The best Asian American short story collections

Who am I?

When I was growing up, I longed to see myself and my family represented in ways that were not demeaning. Hollywood movies showed Asian women as passive victims or hypersexualized “dragon ladies.” Depictions of Asian men were even fewer—they were mostly the enemy soldiers in the background of movies about the American war in Vietnam. I became a writer to try to correct these grossly flattened stereotypes. I am now the author of 11 books, and recipient of an American Book Award, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book, and Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman.

I wrote...

Tomorrow in Shanghai: Stories

By May-lee Chai,

Book cover of Tomorrow in Shanghai: Stories

What is my book about?

In a vibrant and illuminating follow-up to her award-winning story collection, Useful Phrases for Immigrants, May-lee Chai’s latest collection Tomorrow in Shanghai explores multicultural complexities through lenses of class, wealth, age, gender, and sexuality—always tracking the nuanced, knotty, and intricate exchanges of interpersonal and institutional power. 

These stories transport the reader, variously: to rural China, where a city doctor harvests organs to fund a wedding and a future for his family; on a vacation to France, where a white mother and her biracial daughter cannot escape their fraught relationship; inside the unexpected romance of two Chinese-American women living abroad in China; and finally, to a future Chinese colony on Mars, where an aging working-class woman lands a job as a nanny. Chai's stories are essential reading for an increasingly globalized world.

The books I picked & why

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Thank You, Mr. Nixon: Stories

By Gish Jen,

Book cover of Thank You, Mr. Nixon: Stories

Why this book?

The stories in Thank You, Mr. Nixon combine history and family, characters reflecting on the ravages of time and how their lives have been buffeted by world events outside their control. There’s even a ghost of a Chinese girl writing from the afterlife to President Nixon in Hell. She thanks him for his historic decision to establish diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China, a decision that changed her family’s life forever. The story is profound, moving, and very funny all at once. Jen is a master of the short story form, and this collection is superb.

The Partition

By Don Lee,

Book cover of The Partition

Why this book?

Lee’s witty stories make smart observations about the nature of identity without ever feeling didactic. His characters are flawed and fully human, they make mistakes, fall in love, face criticism. Many of the stories feature Asian Americans trying to negotiate careers in the arts—from filmmakers to actors to a translator going up for tenure review. The collection feels particularly timely amid the conversations about representation and lack thereof in Hollywood and publishing.

White Dancing Elephants

By Chaya Bhuvaneswar,

Book cover of White Dancing Elephants

Why this book?

This collection features South Asian characters from the present to different times in history. Bhuvaneswar’s prose is gorgeous, her dialogue snappy. From a woman feeling guilty for having an affair with her friend’s husband to an enslaved woman in Renaissance-era Portugal to a queer woman who’d rather move to another country than come out to her parents, Bhuvaneswar’s characters are smart, self-aware, flawed, and fascinating.

Afterparties: Stories

By Anthony Veasna So,

Book cover of Afterparties: Stories

Why this book?

Afterparties: Stories is about Cambodian Americans, their first-generation Khmer Rougue-surviving parents, and the tensions between their dreams and desires for themselves and their families. There are apprentice monks, reincarnated souls, mechanics, artists, slackers, and wannabe tech millionaires. So never sells any of his characters’ dreams short. Every story is a gem! 

In the Country: Stories

By Mia Alvar,

Book cover of In the Country: Stories

Why this book?

Alvar writes about the Filipinx Diasporic community from the Philippines to the U.S. and around the world. Her stories about men and women who must travel to other countries to support their families show the complicated nature of Diaspora, as well as the strains within families as the result of separation, cultural dislocation, and economic exploitation.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Asian Americans, Chinese Americans, and cultural heritage?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Asian Americans, Chinese Americans, and cultural heritage.

Asian Americans Explore 14 books about Asian Americans
Chinese Americans Explore 29 books about Chinese Americans
Cultural Heritage Explore 9 books about cultural heritage

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Hello, Universe, Picture Us in the Light, and The Many Meanings of Meilan if you like this list.