Reading Recommendations for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month. As Anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise and the AAPI community is threatened by ignorance and cruelty, this APAHM feels particularly important. It is a time to reflect on all of the tremendous gifts, literary and otherwise, that the Asian-American community has contributed to our country and the world. With this in mind, we are highlighting some of the incredible new works by Asian-American authors in our collection.

cover art for Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless GirlsLong Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

Literary essayist Madden’s debut memoir pulls no punches in depicting her coming of age as queer, biracial teenager in Boco Raton, Florida. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls fearlessly lays bare the many contradictions of Madden’s young life–from the immense privileges of her wealthy upbringing, to the trauma and isolation wrought by her parents’ drug addiction, to the precious and devastating nature of friendship between fatherless girls.

 

cover art for The Color of AirThe Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama

Tsukiyama’s brilliant historical novel tells the story of a Japanese-American family, set against the backdrop of Hawai’i’s sugar plantations. Just as long-standing family secrets and tensions appear primed to explode, another devastating eruption occurs: that of Mauna Loa volcano.

 

cover art for The Unpassing

 

 

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Lin’s gripping debut novel interrogates the myth of the American Dream through a Taiwanese immigrant family struggling to get by in Anchorage, Alaska. When tragedy strikes, the resultant upheaval forces the family to reckon with grief and guilt amidst unfamiliar, and often unforgiving, surroundings.

 

cover art for How Much of These Hills is GoldHow Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

In Zhang’s epic Western set during the American Gold Rush, the orphaned children of Chinese immigrants set out across a harsh and unforgiving landscape in the hopes of burying their father, and their past. The unforgettable sights and adventures they encounter along the way provide a fascinating glimpse of the future that might await them.

 

cover art for Pachinko

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Lee’s powerful historical novel follows a single Korean family through a dramatic saga of betrayal, sacrifice, ambition, and love. The family’s tumultuous story begins with a young Sunja’s unplanned and potentially devastating pregnancy. Unbeknownst to her, the choices Sunja makes will reverberate through generations to come.

 

 

Anti-Violence and Anti-Racism Resources to Support the AAPI Community:

https://anti-asianviolenceresources.carrd.co/

https://www.advancingjustice-aajc.org/anti-asian-hate

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/anti-racism-resources-support-asian-american-pacific-islander-community-n1260467

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/a35862857/stop-asian-hate-organizations-to-support/

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Weston Morrow

This week, UIUC MFA student Weston Morrow reads “She Decides She Prefers Longing Over Satisfaction” by Maya Jewell Zeller and “I Consider My Grandfather Going Home” by Weston Morrow. Watch his readings on our Instagram here and here, and read his reflections below:

Both the poems I’ve chosen to read here consider the landscape—of both nature and the self. I was sitting at my desk recording these this morning with the aid of the increasing natural light and, for the first time in what feels like forever, I worried whether the birds outside might sing loud enough to interrupt my audio.

Like the speakers in both these poems, I’ve felt a sense of dread, of loss, and loneliness, these past twelve months. I’ve sat inside my house with nothing to do at times but look out the window by my desk. I watched the trees shed their leaves and my world shrink with the winter light as I slipped further into myself and further away from others.

I haven’t found myself able to read for fun in months, but the dogwood across the street is blushing pink, the light is finding its way back into my room through the curtains, and I’m reading again. Maya Jewell Zeller’s poem reminds me that the world is always there, awaiting my return, and no matter how calloused I become, the grass will come back each spring, and give my feet a soft place to land.

Poetry, like nature, can recede from my consciousness at times. It can feel frivolous in the face of loss — as people I love, and the world we call home, are dying. Eighty years ago, W.H. Auden wrote a line quoted still today, by lovers and haters of poetry alike, “[P]oetry makes nothing happen…” But, consider, if you will, the rest of the section:

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

As I sit here at this desk, hardly having moved this past year, I’m thinking—finally—like Zeller’s speaker, who “wanted to know / how far the wind went / after it rounded the tool- / shed, the river bend…”

Who knows what lies ahead. I’m nervous, but excited. I think I’ll go outside. I might even take my shoes off.

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Summer Reading in the Classics

Looking for some classics-inspired reading to sink your teeth into this summer? Check out this list of fiction set in the ancient world or drawing inspiration from Greco-Roman mythology.

Blue cover with a golden Grecian helmet emblazoned with the book title.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Click for catalog link.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

A heartbreaking retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Patroclus. Our narrator meets the heroic Achilles at a young age, and we watch alongside him as his companion grows into a seemingly invincible warrior. Throughout their adolescence and preparation for war, their relationship develops into one of profound love. By the time the pair reach the beaches of Troy, the plot churns forward as the audience braces for an inevitably tragic end. Fans of this novel should definitely check out Miller’s Circe and her earlier novella Galatea.

 

 

Purple and gold illustration of the Trojan Horse with five women in front of it.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker. Release date: June 2021.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

Set in the aftermath of the sacking of Troy, this novel gives a voice to the women left behind in the aftermath of a bloody Greek victory. Briseis, a Trojan royal captured by Achilles, navigates the shattered world of her ruined city alongside the other overlooked women of the former court. A gritty, visceral imagining that pairs seamlessly with Barker’s previous novel set during the Trojan War, The Silence of the Girls.

 

 

 

 

Illustration of Roman women in archways with stars in the distance.

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper. Release date: May 2021.

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

A story about Pompeii that fleshes out the people living in the ill-fated town. Amara is a sex worker in a city brothel (a lupanar, or wolf den) attempting to assert her agency in a society that denies her bodily autonomy. An absorbing tale of womanhood and resistance that will resonate with contemporary readers looking for strong female characters in a vivid reimagining of the past.

 

 

 

 

A still life of a Roman feast with a robed figure standing next to it.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King. Click for catalog link.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
Enslaved Thrasius navigates a dangerous political climate and the changing whims of his avaricious gourmand of a master, Apicius, as he serves extravagant dishes to Rome’s most powerful patricians in the Augustan age. Richly detailed and emotionally evocative, King presents a sumptuous feast of a novel inspired by a centuries-old collection of recipes. Her world-building is excellent; she instantly draws readers into the past through her sensory-laden prose. May leave you hungry, may not — depends on how deeply you crave peacock meatballs, milk snails, and flamingo tongues.

 

 

A woman underwater covering her face.

The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons.

The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons
A clever reimagining of Medusa that tackles relatable themes of loneliness and companionship. It follows Medusa through her daily life of isolation as she reminisces on her long-lost days of human existence and waits for something to break the monotony of life as a lone monster. She begins to seek solace in visits from the god Hermes, and as the years roll by, their relationship strengthens. A feminist take on Medusa that grants her much more happiness than the myths.

 

 

 

An illustration of a woman in all orange with sun rays radiating from her head.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne is a formidable new force in mythological retellings. It follows Ariadne and Phaedra, princesses of Crete, from the birth of their younger half-brother Asterion (more popularly known as the Minotaur) to their subsequent separations, marriages, and tragic ends. This is a well-written woman-centered story that breathes life into mythical characters. Saint raises questions of women’s autonomy and her characters acknowledge and challenge their own limitations in a world that disproportionately punishes women. Fans of Madeline Miller, Margaret Atwood, and Pat Barker will find much to savor in this bold new story.

 

A girl in a pink coat holds a statuette of the Eiffel Tower.

Lovely War by Julie Berry. Click for catalog link.

Lovely War by Julie Berry
Set against the backdrops of World War I and II, Lovely War follows Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Ares as they recount the lives of four teenagers finding love during the Great War. Filled with memorable characters, lush prose, and vivid settings, the novel considers how love persists even in immense peril. The Olympian trio provides a timeless framing to the woven narrative of the two young couples fighting for their lives and their happiness amidst a global catastrophe.

 

 

 

A black cover with a bust of a Grecian marble statue with the title "The Maidens" covering the eyes.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. Release date June 2021.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
One by one, the students of a brilliant, charismatic Cambridge classics professor are found dead. Grieving therapist Mariana receives a panicked call from her niece Zoe, whose friend and classmate is the first to show up brutally murdered in the woods off campus. Rushing to Cambridge – a place imbued with memories, as she recalls meeting her recently deceased husband when they were young students there – Mariana comforts Zoe and starts to pick apart the threads of the mystery unraveling before her. If you’ve read The Secret History by Donna Tartt, this classics-inspired contemporary thriller should definitely be on your to-read shelf.

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Stuart Albert

Our celebration of National Poetry Month continues on this penultimate Thursday of April. Today, we are proud to feature LitLang’s own Stuart Albert reading Reed Whittermore’s “The Tarantula.” Watch Albert read his selection here and read his reflections below:

The Tarantula”, by Reed Whittemore, is a long-standing favorite of mine. As a dramatic monologue, it lends itself well to reading aloud. And… I don’t want to ruin the surprise with too much preamble… but I think many readers / listeners will find the narrator something of a kindred spirit.

After some cursory research, I’m inclined to think this poem inspired by the essay “The Spider and the Wasp”, by the much-cited authority Alexander Petrunkevitch, published in Scientific American magazine in August 1952. It’s always interesting to me, to see how often (and how far) the poetic imagination is launched by the tangible, the imminent, the seemingly dry and merely factual.

Incidentally, I held a tarantula once. Decent fella, name of Cecil.

P.S. I don’t know if lagniappes are allowed, but here’s another poem, by Howard Nemerov, that I think pairs well with “The Tarantula”. Like William, Oliver is someone I think many of us can identify with.

http://poemhunter.blogspot.com/2007/08/make-big-money-at-home-write-poems-in.html

 

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Christel Thompson

Our celebration of national poetry month continues with Christel Tompson reading her poem, “Aubade.” Christel Thompson is a writer and student currently pursuing a Bachelor of Liberal Arts at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Watch her reading on our Instagram account and read her reflections below:

When I wrote “Aubade”, I set out to put something on the page that was purely honest– I think that poets have the tendency to embellish, to make “more beautiful”, and lose transparency along the way. This is why I chose to meditate on the clarity of sleep, the in-between spaces that come before and after waking— there is no room in those moments for even a whisper of dishonesty. How can there be? There’s no pretending when you’re asleep.

In traditional aubades, the dawn brings with it a physical parting with a lover. But in the realm my poet inhabits, it’s not leaving that the speaker fears, but rather, the dishonesty that morning will bring– the cowardice. The quiet comfort of night, of slumber, is what brings these two lovers an authentic existence.

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Professor Ángel Garcia

Dr. Ángel Garcia is Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned a PhD from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and an M.F.A. from the University of California-Riverside.

He is the author of Teeth Never Sleep, winner of a 2018 CantoMundo Poetry Prize published by the University of Arkansas Press, winner of a 2019 American Book Award, finalist for a 2019 PEN America Open Book Award, and finalist for a 2020 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Professor Garcia Ángel is also the cofounder of the non-profit organization, Gente Organizada, which educates, empowers, and engages communities through grassroots organizing.

Watch Professor Garcia read his poem, “Dina Olimpico” on our Instagram here. He reflects on how Natasha Trethewey and Geffrey Davis inspired his poem below:

What I love and what I want to honor in Natasha Trethewey’s poem “The Southern Crescent” from her book Native Guard and in Geffrey Davis’ poem “King Country Metro” from his book, is their recognition of ancestry and how one arrives in a particular place. Thinking about my own family, I wanted to document the seemingly innate need for one to return home and also point to some of the constraints and challenges one might face in doing so. To further complicate the idea of returning, I wanted to acknowledge the long familial history of moving from place to place across several generations.

 

But another important way to think about ancestry is poetic ancestry. I wanted to honor my own lineage of poetic ancestry, particularly Black poets like Natasha Tretheway and Geffrey Davis, who by writing about their own migratory experiences have inspired and influenced me to write about the migrations of my own family. National Poetry Month, with the availability of so many reading, events, and poems, is a wonderful time for students and poets to discover their own poetic ancestry, digging through books, journals, and archives to discover poems that speak to their experiences. Going one step further, we can continue that lineage by then writing imitation poems based on the original poems of our poetic ancestors.

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Isaac Willis

For today’s celebration of National Poetry Month, Isaac Willis, a student in UIUC’s Creative Writing MFA program, reads Jericho Brown’s “Say Thank You Say I’m Sorry.”

Watch Willis’ reading on our Instagram and read his reflections below:

To me, this is a perfect poem. Maybe that’s because I may or may not have taken a field trip to a slaughterhouse. (My alma mater, Monmouth College, nearly touched one of the largest slaughterhouses in the Midwest.) Maybe that’s because I want another gimlet, another good book. It’s also the perfect poem for America right now. Written during a time of racial reckoning, of an international pandemic, of quarantine, the poem subtly navigates the politics of place and being in it. “I have PTSD / About the Lord,” says Brown’s speaker. But then, “God save the people who work / In grocery stores.” Audre Lorde famously said, “Poetry is not a luxury.” She also said, in the same essay, “it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.”

I can’t help but feel, when I read this Jericho Brown poem, that something new and necessary is being architected. I naively thought, a year ago, when the University and the world were effectively locked down, that staying shut up inside would make me a better person. If anything, it has exacerbated my fears and anxieties and biases even more. I texted something along those lines to a friend awhile back, and he responded, “Or you are a better person, and you don’t like what the new light has shown you.” Maybe so. Maybe grief, when it’s so thick you can touch it, is a balm. Maybe I’d rather be able to sit and talk with my friend, while we sip lavender gin. Maybe it’s a privilege to say so. Thank you. I’m sorry.

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Christopher Kempf

Christopher Kempf is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of English, where he teaches in the MFA Program. He is the author of the poetry collections What Though the Field Be Lost (LSU, 2021) and Late in the Empire of Men (Four Way, 2017).

His scholarly book, Writing Craft: The Workshop in American Culture, is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press. Recipient of a Pushcart Prize, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, his poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Best American Poetry (2020), Boston ReviewGeorgia ReviewGettysburg ReviewKenyon ReviewNew England ReviewThe New Republic, and PEN America, among others.

Professor Kempf offers his reflections on a recently published poem by Eavan Boland below:

Eavan Boland’s poem “The Break-Up of a Library in an Anglo-Irish House in Wexford: 1964” offers a haunting meditation on the vulnerabilities and violences implicit in western empire.

“[T]he end of empire is and will always be / not sedition nor the whisper of conspiracy,” Boland writes, “but that // slipper chair in the hallway / that has lost the name / no one will call it by again.”

Boland is writing here about the 17th and 18th century mansions from which a Protestant Anglo-Irish aristocracy ruled over a predominantly Catholic population.  But she is also—and perhaps more importantly—diagnosing how power continues to encode itself in and through language.  Echoing Ezra Pound’s maxim that “if a nation’s literature declines, the nation atrophies and decays,” her words testify beautifully to the importance of an educated citizenry, one able to command language for its own uses rather than be commanded by it.  Boland neither celebrates nor mourns the passing of this aristocracy, but I detect in her tone a note of wistfulness, I think, for a richer, more accurate language—something wondrous has been lost, Boland suggests, even as something powerfully democratic has been gained.

I admire this ambivalence, and I am curious about its implications in the wake of an attack on the U.S. Capitol which, because of her untimely death, Boland never witnessed.

In a culture obsessed with “STEM” education and so linguistically impoverished, therefore, that we cannot distinguish between real and fake news, Boland reminds us that facility with language is the single most important—and contested—political instrument.  And poetry itself, Boland suggests, remains vital to both social justice and democratic belonging.

Watch Professor Kempf read Eavan Boland’s “The Break-Up of a Library in an Anglo-Irish House in Wexford:1964″ and a poem of his own, “National Anthem” on our Instagram!

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Happy Poetry Month!

Here is a roundup of some of the excellent new poetry and books about poets at the Literatures and Languages Library. To keep up on our new poetry, be sure to follow us on Instagram, where we post about all our latest books!

The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography by Hilary Holladay

This is the latest biography of the queer feminist icon and National Book award winning poet, Adrienne Rich. The book pays particular attention to Rich’s early life and the role of her parents and events on her development. Through Rich’s and other family members’ correspondence and interviews with people close to the poet, Holladay brings to life the writer whose poetry was at the forefront of American literature for decades.

Foxlogic Fireweed by Jennifer K. Sweeney

Winner of the Backwaters Prize in Poetry, this collection highlights the dynamic nature of place and space and the impacts our relationships and environments have on us- “a lyrical sequence of five physical and emotional terrains—floodplain, coast, desert, suburbia, and mesa—braiding themes of nature, domesticity, isolation, and human relationships.” Sweeney explores these themes from a distinctively feminine perspective. Her poetry and perspective is rooted in the physical rhythms of the natural world.

The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

This book is about the life and time of Phillis Wheatley, a Black poet, who was born in West Africa and later stolen and brought to Boston as an enslaved child. In 1773 she published a book of poetry and became a prominent literary figure. Jeffers employs her own poetry, based on rigorous archival research, to recontextualize Phillis’s life, to see beyond Phillis’s fame as a “literary or racial symbol” and find the person she was. Her poetry explores Wheatley’s childhood in Gambia, her life with her white owners, her experiences as a poet who achieved contemporary fame, and her eventual emancipation and life with her husband.

 The Swan of the Well by Titia Brongersma, Eric Miller

This is the first English translation of the works of Titia Brongersma, a 17th century Frisian poet.  Contemporary humanists hailed Bongersma as “Sappho reborn.”  Brongersma’s poetry is incredibly versatile in its scope and mixes genres and disciplines, such as mythology, epic poetry, history, and art. Key themes are: the poet’s love for Elisabeth Joly, her excavation of an ancient monument, her family, patrons, and friends, and the life of women. Eric Miller’s translation includes an introduction that provides context for Brongersma life and time and attempts to uncover some of her aspirations.

The Selected Works of Audre Lorde Edited by Roxane Gay

This book offers a selection of poetry and prose by Audre Lorde, with an introduction by Roxane Gay. Self-described as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Lorde’s work centers the experiences of Black and queer women. This collection makes clear why Lorde has remained an influential and crucial figure in the field of “intersectional feminism, queer theory, and critical race studies.” This is an essential reader for those new to Lorde’s work and an excellent companion for those who are more familiar.

Owed by Joshua Bennett

“You always or almost

always only the one

in the room

Maybe two

Three is a crowd

Three is a gang

Three is a company

of thieves        Three is

wow there’s so many of you”

Thus begins the poem Token Sings the Blues, one of the first poems in Joshua Bennett’s new book, Owed. The works in this book address the “aesthetics of repair.” They challenge the notion of insignificant aspects of daily life, discussing objects, people and spaces that are often overlooked. With Poems like Ode to the Durag and Ode to the Plastic on Your Grandmother’s Couch, Bennett not only calls attention to these objects, but he also centers the lived experiences of being Black in America.

Whatever Happened to Black Boys by James Jabar

This collection of poems from James Jabar is an exploration of Black maleness. Through his poems, which vary in form and genre, black boys tell their own stories. The black boys in this work are both fictional and real, and Jabar uses this play on reality, to tackle the archetype of Black maleness, both by breaking traditional forms of poetry and by telling stories from a range of perspectives. This is an exploration of identity, storytelling, and poetry, it also challenges the limited presentations of Black maleness in media.

 

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Nneoma Ohale

The Literatures and Languages Library’s celebration of National Poetry Month continues with UIUC student Nneoma Ohale reading her poem “Love Made This Stone Brown.” Watch Ohale’s poetry reading on our Instagram and read her reflections below:

I am Nneoma Ohale, a 20 year old Nigerian-American artist. I am currently a junior at U of I studying English, Secondary Education and Creative Writing. I have been a poet since the age of fourteen when I got the opportunity to compete in Young Chicago Authors’ Louder Than A Bomb poetry festival. National Poetry Month means a lot to me and I am excited to celebrate it with fellow poets and lovers of poetry. I choose to share this poem because it took a lot for me to write it and I feel it is best when read aloud. This poem is my ultimate romantic daydream. I wrote this piece as a reflection of what love can be when lovers are able to truly be there for each other through it all. Despite what we might want to believe, love is not always easy because life isn’t always easy. It is important to be with someone who can stand the rain. The title “Love Made This Stone Brown.” is a nod to the transformative nature of love and its ability to inspire a different course of action. This poem is a celebration of my favorite things: music, life, lovers and nature.

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