August 30, 2012

Frank Chin, Asian American

Frank Chin was born on February 25, 1940, in Berkeley, California. His father was an immigrant and his mother a fourth-generation resident of Oakland Chinatown, where Chin spent much of his childhood. He attended the University of California at Berkeley and at Santa Barbara and participated in the Program in Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. Chin is a tireless and influential promoter of Asian American literature, though his vision of it has often been criticized for its exclusionary tendencies. He has written novels, short stories, plays, comic books, and numerous essays; produced documentaries; worked as a script consultant in Hollywood; taught college courses in Asian American literature; and helped form the Asian American Theatre Workshop in San Francisco. He co-edited (with Jeffery Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong) a foundational anthology of Asian American writings entitled Aiiieeeee! (1974). A second volume, The Big Aiiieeeee!, was published in 1991.

Much of Chin’s notoriety stems from the positions he and his colleagues take in the introductory essays in those collections. One of their central concerns is the emasculating effect of anti-Asian racism as epitomized by stereotypical figures like Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu. Another controversial aspect of Chin’s nonfictional writing has been his relentless criticism of writers such as David Henry Hwang, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Amy Tan; in his view, these writers falsify Asian and Asian American culture.  First staged in 1972, The Chickencoop Chinaman was one of the first plays written by an Asian American to be produced in New York. A second play, The Year of the Dragon, premiered two years later. Many of Chin’s early writings contain an autobiographical element. They often revolve around a male protagonist—usually a would-be writer—alienated from his family or from his Chinatown community.