Celeste Ng on How to Take Female Asian Writers Out of Your Blind Spot

In Western society, the voice of the books we read are normally from, well, white men.

That’s what author Celeste Ng came across while promoting her book Everything I Never Told You (Amazon’s 2014 book of the Year). But she instantly recognized that this lack of diversity, specifically works from Asian women, was more a lack of knowledge than an actual lack of writers. If that’s the case, then who are these authors and where are they?

While there are Asian authors well-known and well-received, generally their place in reading culture is sparse and very niche. You may know that one author specifically for her work on post-colonialism, but that’s about it. We have enough writers and works to create a swelling community of well-established Asian/Asian-American authors, however, that has yet to be achieved.

There is a disparity between males and females as well. According to the VIDA count, there are 638 males versus 154 females, prompting the creation of #ReadWomen2014 in hopes of changing reading habits.



Why is there this particular blind spot? Ng’s lens is something many of us can relate to: being of color and being female. “Women, writers of color, and Asians are all often overlooked,” Ng points out. “So this particular demographic faces a triple challenge.”

Inspired by critic Roxane Gay’s “We Are Many. We Are Everywhere,” which is a list of writers of color, Ng asked Twitter for names of Asian American women writers and got a great response. As a result, Ng created a list of tips to fix the “female Asian American writer blind spot.”

Celeste Ng (center), surrounded by (clockwise, from top left): Lan Samantha Chang, Nina McConigley, Hanya Yanagihara, Ru Freeman (Credit: Penguin/Kevin Day/W.W. Norton/Miranda Meyer/ninamcconigley.com/mit.edu/Graywolf Press/Brenda Carpenter)

Celeste Ng (center), surrounded by (clockwise, from top left): Lan Samantha Chang, Nina McConigley, Hanya Yanagihara, Ru Freeman (Credit: Penguin/Kevin Day/W.W. Norton/Miranda Meyer/ninamcconigley.com/mit.edu/Graywolf Press/Brenda Carpenter)


1. Widen what we think of when thinking “Asian.”
When we think Asian, the automatic response might be to think of East Asian representations (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc.), but there are so many Southeast Asian and South Asian authors as well that have their own perspectives and experience of Asian culture.

2. Look beyond the “typical” Asian.
On Ng’s compiled list of female Asian American authors, there are names like Nguyen and Wong, but there are other Asian authors such as Nina McConigley (whose debut collection “Cowboys and East Indians” won the 2014 PEN Open Book Award), who may be overlooked simply because her name isn’t “typical” Asian. This can also be the case with Asian authors who are bi-racial, adoptees, changed their last name after marriage or even those who use a pen name.

3. Don’t put professions in a box (and don’t let professions box a person).
When we talk about “writers,” for example, the norm is to think of the bestsellers and the literary hits. In reality, there are also so many writing other genres — such as mystery, romance and sci-fi– with their own awards and accolades.

“Just as we need to recognize and overcome our blind spot toward Asian American women writers, we need to recognize and overcome the blind spot many critics also have toward so-called genre fiction,” Ng explains.


The list Ng compiled can be found here, along with her commentary and experience on the subject. The list has author contact information as well as a comments section filled with people peppering in more female Asian American authors.

5 Asian Authors Who Should Be Taught in Every High School

Hamlet. Gatsby. Odysseus.

If you’ve grown up in the American education system, these are all names that you’re probably very familiar with. After all, we spent our high school years  learning about characters and authors of European, American, and Greek roots. And while we are forever thankful for Morison, Twain and Fitzgerald, there are times when we wish there was more variety to what our minds soaked up during those pivotal four years of education.

For instance, for every 5 books read, there is an Asian writer who has a story of civil unrest, assimilation, modernity, or sacrifice that would only benefit a literature syllabus. Keep reading to discover 5 Asian writers who should be taught in every high school.



1. Haruki Murakami


John Updike described Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore as a “real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender.”

Murakami should be taught in school because he is accessible (in the sense that his mention of shamanism and classical music don’t feel foreign to the average reader), he’s funny, and he explores themes such as family versus independence and society versus solitude in a way that makes it easy to think about, write about, and talk about.



2. Jhumpa Lahiri


Indian-American author Juhmpa Lahiri wrote her first short story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, in 2000 and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Lahiri should be taught in school because her language is “plain” but powerful. She navigates fields such as immigration (a topic important to all students in schools, not just students who are children of immigrants) and immigrant psychology.



3. Gish Jen


In Gish Jen’s Mona in the Promised Land, Mona Chang moves with her newly prosperous family to Scarshill, New York in 1968, where the Chinese have become “the new Jews.” She attends temple “rap” sessions and falls in love (with a nice Jewish boy who lives in a tepee).

Jen should be introduced in school because her fiction is not what a high school student would expect to read, and yet it’s what one would relate to the most. Mona is charming, sassy, organized. This is not a quiet novel whose wisdom surfaces after much discussion (though that’s rewarding in its own right). It is, however, authentic in the experience it presents.




4. Aravind Adiga


The White Tiger won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, and is a sharp look at India’s class struggle.

Adiga should be taught in school because he has a dark humor that introduces the way money, class, education, and corruption is viewed after a culture has been colonized. The voice of the underclass is captured not in emotional images of disturbing occurrences, but in someone trying to be something they’re not, and succeeding.



5. Kazuo Ishiguro


Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day also won the Man Book Prize, and speaks to the post-World War I era.

Ishiguro should be taught in school because he examines three things that are so outrightly spelled out in pre-university education: dignity, memory, and perspective. He does not write in a way that glorifies the three, but speaks of the sharp parts of it: how dignity lets things go unnoticed and how memory and perspective can determine everything.