The Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW) celebrated their 30-year anniversary this year, culminating in a virtual event reflecting on the literary organization’s long history.
At AAWW’s final event of 2021, writers Alexander Chee, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Amitava Kumar and Monica Youn spoke with moderator and New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu about their experiences over the years at AAWW. The event, called AAWW at 30: Activating the Archive, took place over Zoom on December 14th.
According to their website, AAWW was founded in New York City in 1991 by Curtis Chin, Christina Chiu, Marie Myung-Ok Lee and Bino A. Realuyo. The group was looking for a literary community of Asian Americans in New York City. Over its 30-year history, AAWW has supported dozens of young writers’ careers and provides a space for literary events for the Asian American community.
Formative experiences for young writers
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At the event, the writers spoke about their formative experiences at AAWW, reminiscing on how the organization has grown over the years. From their original space under a Gap store in Saint Marks’ Place to a Koreatown location to the workshops’ current location in Chelsea, the writers fondly remembered the support they received in the early days of their careers.
The novelist Alex Chee, a 2021 Guggenheim fellow, mentioned that during his earliest days as a writer, he sought a place like AAWW. “My first experience of being an Asian American writer was of being alone, and it meant so much to find others.”
The poet Monica Youn agreed, saying that while she was growing up, she didn’t initially recognize the lack of Asian American representation in the spaces around her. When she encountered AAWW, she said she quickly realized “There’s so much I’m missing out on. There’s a community I never knew existed.”
A space to share with the Asian American community
AAWW offered a space for these writers to launch their careers, a physical location for book launches and readings, which even enabled some of the writers to meet their agents and editors.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni spoke about how AAWW provided a space to share work where there was a real sense of comfort from being around people who understood her. “I felt I was reading differently when I read at the workshop. I could just be myself. I didn’t need to explain anything.”
“The Saint Marks space, the Koreatown space, and of course the Chelsea space and the green couch,” Hua Hsu said. “The workshop is so much more than a physical space, it’s a community.”