Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Asian American Writers' Workshop

I have already explored Kundiman,, and Interlope on this blog, so I think that it is only appropriate that I discuss the Asian American Writers' Workshop (AAWW) -- .

I've always looked at the Asian American Writers' Workshop as a stereotypical Asian-American child might look at her or his stereotypical immigrant parent -- filled with a vague sense of duty, fear, and admiration. Although I have always respected the AAWW, it has never been that entirely accessible to me in an emotional sense. Perhaps it is because I first learned of the organization when I was a teenager. Perhaps it is because the organization is quite New York-centric, and I am not a New Yorker, even though I think that I have a New York personality, even though my New York friends say I'm too nice to have a New York personality, whatever that means. Perhaps it is because its agenda and programs (described below) have such a grand and ambitious scope. Perhaps it is because some of the biggest names in Asian American literature populate its board and advisors. At any rate, it seems sometimes to me more like a venerable institution, important and older and more established, more than anything else.

The description on the About page of the AAWW,, probably encourages one to view the organization with awe:

"Established in 1991, The Asian American Writers' Workshop, Inc., is a nonprofit literary arts organization founded in support of writers, literature and community.

Operating out of our 6,000 square-foot loft, we sponsor readings, book parties and panel discussions, and offer creative writing workshops. Each winter we present The Annual Asian American Literary Awards Ceremony to recognize outstanding literary works by Americans of Asian descent. Throughout the year, we offer various youth arts programs. In our space we operate a reading room of Asian American literature through the decades.

The only organization of its kind, the Workshop has become one of the most active community arts organizations in the United States. Based in New York City, we have a fast-growing membership, a list of award-winning books and have become an educational resource for Asian American literature and awareness across the nation. "

But, as the History page suggests,, the AAWW started out humbly and meekly, just as pretty much all Asian-American arts organizations commence, before it blossomed into a well-respected institution:

"The Asian American Writers’ Workshop began in 1991 when six writers began meeting at a Greek diner in the East Village. A core group of ten formed, gathering at a space donated by the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence and the Asian American Arts Alliance. By January 1992, the group held its first standing-room-only reading in Chinatown, and the event was rebroadcast on WBAI. In 1992, the Workshop became a non-for-profit organization and published the first issue of The Asian Pacific American Journal.

Within a year, the Workshop began a newsletter and the national Poetry Caravan Series. Additional funding from the New York Community Trust permitted the Workshop to launch the Van Lier Fellowship, which annually supported the work of three writers under the age of thirty. The Workshop also moved into its first offices at 296 Elizabeth Street. The 500-square-foot office was shared with A Magazine.

In 1995, the Workshop moved to its own space at 37 St. Mark's Place, adding a conference room, a bookstore and performance space; it also launched in-house youth summer writing institute, CreateNow. The following year, the Workshop began its Small Press Division, which eventually published ten anthologies and a collection of poetry.

Throughout the late 1990s, the Workshop expanded its scope and vision. The first Annual Literary Awards were presented in 1998 at the Joseph Papp Public Theater. The move to the Workshop’s current home, a 6,000-foot loft space at 16 West 32nd Street, permitted the Workshop to enlarge its lending library and accommodate growing audiences at events. Currently, we have 800 members and an annual audience total of 11,000. "


Blogger Lee Herrick said...

i visited the aaww around 1999 when they were on St. Mark's Place. you had to go down some steps, and the front door was plastered with stickers, and i remember one very distinctly that read "hello, world." i might have this wrong, but i thought i remember reading somewhere that jimi hendrix once lived in that space.

i met jeannie wong that day, who was really cool. i bought as many books as i could afford, and i was happy that they had some copies of an anthology of korean adoptees that i was in. since that time, i too have felt that they have a distinctly ny feel, but then again, they're in ny and that's not so bad. there were some rumblings of a west coast version in LA...i think walter lew was involved, no?

anyway, i'm hoping to send them some copies of my book when it comes out. thanks for this post, roger. it was fun to read some about its history.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Lee, I haven't heard of a west coast version in LA, but that would be cool if that eventually happened. I think it's hard to expand beyond one's geographical region, but they've made a really good effort to do so.

5:04 PM  
Blogger pam said...

There were a number of attempts to get an AAWW branch started in the SF Bay Area. This would have been mid 1990s. I went to one exploratory meeting, I know there were others. But for one reason or another, it never really took root in the bay.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Oliver de la Paz said...

Hey Roger and Lee,

Maybe you're referring to The Kearney Street Workshop?

10:26 AM  
Blogger Oliver de la Paz said...

**Correction** Roger and Pam. Sorry Pam.

10:26 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home