We associate lectures with dull erudition and cold, sterile lecture halls. Our associations with history are hardly different: history, we think, exudes importance with broad-shouldered publicity, such pomp. But for marginalized communities, our cultural knowledge has come with far less fanfare.
When Juan Felipe Hererra was finishing his first term as US Poet Laureate, he gave a closing lecture on Chicano poetry at the Library of Congress. Rather than a general historical survey, it was an inside, loving look at poems that moved him, poets who’d been forgotten, snapshots lost to time. It was an “intimate” lecture, “intimate” indicating the kind of history: connective rather than individual, away from the public eye, away too from the noisy markers of awards, acclaim, critical attention.
The Secret Histories series, launched as part of the 2019 Asian American Literature Festival, borrows the spirit of Hererra’s lecture. By attending to quiet interludes, off-to-the-side exchanges, and personal relationships, we strive to remake what we think of as the ground of American literary history into a more complex and human landscape. Through sharing lost histories and secret knowledge, we might bind the Asian American literary community more tightly together. Secret Histories begins with, opens through the eyes of, mid-career Asian American poets and writers and the question of where they fit in a matrix of inheritance, of veneration, of portaging the things we need to live from one place to another, one time to another. The first commissioned talks from Kazim Ali, Jennifer Chang, Ching-In Chen, and Cathy Park Hong, three of whom you’ll find collected in the pages that follow, take a focus on the lost, the quiet, the under-attended to, those we’ve neglected to honor.
These essays trace an imperative the scholar Juliana Chang once signaled in her introduction to the anthology Quiet Fire: A Historical Anthology of Asian American Poetry, 1892–1970: “I was constantly confronted with the spectre of lost history: how many copies of these fragile, dusty books were left in the world? How could we begin to find out about some of the more obscure poets, whose books were published by small presses that have long since vanished? How are these pieces relics of a now-gone life and history? How do we read, in the present, these remains of the past?”
—Jennifer Chang + Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis