Japanese American writer Karen Tei Yamashita was honored last Wednesday as the 34th recipient of the
Yamashita, born in 1951 to survivors of Japanese American internment, is the author of eight books. Her body of work spans multiple genres and continents and has been credited with helping expand the focus of Asian American literature and its studies to include the Americas at large.
The Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, per the National Book Foundation, “a lifetime of literary achievement.” Previous awardees include Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Joan Didion and Stephen King.
In her acceptance speech, Yamashita said, “I have grown up as a writer within an Asian American literary community. Ah, but where is Asian America? It is, I believe, an imagined space that recognizes the immigration and participation of Asian and Pacific Islander peoples in American society and political life.”
In his introduction for the award, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen spoke about the influence of Yamashita’s work: “‘I Hotel’ is for me the great (Asian) American novel, with ‘Asian’ in parenthesis. It is the great American novel, with Asians and Asian Americans, their histories and literatures.”