Vision

Imagine a place not only where you can find Asian American literary history but also live it.

The Asian American Literary Archive is a crossroads between artists, scholars, and archivists for preserving, creating, and animating Asian American literary history. Founded in 2023, the Archive aims to connect existing efforts between libraries, literary organizations, artists, and scholars while also serving as a laboratory for new strategies to reproduce, replenish, and recover the memories we need to survive.

This is just one of many possible visions.

The building is bigger than you ever thought possible. And so handsome! The first thing you see is the library—shelves and shelves of books by Asian American writers throughout history. A bulletin board in the lobby is covered in events coming up in the archive and outside of it—the annual Asian American literary conference is coming up. A librarian at the front desk looks up from their book and smiles as you as you walk by.

As you step inside, you notice a showcase of new books that have come out this year. There are others in the space reading quietly at communal desks and comfortable couches. An elder is taking a nap in the corner under a non-English newspaper. A few teenagers whispering to each other over an out-of-print queer zine made in the eighties.

As you round a corner, you see a class in session through a window—the words “Asian American? Asian/American?” are written on the whiteboard, and one of the students in this adult, multigenerational class is answering a question. Across the hall you see a heritage learners language class in a dialect you’ve only ever spoken at home.

There’s a special collection, too. The reading room is filled with researchers right now, and everyone’s looking through acid-free boxes with a careful excitement. Then one of them shouting, “Wow! I’ve only ever seen this one in photos.” And the rest the room cheers.

When you keep on going, you spend some time enjoying the exhibits in the plush reading lounges. One highlights a text/image collaboration between an Asian American artist and writer, with a thoughtful background statement by a local curator-scholar.

On every other wall is a memory—autographed posters of famous writers commemorating events in the space, flyers of past events, signed broadsides by poets who are long-gone and some who were here last week. It’s not as neat as you would have thought. Things are collaged like a living room decorated by many people.

But what’s that smell? The sound of glass and cutlery clinking on bowls and people talking! And it’s a smell of a childhood memory: a grandparent opening the lid on a marvelous lunch you’ve come home to after playing in the sun. This cafe is a yearlong pop-up: a new chef who’s recovering their family recipes in a modern style. You order tea and a savory snack and sit down where one table over, a group of friends are plotting a protest but also next week’s potluck.

Someone forgot a book on the table. As you open it, you laugh. It’s dedicated to you.