10 Books by LGBTQ+ Asian Americans for Students
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Celebrating queer Asian American literature is not something that should be highlighted just during Pride or AAPI heritage month. Often excluded in the general conversation of queer contemporary literature, Asian Americans have much to offer the genre.
For many Asian Americans, coming out can look different. Due to cultural norms, it can sometimes be a lifelong process. In many Asian American cultures, the focus on duty to family can make it difficult to share one's sexual identity. To celebrate the works of queer Asian Americans is to acknowledge the space and rid the cultural shame.
To truly gain insight into the lives of LGBTQ+ Asian Americans, it's best to read their poetry, fiction, memoirs, and graphic novels. Here is a curated list of recently published books to help celebrate the diversity in the community.
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By Neema Avashia
Neema Avashia's recently published memoir "Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place" (2022) is an exploration of identity. Avashia reveals the trials and tribulations of growing up as a desi Appalachian who is trying to establish roots as an Indian in America while coming to terms with her sexuality.
Avashia takes us through an exploration of cultural beauty standards, food culture, theology, and social media, and how they all factor into identity formation. She challenges readers to expand their understanding of what it means to be an Asian American Appalachian and challenges us to reframe our understanding of what it means to be an American.
By Laura Gao
Laura Gao's "Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American" (2022) addresses the difficulties of being an immigrant, living up to parental expectations, and understanding complex identities. The memoir begins with her split between country and city life in Wuhan, China, where riding water buffalo and devouring regional delicacies like stinky tofu are the norm.
Then, she immigrated to Texas and took the American name, Laura. Readers follow along as she jumps from past to present, exploring her roots in Wuhan and navigating who she was and who she wants to become.
By Addie Tsai
Addie Tsai's second novel is an ingeniously creative book. "Unwieldy Creatures" (2022) is a biracial, queer, gender-swapped retelling of the famed novel "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley.
In Tsai's work, the reader follows the story of three historically excluded beings — Plum, Dr. Frank, and Dr. Frank's nonbinary creation. Plum is asked to assist Dr. Frank in a scientific project and must confront the limits of her ambition. She must also decide what she is willing to risk in the pursuit of science.
By Joseph Han
A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, Joseph Han's book "Nuclear Family: A Novel" (2022) follows The Cho family in Hawaii in 2018, just before the false nuclear alarm. Life is seemingly normal in the Cho family, with Mr. and Mrs. Cho running their restaurant, their daughter finishing college, and their son, Jacob, teaching English in Seoul.
But one day, Jacob is possessed by his dead grandfather, who hopes to reunite with his family in the north, and crosses the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea. This debut novel explores family separations and missed reunions in a fresh and sometimes funny way.
By Tanwi Nandini Islam
Tanwi Nandini Islam's award-winning debut novel "Bright Lines" (2015) follows the life of Ella, who experiences hallucinations after her parents are murdered. As an orphan, she immigrates from Bangladesh to Brooklyn to begin a new life with her aunt and uncle's family, the Saleems.
Through their daughter Charu's friend, Maya — the runaway daughter of an Islamic cleric — Ella experiences a sexual awakening. At the same time, secrets about her uncle Anwar surface that threaten his perfect marriage of 30 years.
By Franny Choi
A Paris Review staff pick, "Soft Science" (2019) is a poetry collection by Franny Choi that explores queer femininity in Asian American culture. The Turing Test-inspired poems in each section invite the reader to question identity, consciousness, and humanity in a violent world replete with automation and artificial intelligence. The narrator in this work has many faces — from cyborg to cephalopod — but provides space for embracing one's heritage, identity, and sexuality.
By K-Ming Chang
K-Ming Chang's first short story collection, "Gods of Want: Stories" (2022), is noted by the New York Times as a "voracious, probing collection." In her short stories, she creates places of radical transformation that push against the tide of cultural assimilation and realism.
From a temple teeming with aunties sneaking secret kisses from women to two girls exploring one another's bodies in the safety of a shark's belly, Chang pushes the idea that emigration comes in all forms.
By Chen Chen
In his debut poetry collection, "When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List of Further Possibilities" (2017), Chen Chen addresses identity, family, and faith. He walks us through the strained relationship he had with his mother and the need to say goodbye to affirm his own identity.
As a gay Chinese-American immigrant, he talks about how, unlike others, the natural world is not a place of solace. Instead, it becomes a trigger for his loneliness and highlights his desire for true companionship.
By Nghi Vo
A magical retelling of the iconic American novel "The Great Gatsby," Nghi Vo's novel "The Chosen And the Beautiful" (2022) reinvents the classic American coming-of-age story. The lavish partygoers drink demon blood, and the story includes sorcery and recasts Jay Gatsby as a bisexual vampire.
In addition, the narrative's perspective instead centers around Jordan Baker, a queer Vietnamese adoptee who is wealthy and educated. She grows up in the famed socialite circle but is still exoticized and treated as a spectacle. Throughout the novel, she learns how this experience is the root of her strength.
By Neel Patel
Neel Patel's debut novel "Tell Me How To Be: A Novel" (2021) centers around Renu Amin, who seemingly had a perfect life until her husband passed away. The story begins one year after his death and finds Renu trying to cope and questioning if she made the wrong life choices years ago.
Then, her son Akash leaves behind his boyfriend to return home to help her prepare the house to sell. Both of them begin to confront the dark secrets of their past love lives until it catches up to them, and they have to make difficult choices to find happiness.