Authors: Shawn Hsu Wong

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

American writer, teacher, and anthologist


Oakland, California


In the middle of the 1970s Shawn Wong made two major decisions; to begin the Before Columbus Foundation and to remove himself from his California roots and form his future along the misty shores of Puget Sound, near the University of Washington. The Before Columbus Foundation, a group cofounded by Wong to develop multicultural literature, grew with the guidance and care of its lettered professionals. Wong and his group would later publish two anthologies, The Before Columbus Foundation Fiction Anthology and The Before Columbus Foundation Poetry Anthology. These publications honored the authors who had won the American Book Awards held by the Foundation beginning in 1980. Wong’s Foundation was a success; his reputation for boldness and creativity grew.

He sympathized with the Asian American youth in the San Francisco Bay area (the locale of Wong’s youth) who were searching for an identity. Wong grew intensely aware of his need to learn of his past to affirm his future. He attended San Francisco State University after graduating from high school across the bay in Berkeley. After two inspirational years, he returned to the Berkeley campus of the University of California to attain his B.A. in English. Three years later, in 1974, he earned his master’s degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University. The same year, he published the anthology of Asian American literature Aiiieeeee!, coedited with Frank Chin; the cover caricature of a screaming yellow man, the stereotypical Asian, offered Wong an icon for Asian American silence. Wong’s followed his first anthology with another, The Big Aiiieeeee!, despite criticism that the book was a political weapon against the Asian writers who sold out with fake stories, manufactured cultural misrepresentations, and fairy tales. With several anthologies to his editorial credit, Wong has been highly influential in publicizing and promoting writing by artists—not only Asian American—who might otherwise be overlooked, as well as honoring established icons of American literature such as Allen Ginsberg.

Shawn Hsu Wong.



By Nancy Wong, CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Wong began his own writing career editing a monthly Methodist church newsletter while in college. He taught creative writing, became an assistant stage manager, directed Frank Chin’s The Chickencoop Chinaman (pr. 1972), and developed an interest in race cars. He began lecturing on media stereotyping of Asian American identity; Wong’s intellectual approach to the Chinese American and Japanese American social position gave him unique control of his media and audience.

In 1979, Wong began publishing his own work as well as that of others. Homebase was only the third Chinese American novel to be published in the United States, preceded by Diana Chang’s The Frontiers of Love (1956) and Louis Chu’s Eat a Bowl of Tea (1961). Homebase, written just as Wong had settled in Seattle, defines the American homebase of four generations of a Chinese American family. In his continuing attempt to define the ethnic American experience, the author educates his readers about the subtle stereotypes presented in the media. Homebase portrays the episodic life of Rainsford Chan as he comes of age in the 1950s, removed from his past by a society that does not recognize his past, his culture, or his values.

In Wong’s next novel, American Knees, children taunt a boy, wanting to know if he is Chinese, Japanese, or “American knees.” The author begs the reader to view and accept the cultural image of a new Asian man. Wong explores cultural dilemmas of identity, tradition, and even philosophy—the ironies of ethnic existence in a foreign world. The protagonist, Raymond Ding, is a Chinese American whose insistence on finding some kind of authentic Asian identity in his romantic partners inevitably sabotages the relationships as one partner or the other becomes obsessed with which one is the more “authentically” Asian. Eric Byler adapted Wong’s novel for a 2006 film, Americanese, which Byler also directed.

In 1984, Wong began teaching in the American Ethnic Studies program at the University of Washington, where he has also taught creative writing and served as the chair of the English department. His steadfast mission is to expose cultural stereotypes, to develop creative outlets for expressing multicultural voices, and to assimilate Asian American identities into the American culture without losing the thrill of the homeland.

Author Works Long Fiction: Homebase, 1979 American Knees, 1995 Drama: Dope, pr. 1985 (with Louise DiLenge) Poetry: “Chinese Invented the Damn Buffalo!,” 1973 “Kicking Lego Blocks,” 1978 “Lapis,” 1983 Nonfiction: “Shootout in the Streets of Chinese America,” 1973 “Anybody in the Place Speak Good English?,” 1976 “Asian American Literary History: A Bridge to the Heroic Tradition,” 1991 “The Real vs. the Fake,” 1991 Edited Texts: Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers, 1974 (with Frank Chin) Yardbird Reader, 1975 Calafia: An Anthology of California Poets, 1979 (with Ishmael Reed and Al Young) The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature, 1991 (with Jeffery Paul Chan) The Before Columbus Foundation Fiction Anthology: Selections from the American Book Awards 1980–1990, 1992 (with others) The Before Columbus Foundation Poetry Anthology: Selections from the American Book Awards 1980–1990, 1992 (with Reed and Kathryn Trueblood) The Literary Mosaic: An Anthology of Asian American Literature, 1995 Asian American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology, 1996 Asian Diasporas: Cultures, Identities, Representations, 2004 (with Robbie B. H. Goh) Bibliography Brown, Bill. “How to Do Things with Things (a Toy Story).” Critical Inquiry 24 (Summer, 1998). Discusses the representation of the material object world in Homebase. Hsu, Ruth. “The Mythic West and the Discourse of Nation in Shawn Wong’s Homebase.” Passages 2, no. 2 (2000). Discusses regionalism, the marginalized position of minority groups, and the ideology of national myths in Wong’s novel. Kim, Elaine. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982. Discusses Wong’s writings and influence as an editor. Lee, A. Robert. “Afro-America, the Before Columbus Foundation, and the Literary Multiculturalization of America.” Journal of American Studies 28 (December, 1994). An extensive review of the Before Columbus Foundation anthologies analyzes their impact on the field of multicultural literary studies. Wong, Sau-ling Cynthia. Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. Discusses Wong’s writings.

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