The Winners of the 13th Asian American Literary Awards

Fiction Award Winner:

Once the Shore, Paul Yoon

Paul Yoon was born in New York City. His first book, Once the Shore, was a New York Times Notable Book; a Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Publishers Weekly, and Minneapolis Star Tribune Best Book of the Year; and selected as a Best Debut of the Year by National Public Radio. He is the recipient of an O. Henry Award, the John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares, and his work has appeared in One Story, American Short Fiction, Glimmer Train, and The Best American Short Stories. He currently resides in Baltimore with the fiction writer Laura van den Berg. Read the judges' citations and see the other finalists!

Nonfiction Award Winner

Leaving India: My Family's Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents, Minal Hajratwala

Minal Hajratwala is is a poet and performer based in San Francisco. Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), winner of a Pen USA Award, California Book Award (Silver, Nonfiction) and Lambda Literary Award. A Fulbright Senior Scholar, she is currently in India researching a novel. As a journalist, she worked at the San Jose Mercury News from 1992 to 2000 as a reporter, editor, and the newspaper’s first reader representative (ombudsperson). She was a board member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and was a National Arts Journalism Program fellow at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2000-01. She is a graduate of Stanford University. Read the judges' citations and see the other finalists!

Poetry Award Winner

Poems of the Black Object, Ronaldo V. Wilson

Ronaldo V. Wilson is the author of Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, from University of Pittsburgh Press and POEMS OF THE BLACK OBJECT, winner of the Thom Gunn Award, from Futurepoem Books. He has held fellowships at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Vermont Studio Center, Cave Canem, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Yaddo Corporation and has had four poems nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He teaches creative writing and African American Poetics at Mount Holyoke College. Read the judges' citations and see the other finalists!

Winner of the Fourth Lifetime Achievement Award

Hisaye Yamamoto

In 1942, the Federal government sent an unpublished, twenty-year-old writer to the Arizona PostonRelocation Center, one of ten World War II-era internment camps in the United States. The writerwas one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans--two thirds of whom were born on American soil—whowere imprisoned in the months following the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Asian AmericanWriters’ Workshop is proud to honor that writer—Hisaye Yamamoto, who later become one of thefirst nationally recognized Japanese American authors—with the Asian American Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement. This award continues the Workshop’s tradition of honoring excellent writing and also speaking out against injustice. As Yamamoto writes: “Any extensive literary treatment of the Japanese in this country would be incomplete without some acknowledgement of the camp experience.” Our internment-themed dinner honoring her work forms a diptych with TERROR-STRICKEN, our reading against Islamophobia and post-9/11 detention.

Not unlike the fiction of Flannery O’Connor, Yamamoto’s stories are brutal, efficient fables of race, saturated with the social subtext of the American small town. Her work focuses on the normal lives of Japanese women—fully-formed characters described by Grace Paley as “gutsy and fragile”—and the uneasy relationship between Japanese immigrants (Issei) and their children (Nisei), many of whom grew up speaking only Japanese until kindergarten but found themselves increasingly distanced from their parents’ way of life. While capturing the postwar inter-generational struggles and rustic cross- ethnic American west, Yamamoto’s stories always feel relevant to the present. They are edgy and never sentimental—a quality attested to by their motley, Chekhovian characters, which include an interned mentally ill ballerina, a Japanese American wife married to a white Christian alcoholic, an eye-rolling child of immigrants, and a naked man dressed only in high heels. Her work has been recognized by Best American Essays and the Association of Asian American Studies and she is the winner of the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Yamamoto’s widely anthologized story Seventeen Syllables centers around a Japanese American housewife who is tuned out by her daughter and oppressed by her husband. The only way her life can possess any value is when she expresses herself through writing poetry. The story reaffirms our conviction that Asian American literature is valuable not just as literary entertainment, but as a crucial way to preserve the stories of a voiceless immigrant generation that came before us and ensure that the stories of all Americans are told. Read author Purvi Shah's toast to Hisaye Yamamoto from our Seventeen Syllables event.