From Chin to Chee: An Evolution of the Asian American Literary Canon Open Access

Sheldon, Delaney (Spring 2021)

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This thesis is an examination of Asian American literature from its early inceptions to contemporary, twenty-first century works. I explore the formation of the field through pivotal texts such as Aiiieeeee!: an Anthology of Asian American Writers and The Big Aiiieeeee!, with a focus on the effect these historical texts have had on the field for posterity. I analyze what elements the original editors and scholars viewed as essential for canonical texts and how contemporary scholars have adapted to those expectations. From these expectations, I question what the purpose of the canon is and how these varying purposes integrate issues of representation, genre, and mainstream success. I further examine how the canon itself has evolved to better represent the Asian American community while still maintaining the foundation that was established in the 1970s.

I focus on two contemporary novels: Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh. I explore how these authors and their works represent an evolution of the field, combining the resistance of early Asian Americans with the intersectionality of contemporary Asian Americans. Specifically, I analyze these texts using the dichotomy of real and fake that Frank Chin introduced as a means to judge Asian American authors. I argue that these moral judgements and gatekeeping tactics are symptomatic of white supremacy and that tradition and modernity do not need to be at odds with each other.

Lastly, I explore the future trajectory of the canon and how Asian American authors will continue to evolve their writing. I examine the potential post-racialist critical lens that some scholars have adopted and propose themes that will serve as connections between contemporary Asian American authors. Specifically, I argue that fire is a major crossover between Little Fires and Edinburgh, as the authors explore the cathartic and cleansing nature of the element.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter One: Canon Formation and Function 7

Origins 7

Intentions and Purpose 13

Power of Representation 20

Chapter Two: Little Fires Everywhere and the Universal Experience 33

Chapter Three: Edinburgh and the Individual Experience 45

Epilogue 62

Works Cited 69

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