Thursday, July 27, 2017

Smithsonian: First-of-its-kind AA literary festival honors Carlos Bulosan

University of Washington
Carlos Bulosan at his typewriter.
CARLOS BULOSAN is often described as an Asian American writer, or a Filipino American author. He is perhaps the most important American (no hyphen required) writer no one has ever hear of.

As a commentator and chronicler of his time, Bulosan should be on par with his contemporaries John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald. While the former wrote about the poor whites and the latter wrote about the hypocrisy of the rich, Bulosan wrote about the poor struggles of workers of color: the farm workers, the fishermen, the cannery workers and servants.

This weekend, the Smithsonian Asian American Literature Festival hopes to change that, with a wide range of readings and interactive programs that celebrate both the legacy of Asian/American literature and contemporary writers. 

“Asian American literature has always been a crucial space for writing hidden histories and building new communities,” said Lisa Sasaki, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. “This festival is a chance to honor Asian American writing and writers and grow the next generation of literary trailblazers.”


The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, the Library of Congress, the Phillips Collection and Dupont Underground will host the Asian American Literature Festival from Thursday to Saturday, July 27–29.

One of the centerpieces of the festival is a two-day reading of Carlos Bulosan's 1946 autobiographical work, America is in the Heart
The book addresses struggles of immigrants that are still relevant today. It's an apt focus for a celebration of American diversity, and perhaps an inspiration to stay hopeful for our nation and its people.

Bulosan came to the U.S. in 1930 and soon discovered the American Dream was a fragile wisp of hope. Of his experience as a migrant worker, Bulosan wrote, "I learned its a crime to be a Filipino in this country." He suffered at the hands of people who tried to run him out of town, and in one incident in California he was tied to a tree, stripped and beaten.

Despite the disappointments he encountered, he loved the idea of America.  "For Carlos Bulosan, no lifetime could be long enough in which to explain to America that no man could destroy his faith in it again," said Carlos P. Romulo in a review of Bulosan's America is in the Heart.
Featuring more than 50 prominent Asian/American poets, writers, literary scholars, graphic novelists, spoken-word artists and children’s literature authors, the festival will present an array of live performances, mentoring sessions and interactive workshops. The event will take place at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery July 27 from 11:30 a.m. to7 p.m.; at the Phillips Collection July 28 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; at Dupont Underground July 28 from 6 p.m. to11 p.m.; and at the Library of Congress July 29 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m


This first-of-its kind festival is also celebrating the release of an all Asian/American issue of Poetry magazine. Other highlights include the premiere of a short animated film by artist Matt Huynh, adapted from a forthcoming work by Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Viet Nguyen.

Featured Programs


  • A two-day long participatory reading of Carlos Bulosan’s seminal 1946 novel America Is In the Heart
  • An animated adaptation of a chapter from Viet Thanh Nguyen’s forthcoming novel The Committed (sequel to Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer) by artist Matt Huynh
  • National Book Award finalist Karen Tei Yamashita and Kimiko Hahn, president of the Poetry Society of America, will give intimate lectures on their personal journeys through Asian American literary history
  • LITERAOKE, a fun combination of literary reading and karaoke, with performances by Franny Choi, Tarfia Faizullah, Ed Lin and local Washington, D.C. poet Regie Cabico
  • Writer-scholar round-robin session for exchanging writing and scholarly interests and building new networks
  • The Asian American Literature Donation Project, which will provide donated works of Asian/American literature to local spaces of need
A complete listing of participants and programs at the festival is available at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s website.