The Asian American Writers’ Workshop

Picture shows poet Emily Jungmin Yoon, a young Korean woman wearing a white sweater, standing at a podium. She is speaking into a microphone, and behind her is a projected image of her book "A Cruelty Special to Our Species."

Emily Jungmin Yoon at speaking at Castilleja Library

This past Tuesday, the Class of 2019 was fortunate to hear poet and PhD candidate Emily Jungmin Yoon read some of her recent work. Yoon’s first full-length collection of poems, A Cruelty Special to Our Species, tells the complex stories of Korean “comfort women” during World War II. She is an inspiring writer who is open about the challenges she has faced as a young Korean Canadian poet trying to find her voice.

Yoon is part of Asian American Writers’ Workshop, a national nonprofit organization with the goal of helping Asian American stories be told. They “believe Asian American literature is vital to interpret our post-multicultural but not post-racial age,” and act on this belief with devotion “to the creating, publishing, developing and disseminating of creative writing by Asian Americans.” They want to start conversations about immigration, cultural pluralism, assimilation, and complex identities. As “one of the top five Asian American groups nationally,” they have the influence to empower and assist writers like Emily Jungmin Yoon.

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop began in 1991 when a group of Asian American friends and writers decided they wanted to be hearing more representations of their stories than just The Woman Warrior or The Joy Luck Club. They began the organization together, and within eight years their membership had quickly grown to a group of 600 operating out of a basement under a Gap store in New York City. They run their own bookstore, hold workshops for high school students interested in writing, and offer grants to writers in need. Most significantly, the organization helps writers publish their works.

These publications take the form of two literary magazines, The Margins and Open City. The Margins, their first magazine, is “dedicated to inventing the Asian American creative culture of tomorrow” and bringing Asian Americans out of the sidekick role and into the spotlight. Their literature includes essays, fiction, poetry, interviews, and more. Open City “takes the real-time pulse of metropolitan Asian America as it’s being lived on the streets of New York right now,” telling the stories “of the Asian and immigrant neighborhoods that comprise one million New Yorkers and 13 percent of the city, but that rarely find their way to mainstream media.” Both of these magazines are published on their website and are open for writing submissions. You can find The Margins here, and Open City here.

As America’s “melting pot” culture develops further, it becomes even more important to hear a variety of diverse voices represented. The Asian American Writers’ Workshop is working to make this true for Asian Americans pursuing literature. Although Asian American can mean a number of various identities, there’s a certain power in bringing them together in a community that has something in common: writing. Andrea Louie, a Chinese-American writer who is a part of the organization, is quoted in the New York Times: “I’ve enjoyed the diasporic experience of different groups. Even though it’s different, we’re very much the same.”

Sources:
https://aaww.org/about
https://www.nytimes.com/1999/12/25/arts/helping-asian-americans-into-print.html

-Lia S. ’18

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