Filipino American Literature has been booming with high output and high quality, in academic, literary, and in popular YA circles, including a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Newbery Award winner. Yet, Filipino American authors are often casually omitted from discussions on Asian American Literature.
If you want to know where to start with Filipino American Literature, Carlos Bulosan is it. His novel America is in the Heart is foundational work, the coming of age and political education of a young laborer during the Great Depression and WWII, originally published in 1946, kept in continuous publication since 1973 by University of Washington Press.
Here are ten contemporary Filipino American authors, the tip of the iceberg of our writing community that has proliferated and flourished since Bulosan.
1. MIA ALVAR
Mia Alvar’s short story and novella collection In the Country is global and historical in scope, still maintaining its focus on domestic spaces and the complexities of our relationships there. I especially appreciate that Alvar’s characters are never ethically clear cut.
2. GINA APOSTOL
Gina Apostol, acclaimed author of historical fiction, most notably, Gun Dealers’ Daughter and Insurrecto, the latter of which meticulously uncovers our contemporary lack of knowledge about the often forgotten Philippine American War.
3. ELAINE CASTILLO
Elaine Castillo’s unapologetically code switching, untranslated, Pinay-centric first novel America is Not the Heart queers and explodes its namesake, Bulosan’s America is in the Heart. This work is epic and beautiful, and full of love and anger.
4. E.J.R. DAVID
E.J.R. David, We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet: Letters to My Filipino-Athabascan Family. A well balanced and powerful combination of scholarly writing and personal epistolary, such an effective way to unpack theoretical concepts and academic language, so we can make meaningful connections to our own lives and families.
5. MALAKA GHARIB
Malaka Gharib, I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir. This Filipina Egyptian American author’s first book is indeed a graphic narrative, many pieces of it so many of us relate to — that we have to “do better” than our elders in this country. But she also presents us an opportunity to question the American Dream.
6. ERIN ENTRADA KELLY
Erin Entrada Kelly is a prolific, critically acclaimed, Newbery Award winning novelist for her novel Hello Universe. Kelly never talks down to her readers, never underestimates her young protagonists, and does not shy away from complex or difficult, real life situations in her narratives. My personal favorite is The Land of Forgotten Girls, which handles abuse and abandonment with skill and grace.
7. RANDY RIBAY
Randy Ribay, Patron Saint of Nothing. This young adult novel asks how we, comfortable Filipino Americans, are affected by Duterte’s drug wars in the Philippines. How can we talk about it, how can we uncover what is true?
8. GRACE TALUSAN
Grace Talusan’s The Body Papers: A Memoir, an honest and painful story which handles silence and abuse, growing up in America as an undocumented immigrant. Winner of the 2017 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, this is such difficult and important work.
9. LYSLEY TENORIO
Lysley Tenorio’s Monstress is a gorgeously written short story collection. What I love most about these stories are the characters’ relationships, so messy and conflicted, and genuinely full of love. These stories’ conflicts don’t neatly resolve themselves, but that’s how it works in real life.
10. JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS
Jose Antonio Vargas, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen. From the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist: "This is not a book about the politics of immigration. This book - at its core - is not about immigration at all. This book is about homelessness, not in a traditional sense but in the unsettled, unmoored psychological state that undocumented immigrants like myself find ourselves in….”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Invocation to Daughters (City Lights Publishers, 2017). She was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the author of four previous collections of poetry, Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books, 2003), Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press, 2005), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets, Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010), which received the Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry, and To Love as Aswang (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2015). She is also the author of the chapbooks Easter Sunday (Ypolita Press, 2008) Cherry (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2008), and For the City that Nearly Broke Me (Aztlán Libre Press, 2012). Her sixth book, Letters to a Young Brown Girl, is forthcoming from BOA Editions, Ltd. in 2020.
Her work is published or forthcoming in Arroyo Literary Review, Asian Pacific American Journal, As/Us, Boxcar Poetry Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Chain, Eleven Eleven, Entropy, Fairy Tale Review, Fourteen Hills, Hambone, Kartika Review, Lantern Review, New American Writing, New England Review, North American Review, Notre Dame Review, Origins Journal, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, South Dakota Review, Southern Humanities Review, TAYO Literary Magazine, xcp: Cross Cultural Poetics, among others.
An Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow, she received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies at U.C. Berkeley and her M.F.A. at San Francisco State University. She is an adjunct professor at University of San Francisco’s Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program. She lives with her husband, poet Oscar Bermeo, in Oakland.
Author's website: http://www.barbarajanereyes.com
Author Photo Credit: Peter Dressel