Timothy K. August, "The Refugee Aesthetic: Reimagining Southeast Asian America" (Temple UP, 2020)


In The Refugee Aesthetic: Reimagining Southeast Asian America (Temple University Press, 2021), Timothy K. August centers Southeast Asian American writers and artists to develop a theory of refugee aesthetics as a way of considering how aesthetic forms are created and contested by refugees, nonrefugees, and institutions alike.

On this episode of New Books in Asian American Studies, Timothy K. August discusses the contradictions in how refugee stories are read as arising from exceptional circumstances even as the ever-increasing number of refugees renders refugeeness a remarkably everyday experience; the importance of aesthetics as a means by which refugees are able to contest—and reimagine—the refugee narratives that have been created through institutional and bureaucratic definitions of refugees; how refugee writers reconcile demands that they explain their experiences or perform their humanity within their own art and writing; and more.

The Refugee Aesthetic examines a range of literary and artistic works by refugees, including poems, novels, graphic novels, and visual art, by writers and artists including Bao Phi, Monique Truong, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Mohsin Hamid, Gia-Bao Tran, and more, to argue for the agency of refugees as cultural producers who are redefining a politically, bureaucratically produced refugee image and instead imagining a plural form of refugee aesthetics.

Please note that this episode was recorded prior to the events of October 7, 2023.

Timothy August is an Associate Professor of English at Stony Brook University.

Jennifer Gayoung Lee is a writer and researcher based in New York City.

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Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Gayoung Lee is a PhD student in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford University.
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