Grant enables study of Asian American literary anthology

From left: photographer Nancy Wong, writers Shawn Hsu Wong and Cyn Zarco

UO English professor Tara Fickle has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support her project “Behind Aiiieeeee! A New History of Asian American Literature.”

The project examines the 1974 publication "Aiiieeeee!" a canonical and controversial Asian American literary anthology whose title refers to the stereotypical expression of Asian characters in early American films, radio and comic books.

“Published at a time when Vietnam War protests raged and minority Americans struggled to maintain the hard-won victories of Civil Rights movements, this revolutionary work catapulted the Asian American struggle from the social and literary margins into mainstream consciousness almost overnight,” said Fickle, who is also an affiliated member in the Department of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies, the Center for the Study of Women in Society, and the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies.

The anthology, Fickle said, gave rise to the concept of Asian American literature as a simultaneously political and literary category. A third edition of the book was recently released by University of Washington Press with a foreword by Fickle.

Fickle’s research contributes to a scholarly understanding of how literary fiction became a powerful vehicle for synthesizing the political and aesthetic aspirations of the first generation of self-proclaimed Asian Americans, a term students and faculty in the late 1960s came up with to replace derogatory names.

Although most literary critics and historians have focused on the anthology in terms of its contributions to the contemporary Asian American literary scene, Fickle’s project examines the work in the context of the domestic and international front at the time of its publication. She is producing a scholarly monograph and an accompanying digital project based on archival research of an enormous collection of previously inaccessible documents, which she recently inherited from one of the original co-editors.

“The monograph will bring together the literary and historical aspects of this work for the first time,” Fickle said, “showing how the desire to give voice to the long history of Asian American immigration, exclusion and assimilation converged with the countercultural energies and U.S.-Asian military conflicts of the 1970s, resulting in an entirely new way of writing about ethnic experience. Nearly fifty years later, those discussions remain very relevant.”

The fellowship, which includes $60,000 in funding, also provides support to develop a digital humanities project that will make the anthology more accessible to a wider public. The digital project will include previously unpublished materials showcased through a series of online interactive teaching and learning modules.

Additionally, she is producing a visual map of the interethnic and transnational networks involved and other resources for educators and students to appreciate a number of unfamiliar but seminal Asian American texts.

Fickle’s project was inspired by her unprecedented access to the archive of Shawn Wong, a University of Washington professor of Asian American literature and one of the original editors of the anthology. It allowed her to ”excavate and re-center unconsidered historical realities and marginalized voices.”

NEH fellowships are competitive awards to support advanced research that is of value to humanities scholars and general audiences through projects that embody exceptional research, rigorous analysis and clear writing.

“NEH fellowships are extremely competitive, and professor Fickle’s success in obtaining this prestigious award is a testament to her abilities as a literary scholar working at the forefront of her field,” said Cass Moseley, interim vice president for research and innovation.

By Lewis Taylor, University Communications