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.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Thank You, Mr. Nixon: Stories

Why did I love 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.

By Gish Jen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thank You, Mr. Nixon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The acclaimed, award-winning author of The Resisters takes measure of the fifty years since the opening of China and its unexpected effects on the lives of ordinary people. It is a unique book that only Jen could write—a story collection accruing the power of a novel as it proceeds—a work that Cynthia Ozick has called “an art beyond art. It is life itself.”

Beginning with a cheery letter penned by a Chinese girl in heaven to “poor Mr. Nixon” in hell, Gish Jen embarks on a fictional journey through U.S.-China relations, capturing the excitement of a world on the brink…

The Partition

By Don Lee,

Book cover of The Partition

Why did I love 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.

By Don Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Partition as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A thrilling new story collection from acclaimed writer Don Lee exploring Asian American identity, spanning decades and continents

"Don Lee is one of those masterful storytellers who is both classic and modern, who can transport you into any setting, with any character."
—The TODAY Show, recommended by author Weike Wang

"The organizing conceit of all [Lee’s] fiction has remained consistent: Asian Americans are not monoliths . . . Lee narrates from a collective perspective, his stories offering a kaleidoscopic vision of all the ways it feels to be yellow."
—New York Times Book Review

"Nine stories feature complicated Asian American…

White Dancing Elephants

By Chaya Bhuvaneswar,

Book cover of White Dancing Elephants

Why did I love 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.

By Chaya Bhuvaneswar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked White Dancing Elephants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Best Books of 2018 Kirkus Reviews (debut and short fiction categories)

Best Books of 2018, Entropy Magazine

A Book Club selection for The Wing, Rebel Women's Lit and

35 over 35 Debut Fiction Award

Finalist for the 2019 PEN American Robert Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection

"Chaya Bhuvaneswar's debut collection maps with great assurance the intricate outer reaches of the human heart. What a bold, smart, exciting new voice, well worth listening to; what an elegant story collection to read and savor."
-Lauren Groff, author of Florida

"Stunning, evocative, exuberant collection."
-Kirkus Reviews (starred)

A woman…

Afterparties: Stories

By Anthony Veasna So,

Book cover of Afterparties: Stories

Why did I love 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! 

By Anthony Veasna So,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Afterparties as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'So's distinctive voice is ever-present: mellifluous, streetwise and slightly brash, at once cynical and bighearted...unique and quintessential' Sunday Times

'So's stories reimagine and reanimate the Central Valley, in the way that the polyglot stories in Bryan Washington's collection Lot reimagined Houston and Ocean Vuong's novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous allowed us to see Hartford in a fresh light.' Dwight Garner, New York Times

'[A] remarkable debut collection' Hua Hsu, The New Yorker

A Roxane…

Book cover of In the Country: Stories

Why did I love 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.

By Mia Alvar,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked In the Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In these nine globe-trotting tales, Mia Alvar gives voice to the women and men of the Philippines and its diaspora.

From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons, Alvar’s stories explore the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined. In the Country speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home—and marks the arrival of a formidable new voice in literature.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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

9,000+ 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 24 books about Asian Americans
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Cultural Heritage Explore 13 books about cultural heritage

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