How Asian American women writers mobilize popular genres of literature to imagine new forms of citizenship in a neoliberal society
Asian American Women's Popular Literature
Feminizing Genres and Neoliberal Belonging
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A title in the American Literatures Initiative.
Popular genre fiction written by Asian American women and featuring Asian American characters gained a market presence in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. These “crossover” books—mother-daughter narratives, chick lit, detective fiction, and food writing—attempt to bridge ethnic audiences and a broader reading public. In Asian American Women's Popular Literature, Pamela Thoma considers how these books both depict contemporary American-ness and contribute critically to public dialogue about national belonging.
Novels such as Michelle Yu and Blossom Kan’s China Dolls and Sonia Singh’s Goddess for Hire, or mysteries including Sujata Massey’s Girl in a Box and Suki Kim’s The Interpreter, reveal Asian American women’s ambivalence about the trappings and prescriptions of mainstream American society. Thoma shows how these writers’ works address the various pressures on women to manage their roles in relation to family and finances—reconciling the demands of work, consumer culture, and motherhood—in a neoliberal society.
"Asian American Women’s Popular Literature is an incisive, useful, and informative study that expands the boundaries of Asian American literary studies into popular genres that have not yet received much critical attention. Thoma’s nuanced and perceptive readings demonstrate how such genres have all been reshaped in ways both subtle and obvious by neoliberal political and cultural discourses. Her book is an exciting and relevant contribution to Asian American literary studies."
"Thoma’s book moves effortlessly from close reading to wide-ranging discussions about Asian Americans, women, and neoliberalism. In the process, it draws urgent scholarly works in American literary, gender, and popular culture studies into deep conversation with each other as it offers up important contributions to all of these fields. Asian American Women’s Popular Literature is sure to remain influential for a long time."
"[W]orth a read by anyone interested in American literature.... [T]he value of Thoma’s book [is that it] makes us think about how the authors she writes about...revivify genres and create works that make us think about the roles ethnicity, gender, societal norms and international economic structures play in individual lives and families."
"[T]he significance of women’s popular fiction continues to be overlooked, if not derided outright, by many social and cultural critics. Fortunately, feminist scholars have sought to rectify this state of affairs, and Asian American Women’s Popular Literature by WSU associate professor Pamela Thoma is a lucid, convincing, and original contribution to the field."
"Asian American Women's Popular Literature is a pleasurable read and an important contribution to recent scholarship on Asian American popular culture. As the title suggests, the book uncovers the ways in which Asian American women writers of different genres of fiction directly address Asian American women's political subjectivity and problematize contemporary reformulations of US citizenship and belonging under neoliberalism. The novel, Thoma argues, continues to be central to the development of citizen-subjects even as it now integrates with other media within neoliberal consumer culture.... Asian American Women's Popular Literature offers readers an impressively coherent theory of Asian American women's lowbrow literary texts and the important cultural work they do as popular texts."
Pamela Thoma is Associate Professor of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies and a member of the Graduate Faculty in American Studies at Washington State University.