MLA 2015: Place of South Asian Americans in Asian American Literary Studies (Jan. 8-11; Vancouver, Canada)

full name / name of organization: 
Binod Paudyal
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The place of South Asian Americans within the canon of Asian American studies is still peripheral. Although critics like Lisa Lowe and Kandice Chuh have strongly argued for redefining Asian American studies as more inclusive and heterogeneous, a majority of Asian Americanists still seem hesitant to include and acknowledge South Asians in Asian American literary studies. South Asian American writers are inconsistently classified as Indians, South Asians, and sometimes Asian Americans in different literary anthologies, which suggest that the place of South Asian American literary writers within Asian American literary studies is, to borrow Lavina Shanker's phrase, "a part, yet apart." Although "Asian American" identity was constructed at a time when floods of Asian immigrants, including South Asians, were migrating to the United States, Chinese and Japanese as categories dominated its membership because of their sheer number in this country and their shared sense of trauma in America. Asian American literary studies was, therefore, preoccupied, as Chuh and Lowe have acknowledged, with the issues of oppression, marginalization, and East Asian immigrants' (and their American born children's) membership and acceptance into the society, "producing an essentialist discourse that operates along principles of particularism and exclusivism." Perhaps for these reasons, South Asian American writers, who are more diasporic in their lived experiences and in their writings, are almost invisible in Asian American literary studies from the publication of Frank Chin's Aiiieeee! in 1974 to the present day.

This special session will examine the place of South Asian American writers in Asian American literary studies and explore to what degree they fit or reflect (or perhaps challenge) the premises of Asian American literary tradition. Possible questions to consider include but not limited to: Is South Asian American literature, with its postcolonial and transnational sensibilities and most recently its engagement with the issues of America's war on terrorism in the post-9/11 era, a threat to Asian American identity as defined in the discipline? How do the facts of post-9/11 literature by South Asians, especially the works that illuminate the United States' reassertions of the exceptional founding principles of freedom, liberty and democracy—as pursued currently, for example, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, inform and affect the notions of Asian American identity? Who and what define Asian American literature in particular and American literature in general—does the subject/body of the text matter, or is it the membership/citizenship of the writer that makes the literature (Asian) American?

Please submit a brief CV and 350-word proposal to Binod Paudyal ( by 14 March 2014.