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"Tuning in the Ethnic Canon: Oral Tradition, Audio Media, and Asian American Literature"

Talk by Cheryl Higashida (U Colorado at Boulder)
February 5, 2021 - 3:00pm


The Department of English, the Zabel Lectures, and Asian American Studies present Cheryl Higashida, Associate Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder. Register for this talk.

Head and shoulders photo of Cheryl Higashida in blue shirt with background greenery and fence

Oral traditions of storytelling, singing, and sermonizing are the foundations and hearts of cultures across the world. However, their mediations by writing, print, electronic, and other technologies have been strategically repressed in order to make vexed claims to and about cultural lineage and authenticity. Such claims in US ethnic literary criticism have re-authorized but also delimited our understanding of aesthetics and socio-political identity.

Post-civil rights debates over Asian American writing presents a rich opportunity for investigating these developments and considering alternatives. The groundbreaking 1974 Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers sought to construct an empowering Asian American identity and literary tradition founded on authentic modes of speaking. But its repression of the technological mediations of Asian American orality and aurality contributed to the privileging and de-politicization of masculine, East Asian American voices. Turning to contemporaneous and contemporary writing by Louis Chu, Frank Chin, and Karen Tei Yamashita, Higashida will show how reading and listening for technological mediations of Asian American orality and aurality–what she calls “audio-orality” and “audio-aurality"–tunes us in to Asian America’s mediations by state violence, gender and sexuality, and heterogeneous formations of race.

Higashida is a scholar of ethnic and American literatures, sound studies, and Marxism. She is the author of Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left, 1945-1995 (Illinois, 2012). Her essays have appeared in American Literature, American Quarterly, and Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections between African Americans and Asian Americans.