Is a trend afoot? Susan Choi’s latest fiction imagines the life of a Japanese American associate of an SLA-era Patty Hearst; earlier this year, Monique Truong unfurled her debut novel, The Book of Salt, in the voice of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s Vietnamese cook. (The title of Dai Sijie’s 2001 Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress captures the spirit.) Asian American fictioneers with writer’s block might consider the following—true!—scenarios:
Younghill Kang came from Korea with $4 to his name. At NYU, he met Thomas Wolfe, who introduced him to editor Maxwell Perkins. Kang’s literary work is somewhat known, but perhaps it’s time for When Younghill Met Thomas (or You, Kang: Go Home Again?).
Outsider artist Henry Darger’s landlord’s Japanese-born wife, Kiyoko Lerner, was one of the only people to have seen the janitor-genius’s work while he was still alive. Did she inspire the look of the Vivian Girls? (For our purposes: Yes!)
In 1975, Beverly Loo, executive editor of McGraw-Hill’s general books division, visited Vladimir and Véra Nabokov in Montreux. “Although he had never met her and had not been told she was an Asian, he came straight over to her and at once put her at her ease,” biographer Brian Boyd tells us. “Over the coming years she rapidly found herself accepted as almost a member of the family.” Light of my life: Loolita.
Joy Press’s review of Susan Choi’s American Woman