“There aren’t a lot of you out there”: What? Let’s fix our female Asian-American writer blind spot now

Who says Asian American women aren’t writing fiction? “We are everywhere if you only look!”

“This summer, I traveled around the U.S. to promote my debut novel, “Everything I Never Told You.”  At one university where I’d been invited to speak, I asked the professor hosting me how he’d found me. He admitted he’d needed an Asian American woman fiction writer to balance his speaker lineup. “There aren’t a lot of you out there,” he said, with evident embarrassment.

Many universities and events deliberately try to select diverse speakers, and I think it’s a fine way to expose audiences to writers of different backgrounds. But I was startled to hear there weren’t many Asian American women fiction writers.  Off the top of my head, I could think of several dozen.

Early on, 2014 was designated the “Year of Reading Women.” Partly inspired by the annual VIDA count — which for four straight years has shown a huge gender disparity in major literary publications — the #ReadWomen2014 movement encouraged readers to do just that.

In May, Book Expo America was widely criticized when the initial lineup for BookCon, its public event, contained virtually no women and virtually no people of color.  The#WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign arose in response, to promote greater diversity in children’s and YA literature. (Full disclosure: I took part in a BookCon panel myself, in the awkward position of a woman of color who had actually been invited months before the controversy.)

In other words, in 2014, we might have expected awareness of women writers and writers of color to be on the rise.  And I still hope it is, on the whole.  Yet there it was, that statement I heard surprisingly often: “There just aren’t many Asian American women writers.”

Several years ago, frustrated by similar remarks about authors of color, the writer and critic Roxane Gay compiled a list of them, aptly titled “We Are Many. We Are Everywhere.” Inspired by Gay’s list, I put out a call on Twitter for names of Asian American women writers. Within hours, I was deluged with suggestions.  Even after I narrowed the focus to authors who had published a book of fiction — the type of speaker most venues seek — the list swelled into the hundreds.”

Read the full piece, and see the list of Asian American women writers here

Fan Bing Bing absolutely killing it and looking like an immaculate goddess at the Met Gala, meanwhile nearly everyone else entirely missed the theme memo.

Write What You Know

By Heidi Heilig

After hearing the premise for The Girl from Everywhere —Time travel! Piracy! Myth! Maps!–readers might be surprised to hear me say that I tried to write what I know.

Don’t get too excited–I’m not a real life time traveler. But at heart, this story is about a girl whose sails between worlds on a storm-tossed ship, and her greatest fear is that her existence might be erased by the driven, difficult captain at the helm. For better or for worse, that is a feeling I’m quite familiar with.

Being biracial (I’m hapa haole, which means “half white and half Chinese” in Hawaiian) is a bit like having one foot in each world. You can see parts of both–you can even lean a little back and forth, sometimes a little more one than the other–but the people who live squarely on either side of the line always wonder what you’re doing in their space.  And ultimately, you’re never truly at home in either. Your identity is constantly shifting, depending on who you’re with—too white to be Chinese, too Chinese to be white.

There’s a similar duality to being bipolar, although instead of being caught in the middle, I’m leaping back and forth. Both the highs and the lows can be frightening, and at the edges of my madness, there is a real fear of self-destruction. Often times, I feel like my disorder is an outsider with its own inscrutable motives, and sometimes it takes the wheel.

All that said, when I set out to write a book, I didn’t envision the story as a metaphor for my feelings. That’s just the story that came out of me—only upon reflection did I realize how closely it mirrored my situation. But this is one major reason I love reading stories written by people from diverse backgrounds. The stories that they tell tend to represent their journeys in ways both literal and thematic. Best of all, you realize how universal their stories really are. I’m certainly not the only person who has a hard time feeling at home, or has dealt with a destructive force. In a recent panel, Adam Silvera noted that his book More Happy Than Not was, at heart, about the desire to be happy (go figure). And who can’t relate to the angst of romance and the importance of friendship in The Wrath and the Dawn?

That said, authors who want to write inclusively don’t necessarily have to limit their characters to those who share only their own races, struggles, disabilities, or sexualities. I myself could not make every single character a bipolar hapa girl. That would be almost as weird as making every single character in a story white, TAB, cis, and straight—and no one believes those stories, right?


Writing what you know is important, but you needn’t have lived an experience to try to learn it. As long as you research fully and respectfully to ensure you can handle the topic with skill, you can absolutely write characters that belong to groups you don’t belong to. You may get it wrong, but if you do, listen. And once you know better, write what you’ve learned.

Heidi Heilig grew up in Hawaii where she rode horses and raised peacocks, and then she moved to New York City and grew up even more, as one tends to do. Her favorite thing, outside of writing, is travel, and she has haggled for rugs in Morocco, hiked the trails of the Ko’olau Valley, and huddled in a tent in Africa while lions roared in the dark. She holds an MFA from New York University in Musical Theatre Writing, of all things, and she’s written books and lyrics for shows including The Time Travelers Convention, Under Construction, and The Hole. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her son, and their pet snake.

The Girl from Everywhere is available for purchase.


August 12, 2015 - Happy World Elephant Day

Baby Elephant, Hansa, learning to play with one of the caretakers, Darrick Thompson, at Elephant Nature Park (Chiang Mai, Thailand - July 30, 2015)

Don’t be Hypocrites.

Non-Korean Asians seem to have more of a problem with Alex than Koreans do??? Like what sense does that make, Who even are you to tell Koreans how to run their own music industry. And this whole “K-pop is a safe haven for Asians” thing- A safe place for Asians built off of what? Another culture.

I hate pulling out the race card, but in situations like this when ya’ll try some bullshit, i feel like its necessary.

How can you say that Asians can never have anything to themselves? Can you tell me where that ‘pop’ in K-pop comes from? Cause I can tell you for sure that it wasn’t from Koreans/Asians and if I remember correctly, traditional Asian music or specifically, traditional Korean music was trot. 

Our music industry isn’t based off of the cultures of others.

How can you even say “We don’t have anything to ourselves”, when your people go around appropriating black culture every chance they get.

You want us foreigners to stay out of your media? Give us back our pop music. Give us back our hip pop. Give us back our R&B. And stick to the type of music that your people created. 

That sounds ridiculous and petty doesn’t it? Because it is. Music doesn’t have a race, its a safe place for all.

 As long as your country has contact with others, things are going to spread. Its unavoidable. Think about it like religion. Not many people were Christians when it first became a religion, but as people traveled and started telling others about it, those people that were interested in it started to incorporate it into their own lives.

 That’s what happens with aspects of cultures. People become interested and it spreads. So how can you get angry about foreigners in the Asian music industry when various Asian artists are also interested and incorporate aspects of American/black culture into their own lives?

You need to stop preaching this whole “Foreigners are stealing/trying to incorporate themselves into Asian culture” bullshit when you guys are doing the same thing.   

I respect the fact that you are trying to defend your culture, but a lot of you are going a bit far.

You guys invaded our “Safe place” decades ago.

What do we have?