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Nine Speculative Stories from Asia and the Asian Diaspora ‹ Literary Center

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Fairy tales, folklore and myths are often the first stories we are told. They become the models of our understanding not only of the narrative, but of the very values ​​that our cultures transmit to us, whether conscious or unconscious. Cinderella tells us that beauty is moral goodness but ugliness is moral decay. Little Red Riding Hood tells us not to talk to strangers. Countless Grimm fairy tales tell us not to trust a woman or a stranger.

So what’s it like to be inundated with stories of people who aren’t like you or you, who have different priorities, communities, or family structures than yours? What is it to speak the language of a colonizer? Work there, write there, dream there, read there and live there? love it? How can we translate our own cultures onto the page, how can we find ourselves in stories never written to include us except as villains – and how do we change the very landscape of English-language literature simply by being who we are without apologies?

Much of literature is about filling in gaps – where can your point of view, your story flourish? Especially if you are queer, disabled, BIPOC, a religious minority, a marginalized gender? And especially when the story of marginalization in so much folklore is one of monstrosity?

These nine stories by writers from Asia and the Asian diaspora illustrate the scope and possibilities of contemporary writing in the folk tradition. From upending narrative expectations in retellings of old tales to introducing us to worlds entirely new to us, these subversive writers’ tales to watch are by turns searing, celebratory, and devastating.

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Bluebeard’s sisterby Lucy Zhang

In this twist on the Bluebeard tale, Lucy Zhang lends depth to the titular villain – the most prolific serial killer in French folklore – by giving him a sister to protect, one both grateful and loyal enough to clean up after. him again and again. Despite this, Zhang doesn’t let either character off the hook: Bluebeard is enthusiastic and unabashed in his desires for both wives and murder, and his sister is patient but tolerant of what she sees as her weaknesses. . Zhang paints a portrait of a dangerously entangled family for whom there is no bridge too far, making readers wonder what exactly they would do for those they love.

Lucy Zhang specializes in fairy tales and multimedia stories. His notebooks hollowed out and Absorption were published this year. Check his website for more (especially the dazzling “Before happily ever after“), and follow her on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

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The woman who was everything” by Seema Yasmine

Seema Yasmin, a woman who, indeed, seems to be everything, weaves a whole new story about the pressures on women to meet every conceivable need of the people around them. Balancing humor and cultural commentary, Dr. Yasmin takes his nameless protagonist to his breaking point and shows us the awe-inspiring and terrible freedom beyond.

Seema Yasmine is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, physician, teacher, and author. His most recent book, What is the factexplores the importance of factual journalism in a world challenged by the decline of media literacy.

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Whiskey on barbed wire” by Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi

Winner of the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Award, Kane and Margaret’s book by Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi is a surreal exploration of love and rebellion against the backdrop of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although each story seems to restart Kane and Margaret’s journey, readers take with them the stories, triumphs and hurts of all Kane and Margaret before. “Whiskey Over Barbed Wire” tells the story of a Kane who grows wings and becomes a smuggler of “frivolous” goods that keep his fellow prisoners’ spirits up. The loss of his wings at the hands of the guards – the loss of his dignity on the altar of racism – heralds the loss of his love and all the hope he might have had for the future.

Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Clara University.

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The boy is fishingby Sequoia Nagamatsu

Momotaro is a famous figure in Japanese folklore: a warrior born from a peach as a gift to an old childless couple. There are countless additions to his legend, countless iterations of his story, and Nagamatsu’s version fits effortlessly into the Momotaro canon with a gravity that feels new and electrifying. In this story, we meet Momotaro as an adult in a comfortable marriage, his adventures behind him. The only thing he and his wife lack is children; she continues to give birth to shriveled peach pits early. After many years of disappointments, Momotaro’s wife sends him on one last adventure to complete their family.

Sequoia Nagamatsu is the author of the collection of stories inspired by Japanese folklore and pop culture, Where we go when all we were is gone. His novel, How far do we go in the darkis a national bestseller shortlisted for the Ursula K. LeGuin Prize for Fiction.

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“Cowgirl and Laundry” by Celeste Chen

With the Chinese myth “The Cowherd and the Weaver” serving as scaffolding, Celeste Chen delivers a mighty kick in the teeth. In Chen’s hands, the California Gold Rush, a time and place of so much pain and violence for Chinese indentured immigrants, becomes a space where Asian women can recover their strength, Asian men their gentleness and all these indentured workers their humanity. Triumph is tempered by the bitter knowledge that you can no longer return home.

At Celeste Chen work has placed in the best short fiction and has won awards from XRAY On, Pigeon Pages, and Sine Theta Magazine. She’s working on her first novel, which explores age-old ideas of loyalty, leverage, home, and destiny (note: this phrase composed by Celeste herself). Find her on Twitter at @celestish_.

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The Precipice” by Jiksun Cheung

In “The Precipice,” Cheung tells a heartbreaking new tale of Ghost Festival lore. Cheung creates a cold (and creepy) atmosphere even as readers are warmed by the protagonist’s palpable love for his child, but there’s a fox spirit and the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest. . The reader feels the tension mounting, and while he may have an idea of ​​what he is about to fall into when he reaches the precipice in question, the truth is nonetheless a devastating blow.

Jiksun Cheung is a quote editor for Quarterly SmokeLong and editor of The dispatch from the Bureau. He lives in Hong Kong and is working on a novel.

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Tales of the Devil’s Wife: Our Childrenby Carmen Lau

That old lesson from Cinderella still haunts us: our culture teaches us to be wary of what we deem ugly (and foreign, and different, and and and—). Ask for a description of a monster, and you might receive a list of disturbing physical attributes that become inseparable from the monstrous in the creature’s actions. In this story, Lau asks us what is real monstrosity: an accident in physical appearance, or a rot in character? Here readers are confronted with the banality of evil and the familiarity of its words.

Carmen Lau is the author of a collection of short stories inspired by fairy tales, A girl wakes upwinner of the 2015 Electric Book Prize.

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A fableby Sheena Raza Faisal

In this new tale that reads like the best of the old, Faisal manages to stage himself in the modern world without compromising the rhythmic lull of folkspeak. When a father abuses and marries off his three daughters, his cruel and neglectful words become curses that condemn his daughters to live up to his worst expectations. When left alone without even a phone call from his children, he is beset by the harshness of the elements but has no idea he is just reaping what he has sown.

Originally from Bombay, Sheena Raza Faisal now lives in New York.

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His beloved Iantheby Priyanka Bose

Bose, a non-binary transmask writer, reorients the mythos of Iphis and Ianthe as explicitly trans. Historically considered a lesbian story despite the extremely trans premise of the “woman” Iphis being raised as a boy to save her life, this iteration feels less like a reimagining than a removal of the cis-normative lens so often placed upon it. . Here we get the mythos of Iphis dug to the core: a trans child reaches adulthood longing for a body that matches his spirit and receives a gift from the gods to finally become who he really is.

Priyanka Bose is working on her first collection of stories and can be found on Twitter @mspriyankabose.

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The Grounded World: Instant Fairy Tales and Folklore by Jasmine Sawers is available from Rose Metal Press.