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July-August 2021: Queer Taiwanese Literature: A Reader

This month, rather than featuring an individual author, we're highlighting a recent publication from Cambria Press, the anthology Queer Taiwanese Literature: A Readeredited by Howard Chiang. The collection includes stories by Chi Ta-wei (who we featured on our Book Club in June) and other authors, written between 1975 and 2020, and ‘reflects the profusion of gender and sexual configurations that has marked Taiwan’s complex history for the past half century.’

The anthology is part of the Cambria Literature from Taiwan Series, in collaboration with the National Museum of Taiwan Literature and National Taiwan Normal University.

As the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in Asia and host the first annual gay pride in the Sinophone Pacific, Taiwan is a historic center of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer culture. With this blazing path of activism, queer Taiwanese literature has also risen in prominence and there is a growing popular interest in stories about the transgression of gender and sexual norms.

Since the lifting of martial law in 1987, queer authors have redefined Taiwan’s cultural scene, and throughout the 1990s many of their works have won the most prestigious literary awards and accolades. This anthology provides a deeper understanding of queer literary history in Taiwan. It includes a selection of short stories, previously untranslated, written by Taiwanese authors dating from 1975 to 2020. Readers are introduced to a wide range of themes: bisexuality, aging, mobility, diaspora, AIDS, indigeneity, recreational drug use, transgender identity, surrogacy, and many others. 

- Cambria Press

We'd like to thank Cambria for providing excerpts from the seven stories for us to feature this month, to give a taste of the fascinating breadth of theme and style in the collection.

The book features on Words Without Borders' 8 Queer Books in Translation to Read Now. Here, Ta-wei Chi places the stories in the context of the work of Qiu Miaojin (1969-1995). As Ari Larissa Heinrich points out in this in-depth article, Qiu's work earned her the status of 'underground queer cult figure in Taiwan and eventually elsewhere in the Chinese-speaking world,' and recent translations by Heinrich and Bonnie Huie have introduced her to much wider audiences. Ta-wei Chi argues that, 'It is useful for the reader to historicize and contextualize Qiu Miaojin (1969–1995) in Taiwan, which was repressive to queer lives before the 1990s but has dramatically become one of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries in Asia in the new millennium. To that end, Queer Taiwanese Literature: A Reader is a timely collection of stories from Qiu’s predecessors, contemporaries, and successors.'

To find out more about Qiu Miaojin and queer fiction in Taiwan, you can listen to a recent episode of The Translated Chinese Fiction Podcast.