movie dreams come true

A fledgling filmmaker learns how to stop worrying and just make her movie.

By Leena Pendharkar (Illustration by Ameet Mehta)

Desis, Iranians and Adolescent Girls at SFIAAFF 2010

Over the last several years, I’ve made it my point on this blog to assess the South Asian American aspects of the SFIAAFF: the good, the bad and the Bollywood. While the festival always has an amazing range of films and stories from global South Asia – it is the South Asian American stories that I find missing.

Thicker Than Blood

I RECENTLY took a whirlwind, seven-day trip to India to visit my extended family. It was a vortex of family: endless grandparents, aunties, uncles, assorted cousins and more. How different it was to return to my apartment in San Francisco and communicate with my few immediate family members, spread out across America's time zones.

Family First

More than just karaoke and portraits with Mr. Hyphen Aristotle Garcia

ARISTOTLE GARCIA BARED IT ALL while winning the Mr. Hyphen competition by re-enacting Tom Cruise's infamous, tighty-whitey, Bob Seger lip-synching scene back in October. But his true colors came out when he brought his mother, 1 8-year-old niece and 105-year-old grandmother to this issue's cover shoot to illustrate what family is all about.

Please Welcome the Asian American Literary Review


Exciting news everyone: A new literary journal dedicated to Asian American writing -- the Asian American Literary Review (AALR) -- is mere months away from hitting the stands. As a writer, I think that the pulse of American writing is found in its literary journals. Sure, they may not be as sexy as The New Yorker, or even get top billing at bookstores, as Stephen King wrote about a few years ago, but it's the place where you find the real writing, both from established writers and emerging ones. Even in this hyper-connected world, journals continue to be a place where literary arts can be both showcased and discussed with abandon. My very first creative publication was in the pages of the Asian Pacific American Journal, the literary journal of the Asian American Writers' Workshop, back in 1998. I remember how exciting it was to have my poem be a part of this collection of writings from Asian Americans all over the country. Now, the AALR hopes to create these kind of creative connections for a whole new era of Asian American literature.   

Could You Do a Year of No Flying?

When my friends Anirvan and Barnali, two South Asian Americans living in Berkeley, CA, plugged their numbers into one of those carbon footprint calculators a few years ago, they found out theirs was bigger than 90 percent of Americans'. And they don't even have a car! The culprit was international air travel. So, they decided to make a point and travel around the world for a year without using planes, and talk to people "exploring solutions to transportation and the climate crisis." 

Nurturing Asian American Literature

AAWW_blog.jpgThe economic downturn (dare I say, nascent depression) has hit the media sector especially hard, taking its toll on ethnic media -- as Harry recently posted about. But the publishing world -- facing similar competition from online media, the Kindle and declining readership -- is also facing some seriously hard times. Where does this leave the Asian American lit scene?

Celebration Reading for Hyphen and AAWW Short Story Contest: May 28th, NYC

What do a wannabe Indian American surfer, a Taiwanese rock band, a Bhangra love affair, an escape from Vietnam and a suspected parental affair have in common? These were all subjects of finalist stories from the second annual Hyphen and Asian American Writers' Workshop Short Story contest. Come out to AAWW this Thursday May 28th at 7 pm and hear winning author Shivani Manghnani, along with finalists Bushra Rehman, Kevin Tang, Joy Wood and Ky-Phong Tran read. You can also pick up the Family Issue of Hyphen with Manghnani's winning story: "Playing the Sheik."

The WRITE Questions with Sung Woo

sung_woo.jpgSung Woo's debut book of interwoven short stories Everything Asian (Thomas Dunne Books) is set mostly in East Meets West, an Asian gift shop located in a strip mall in New Jersey during the 1980s, and concerns a Korean immigrant family trying to acculturate and get reacquainted with their father/husband -- who had already been in the US for five years. We asked Woo -- a former literature section contributor to Hyphen -- to subject himself to our set of literary questions.

Are Petite Asian Girls the New Femme Fatales?

The New York Observer has a scintillating story up about a young woman named Kari Ferrell, one of "Salt Lake City's Most Wanted." The story, amusingly titled "The Hipster Grifter," goes into the history of 22-year-old Ferrell's twisted path of lies, deceptions and check fraud -- which struck hipster strongholds like the Vice Magazine office and other parts

The WRITE Questions with Thaddeus Rutkowski

Thaddeus Rutkowski's novel Roughhouse (Kaya Press)
has been described as "in-your-face punk realism with touches
of the surreal and subversive black humor."
thaddeus_rutowski.jpgHis second novel, Tetched, takes the experimental form of "fractals" --
or chapters composed of several paragraph-sized vignettes.
We asked the New York-based writer to subject himself to
our set of literary questions. [See Rutkowski read at Eastwind Books of  Berkeley, Saturday April 4th at 7 p.m.]

Live Blogging the WAM Conference: Ethnic Media Lessons

I'm at the Women, Action and the Media or WAM conference at MIT this weekend and wanted to try my hand at some live-blogging -- so far I have a few posts up at New America Media. There hasn't been a whole lot of Asian American representation so far, so I'm super excited about this ethnic media panel starring Carolyn Ji Jong Goossen (my co-worker at New America Media), along with Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan and Shruti Swamy from San Jose-based India Currents. [BTW, I'll be talking about Hyphen's super-indie model at a panel Sunday morning titled: "The Art of Low Budgets: How Indy Magazines Can Compete in a Mainstream World."]

Against the Grain: Minal Hajratwala and Yiyun Li

I've been following the supposed demise of the mainstream publishing world pretty closely. What wannabe writer isn't? Is it the Kindle or Amazon or huge advances or just that no one reads anymore? Whatever it is, I'm trying to adapt my daydreams about my forthcoming beautifully-designed hardback book and world tour to perhaps a new reality ... one that involves selling electronic chapbooks out of the trunk of my electric car.

But in the meantime, the success of two Bay Area-based Asian American writers -- Minal Hajratwala and Yiyun Li -- has been buoying my dismal thoughts with the release of their latest books. 


Yes! A Plethora of South Asian Films at SFIAAFF

Okay, whatever my particular opinion on the Slumdog phenom, I think it's clear that it is a stellar year for South Asian film and I am excited to blog about the impressive selection of South Asian films at the San Francisco International Film Festival. (Finally!) If nothing else, there's always the Saturday night Bollywood movie at the Castro: Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.


'Slumdog Millionaire' Wrap-Up

slumdog-couple.jpgThe Slumdog Millionaire phenomenon has been an interesting one. For me, the best part has been the 'Fuck You' to the Hollywood establishment that this film represented: no stars, no backing, etc. I'm not sure if it was my favorite Oscar winning movie -- or my favorite movie of the year for that matter [because, um, did you SEE The Wrestler? and I'm not really a feel-good kinda girl]. But it has also elicited some really interesting responses. Here's a quick wrap up of blog entries and pieces:

What Asian Americans Are Writing About

After half a year of planning, collaborating, announcing, administering, reading and judging, I am so excited that we announced the winner of the 2008 Hyphen/Asian American Writers' Workshop Short Story Contest winner (Shivani Manghnani for "Playing The Sheik") and the finalists this week. Especially because I've been waiting over a month to share what I gleaned from reading the over 160 stories featuring Asian American characters and beyond.


'Post-Racial' Theater for a new Post-Racial America?

So, I'm a bit pooped from all the Asian-spotting at the inauguration today -- from Maya Soetoro-Ng to aide Eugene Kang (okay, that pic is from awhile ago, but I did see Eugene a lot on TV today!) to Michelle Obama's ballgown designed by Jason Wu -- it seems we were in full-effect. What happens to Asian-spotting in a post-racial America?

Slumdog Sweeps, Hollywood Still Sucks and Hot Fair Trade Fashion

With Slumdog Millionaire sweeping the box office AND the Golden Globes, I guess South Asians are in line to be the ethnicity du jour again in 2009. Of course, I thought the movie was wildly entertaining, and gave a City of God glamour to the slums of Mumbai. (Suck this, City of Joy.) And seeing Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan make an 11th hour appearance to present really made it seem like Indian film had arrived.

But my champagne-fueled, Desi pride just couldn't get it up to full joy because where were the Asian Americans? But forget that even, where were the black people?


Best Asian American Books of 2008

books2.jpgJust like champagne, party dresses and forced kisses, nothing says "New Year's Time" like a BEST OF list. I scoured literary pages from the New York Times to the School Library Journal to find out how Asian American (and Asian British and Asian Australian) writers fared on the Best Books of 2008 lists.

As per usual, we were holding it down on several major lists and even garnering some important prizes. Overall, South Asians were sweeping in the fiction arena, but non-fiction books on China from Chinese American journalists were also big mentions this year, and I rounded out the list with several Asian American poetry books published this year. 
A big pile of books makes the cold months of January, February (and March for some of you) fly by, so happy reading! (p.s. If you are purchasing from Amazon, go ahead and click through from the ad on this page to support Hyphen!)

Asian Americans in 'Milk'

In the past week, I rented both the Academy Award-winning The Times of Harvey Milk and went to see Gus Van Sant's Milk at The Castro Theater. As much as I loved Milk (and felt so lucky to watch it in the Castro Theater), I think the documentary is an amazing piece of work that tells a more complete story, especially when it comes to Harvey Milk's connection and dedication to the Asian American community. 

Dangerous Times for Recycling Scavengers

Last week, the Oakland Tribune reported on an 80-year-old Chinese woman in Oakland who was "beaten unconscious" while "collecting cans and other recyclables to earn spending money for her grandchildren." While the crime does sound random, the official recession that we are in now could make it dangerous times for people who trade trash for cash. A vigil has been held for the victim of this crime -- who is said to be recovering -- and a $10,000 reward is being offered for any information regarding this crime.

Judging Asian Americans By Our Book Covers

Do stereotypical images reflect bad marketing or stilted writing — or both?

YOU WOULD THINK that in the publishing world where Asian Americans have had significant mainstream success we wouldn't still be subjected to exotified marketing. Yet when I sort through the Hyphen book box at our office, I see an array of stereotypical Asian images: lotus blossoms, flowing saris, flawless Asian faces. I know I'm not supposed to judge, but I sometimes have a hard time getting past the cover to read what's inside.

Literary Aesthetics

1 The Woman Warrior (Vintage)

This is the third cover (circa 1989) for Maxine Hong Kingston's pivotal 1975 memoir about her Chinese American girlhood and identity. The first featured an illustration of an Asian woman's face and a samurai; the second was a distorted Chinese landscape painting overlaid with shadows of an Asian face; and here is the third the most subtle focusing just on the ghost-like face. The fragmented, blurred or distorted Asian face is a popular trope for Asian American book covers.

Tripping Through Second Life

On the hunt for virtual Asian American communities.

AS SOON AS I BEGAN my virtual journey into the world of second Life (SL), the influence of Asian culture is undeniable. When choosing a prototype avatar, by which one explores the universe of SL, one of the options is to be a Harajuku girl or guy-complete with shredded leggings, mini-skirts and anime hair. The other avatars run the gamut from goth style to elvish, but nothing that would represent me-a medium-brown skinned South Asian woman.

Read These Books and Call Me in the Morning

A hospital full of Asian American doctor-writers is reviving the medical narrative genre.

GROWING UP IN suburban Ohio in the 1980s and 90s, the Holy Grail for most Asian kids I knew was a combined six-year undergraduate and medical school program offered at a consortium of schools east of Cleveland. Sure, Stanford and Yale were more prestigious, but at fabulous Kent State, you could be a doctor by 23.

I suppose it was a natural progression. We all know about the professional brain drain that plucked a hungry generation from the Motherland and put them to work in hospitals across America. What else would their children do but follow in their footsteps?

Hyphen and AAWW Short Story Contest DEADLINE EXTENDED!!!

Great news for you undiscovered fiction writers out there: the Hyphen and Asian American Writers' Workshop Short Story contest deadline has been extended to Monday Sept. 29th, 2008. So, dust off that typewriter and polish up that story from that writing workshop in college ... you have a few more months to let the creativity flow.

New Indiana Jones Harmless, But Bad


Stephen Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" had a profound effect on my life, as it did for any South Asian kid who grew up in the 1980s. I was both entranced and dismayed by the Hollywood blockbuster that actually showed Indian people on screen in major roles, but then turned us into eyeball soup-eating, heart-extracting zombie thugee cult members. And in the end it was the British who helped save Dr. Jones from the savage natives. But I didn't really think about the post-colonial aspects until years later; it was the persistence of the eyeball soup and monkey brains that haunted my childhood. Yet, my brother and I watched the movie over and over and I can recite most of the lines. And whatever happened to Short Round?

NY Times Highlights Hmong American Rapper


It's so cool to see a subtle increase in stories about Asian Americans this month. This NY Times video on Minnesota Hmong American poet/rapper Tou Saiko Lee is pretty dope. I was especially interested in the end when he talks about performing with his grandmother: She busts a flow in ancient Hmong poetry and then he starts rapping with her. Have people seen any other subtle Asian Pacific American Heritage Month coverage that they're into?