The Center for Fiction was thrilled to welcome authors Nawaaz Ahmed (Radiant Fugitives), Jackson Bliss (Amnesia of June Bugs), Melissa Chadburn (A Tiny Upward Shove), Tracey Lien (All That’s Left Unsaid), and Soon Wiley (When We Fell Apart) to our virtual stage for a unique, round-robin style reading. These authors are all voices on the leading edge of Asian American fiction. Featured books ranged from an interlocking tale of four New Yorkers trapped on a C train after Hurricane Sandy to a posthumous, surrealist tale of a woman exploring the afterlife – and her grandmother’s old Filipino stories.
By Nawaaz Ahmed
Published by Catapult
Working as a consultant for Kamala Harris’s attorney general campaign in Obama-era San Francisco, Seema has constructed a successful life for herself in the West, despite still struggling with her father’s long-ago decision to exile her from the family after she came out as lesbian. Now, nine months pregnant and estranged from the Black father of her unborn son, Seema seeks solace in the company of those she once thought lost to her: her ailing mother, Nafeesa, traveling alone to California from Chennai, and her devoutly religious sister, Tahera, a doctor living in Texas with her husband and children.
But instead of a joyful reconciliation anticipating the birth of a child, the events of this fateful week unearth years of betrayal, misunderstanding, and complicated layers of love—a tapestry of emotions as riveting and disparate as the era itself.
Told from the point of view of Seema’s child at the moment of his birth, and infused with the poetry of Wordsworth and Keats and verses from the Quran, Radiant Fugitives is a moving tale of a family and a country grappling with acceptance, forgiveness, and enduring love.
Amnesia of June Bugs
By Jackson Bliss
Published by 7.13 Books
Jackson Bliss’s brilliant and moving debut novel redefines what a novel can be. Hurricane Sandy has just smashed into the Eastern Seaboard, trapping four passengers on the C train: a Chinese American graffiti artist grieving his father’s death, a mixed-race graphic designer struggling to become a mom, a Moroccan French translator escaping his heartache in Paris, and an Indian American traveler leaving Chicago to regain control of her life. Amnesia of June Bugs is an ambitious, infatuated, and furious book about the time we lost and the people we could have loved..
A Tiny Upward Shove
By Melissa Chadburn
Published by FSG
Marina Salles’s life does not end the day she wakes up dead.
Instead, in the course of a moment, she is transformed into the stuff of myth, the stuff of her grandmother’s old Filipino stories—an aswang, a creature of mystery and vengeance. She spent her time on earth on the margins, shot like a pinball through a childhood of loss. In her nine days as an aswang, while she considers whether to exact vengeance on her killer, she retraces her life, finally able to see what led these two lost souls to a crushingly inevitable conclusion.
In A Tiny Upward Shove, the debut novelist Melissa Chadburn charts the heartbreaking journeys of two of society’s castoffs as they make their way to each other and their roles as criminal and victim. What does it mean to be on the brink? When are those moments that change not only our lives but our very selves? And how, in this impossible world, full of cruelty and negligence, can we rouse ourselves toward mercy?
All That's Left Unsaid
By Tracey Lien
Published by HarperCollins
Just let him go. These are the words Ky Tran will forever regret. The words she spoke when her parents called to ask if they should let her younger brother Denny out to celebrate his high school graduation with friends. That night, Denny—optimistic, guileless, brilliant Denny—is brutally murdered inside a busy restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, a refugee enclave facing violent crime, an indifferent police force, and the worst heroin epidemic in Australian history.
Returning home to Cabramatta for the funeral, Ky learns that the police are stumped by Denny’s case: a dozen people were at Lucky 8 restaurant when Denny died, but each of the bystanders claim to have seen nothing.
Desperately hoping that understanding what happened might ease her suffocating guilt, Ky sets aside her grief and determines to track down the witnesses herself. With each encounter, she peels back another layer of the place that shaped her and Denny, exposing trauma and seeds of violence that were planted well before that fateful celebration dinner: by colonialism, by the war in Vietnam, and by the choices they’ve all made to survive.
Alternating between Ky’s voice and the perspectives of the witnesses, Tracey Lien’s extraordinary debut is at once heart-pounding and heart-rending as it probes the intricate bonds of friendship, family, and community through an unforgettable cast of characters, all connected by a devastating crime. Combining evocative family drama and gripping suspense, All That’s Left Unsaid is a profound and moving page turner, perfect for readers of Liz Moore, Brit Bennett, and Celeste Ng..
When We Fell Apart
By Soon Wiley
Published by Penguin
When the Seoul police inform Min that his girlfriend Yu-jin has committed suicide, he’s sure it can’t be true. She was successful, ambitious, happy, just on the cusp of graduating from university and claiming the future she’d always dreamed of.
Min, on the other hand, born to an American father and Korean mother, has never felt quite the same certainty as Yu-jin about his life’s path. After growing up in California, where he always felt “too Korean” to fit in, he’s moved to Seoul in the hope that exploring his Korean heritage will help him find a sense of purpose. And when he meets Yu-jin, little does he know that their carefree relationship will set off a chain of events with tragic consequences for them both.
Devastated by Yu-jin’s death, Min throws himself into finding out why she could have secretly wanted to die. Or did she? With a controlling and powerful government official father, and a fraught friendship with her alluring and destructive roommate So-ra, Yu-jin’s life was much more complex than she chose to reveal to Min. And the more he learns about her, the more he begins to doubt he ever really knew her at all.
As Yu-jin’s story—a fraught exploration of selfhood, coming-of-age, and family expectations—collides with Min’s, the result is an engrossing page-turner that poses powerful, urgent questions about cultural identity, family bonds, secrets, and what it truly means to belong.
Nawaaz Ahmed was born in Tamil Nadu, India. Before turning to writing, he was a computer scientist, researching search algorithms for Yahoo. His debut novel Radiant Fugitives (2021) was a finalist for the 2022 Pen/Faulkner Award and the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, and was longlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and the Aspen Literary Prize. He holds an MFA from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and is a former Kundiman and Lambda Literary Fellow, as well as the recipient of residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, Djerassi, and VCCA. He currently lives in Brooklyn.
Jackson Bliss is the winner of the 2020 Noemi Book Award in Prose and the mixed-race/hapa author of Counterfactual Love Stories & Other Experiments (Noemi Press, 2021), the backwards novel, Amnesia of June Bugs (7.13 Books, 2022), the choose-your-own-adventure memoir Dream Pop Origami (Unsolicited Press, 2022), and the speculative hypertext, Dukkha, My Love (2017). His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Tin House, Ploughshares, Guernica, Antioch Review, TriQuarterly, ZYZZYVA, Columbia Journal, Kenyon Review, Longreads, Quarterly West, Fiction, Santa Monica Review, The Offing, and Adroit, among others. He lives in LA with his wife and their two fashionably dressed dogs. Follow him on Twitter and IG: @jacksonbliss.
Melissa Chadburn is the author of the debut novel A Tiny Upward Shove (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Chadburn is a worker lover and through her own labor and literary citizenship strives to upend economic violence. Her mother taught her how to sharpen a pencil with a knife and she’s basically been doing that ever since. She is a PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Southern California.
Tracey Lien was born and raised in southwestern Sydney, Australia. She earned her MFA at the University of Kansas and was previously a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. All That’s Left Unsaid is her first novel.
A native of Nyack, New York, Soon Wiley received his BA in English & Philosophy from Connecticut College. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University. His writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and earned him fellowships in Wyoming and France. He resides in Connecticut with his wife and their two cats. When We Fell Apart is his debut novel.