AAPI Heritage Month may be coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop reading books by AAPI authors, of course. In fact, now is the perfect time to pick up some recent releases, and to put in all your preorders (or library requests) for the many amazing books by AAPI authors coming out this summer! Nonfiction lovers, you’re in luck, because there’s a little bit of everything coming out in the next few months. This list includes such a diverse mix of nonfiction, from a deep dive into the political and social history of the human knee to a powerful memoir about a trans pageant queen and her journey from the Philippines to the U.S. There’s also a ton of great Asian American poetry coming out this summer, so I’ve highlighted a few of the collections I’m most excited about, including a gorgeous book about memory and migration rooted in the Vietnamese American experience, and a new book from KanakaʻŌiwi poet Brandy Nālani McDougall.
These books are only a tiny sampling of the brilliance we have to look forward to in the rest of 2023. This fall is also full of new AAPI books I can’t wait to read, including Viet Thanh Nguyen’s memoir A Man of Two Faces, and Curtis Chin’s Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant, both coming in October.
Black Avatar by Amit Majmudar (May 5th)
In his first work of nonfiction, author Amit Majmudar blends memoir, social commentary, history, literary criticism, and more. Among other things, he explores ancient Indian texts and what they might have to teach us about climate change; the role of colonialism in continuing colorism in India; and the complicated legacies of war photography. His essays are sharp, beautifully written, and full of intricate connections between disparate subjects.
Flawless: Lessons in Looks and Culture from the K-Beauty Capital by Elise Hu (May 23rd)
In this blend of political commentary and investigative reporting, Elise Hu, journalist and host of NPR’s TED Talks Daily, takes a deep dive into the K-beauty industry. This billion dollar-industry has taken off in recent years, and its success poses big questions about beauty, culture, technology, gender, and consumerism. Hu interrogates what it means to live in a world obsessed with beauty and youth, the injustices this obsession helps perpetrate, and what we can do about it. It’s a thoughtful, fascinating, and rigorously researched book.
Horse Barbie by Geena Rocero (May 30th)
This memoir traces Rocero’s life from her time as a trans pageant queen in the Philippines, to the years she spent as a closeted model in New York City, to her eventual coming out and career as an activist and advocate. It’s a powerful story about the power of celebrating your true self, and the many intersecting injustices that make doing so so hard for so many people. Rocero’s writing is full of warmth, humor, and raw honesty — this is a memoir that will stay with you for a long time.
A Plucked Zither by Phuong T. Vuong (June 6th)
This poetry collection explores migration, memory, language, and the experience of being a refugee. The poems travel through time and space, between Vietnam and the U.S., as the speaker looks for belonging and connection. Many of the poems directly address the ways that war, imperialism, and forced migration shape families and communities. But Vuong also makes space for joy and healing, with poems that pay homage to legacies of creative resistance, antiwar activism, and the power of cultural and intergenerational memory.
The Curious Human Knee by Han Yu (June 6th)
How much time have you spent thinking about the human knee? Knees are pretty weird, when you think about it, and prone to scrapes and injuries. They’re also crucially important, not just to human anatomy, but to how we think about and understand everything from science to history. In this informative read, science writer Han Yu provides a vastly entertaining history of the knee. She writes about fashion, the practice of kneeling, ancient human history, race and gender basis in medicine, cultural and literary representations of the knee, and more. You’ll never look at your own knees (or anyone else’s!) the same way again.
Shrines by Sagaree Jain (June 20th)
Like its title suggests, this poetry collection is a book of shrines. Jain writes odes to all the joys and challenges, big and small, that come with being a queer person of color. They celebrate queer desire and eroticism, explore fraught relationships, and delight in the experience of finding connection, love, community, and self. These poems are playful and sad, full of vivid imagery and ecstatic seeking.
Owner of a Lonely Heart by Beth Nguyen (July 4th)
Beth Nguyen came to America when she was just 8 months old, at the end of the Vietnam War, accompanied by her father and sister. Her mother remained in Vietnam, and Nguyen didn’t meet her until she was in her late teens. In this beautiful memoir about motherhood and immigration, Nguyen recounts the various visits she’s shared with her mother over the years, exploring not only their relationship, but her own relationship to being a parent.
‘Āina Hānau / Birth Land by Brandy Nālani McDougall (June 13th)
In these lyrical, accessible poems, KanakaʻŌiwi poet Brandy Nālani McDougall writes about the the natural landscape of Hawaiʻi, and the plants, creatures, oceans, geological formations, and mountains that are inextricably linked to the past, present, and future of Native Hawaiian people. She writes about the devastating effects of colonization, tourism, and environmental destruction, as well as the long history of resistance among KanakaʻŌiwi. This is a unique and powerful collection about what it means to belong to, love, grieve for, celebrate, and honor a place.