Personally, I have decided to declare 2021 the year of the short story. Not for any significant reason other than my brain is an absolute mess and I simply don’t have the attention span for anything longform at the moment.
What I love about short stories is how varied and experimental they can be, allowing the reader to be transported to so many different worlds and realities that could actually be less accessible in longer forms. In this list, I will be focusing on collections by Asian authors because 1) I’m always craving that sweet, sweet, representation, and 2) the incredible diversity of experiences and perspectives from Asia and Asian diaspora communities makes for infinitely more possibilities for engrossing and illuminating short fiction that I hope audiences will engage in more widely.
Here are 13 new and upcoming 2021 short story collections by Asian authors that I am excited about and have started to dip my toes into (or have at least placed at the top of my TBR).
2021 Short Story Collections by Asian Authors
Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen
Te-Ping Chen makes her fiction debut with this collection that tells stories of modern China, its people, and its diaspora. The stories range in style from the sincere to the satirical, from the realistic to the absurd, and reflect on the multidimensional nature of life in China that Chen was able to witness and experience intimately over her years as a journalist based in Beijing.
Calabash Stories by Jeffrey J. Higa
This debut collection by the great-grandson of Okinawan and Japanese immigrants to Hawaii contains stories brimming with adoration and nostalgia for the culture and community he grew up in. In Hawaii, the calabash is a large serving bowl around which families and communities share meals, and in the same way, this collection invites readers to gather around and take part in this loving tribute to the author’s heritage.
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
Here’s yet another debut, a magical collection of 13 speculative stories exploring the lives of women and girls through horror, science fiction, Filipino folklore, and more. Yap has received praise from such authors as Charlie Jane Anders, Tamsyn Muir, and Karen Joy Fowler, as well as Publisher’s Weekly, and is definitely an author to watch.
I’m Waiting for You by Kim Bo-Young, Translated by Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu (Harper Voyager, April 6)
This book paints vast pictures of two different worlds, each explored through a pair of connected stories. The first pair follows a couple trying to coordinate separate missions in far-off parts of the galaxy to be able to return to Earth at the same time and get married. The second examines philosophical questions of existence and free will by looking at humans — and everything on Earth — from the perspective of the godlike figures that created them. Kim Bo-Young is a widely celebrated speculative author in South Korea, and her writing has been praised by filmmaker Bong Joon-ho as “a breath-taking piece of cinematic art”.
Are You Enjoying? By Mira Sethi (Knopf, April 20)
Mira Sethi is a Pakistani actress and writer, and in this provocative debut collection, she shows intimate glimpses into contemporary Pakistani life. The stories take place both in public spheres like politics and entertainment, as well as in private spaces within families and homes, all the while sharing a through line of the universal desire to belong and be loved. Sethi’s writing is humorous, emotional, and keenly observant.
Terminal Boredom by Izumi Suzuki, Translated by Polly Barton, Sam Bett, David Boyd, Daniel Joseph, Aiko Masubuchi, and Helen O’Horan (Verso, April 20)
This is the first English language publication of the work of Izumi Suzuki, who wrote in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and was an influential and radical figure of Japanese science fiction despite a short life and career. With the use of speculative elements, her dark and playful stories highlight the realities of living on the lower rungs of society.
Shoko’s Smile by Choi Eunyoung, Translated by Sung Ryu (Penguin, June 1)
This best-selling collection paints honest, nuanced portraits of young South Korean women, their relationships, and their interior lives. Choi Eunyoung is acclaimed in South Korea for her poignant writing and its unflinching political and social commentary.
We Two Alone by Jack Wang (HarperVia, June 1)
Jack Wang’s debut story collection spans generations and the globe following the journeys of Chinese diaspora looking for better lives. The wide range of characters and stories illustrate the diversity of individual experiences of immigration and tracks the evolutionary arc of the Chinese immigrant experience as a whole from past to present.
Home of the Floating Lily by Silmy Abdullah (Dundurn, July 20)
Home of the Floating Lily contains eight stories taking place in both Canada and Bangladesh, following everyday people who are navigating the complexities of migration, displacement, and relationships. Silmy Abdullah is not just an author, but a lawyer as well, and this is her debut collection.
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (Ecco, August 3)
This debut collection from the brilliant Anthony Veasno So presents a vibrant and immersive portrait of queer and immigrant communities and Cambodian American life. Though we tragically lost So late last year, his contribution to contemporary Asian American literature through these powerful yet tender stories is undeniable.
Skinship by Yoon Choi (Knopf, August 17)
Praised by acclaimed Korean American author Chang-rae Lee, this exquisite debut collection focuses on the experience of Korean American life. With great honesty and wisdom, Yoon Choi zooms in on and examines the interstices within a complex constellation of characters and their relationships.
Hao by Ye Chun (Catapult, September 7)
Ye Chun is the author of two poetry collections as well as a novel in Chinese, and is a three-time Pushcart Prize winner, but this is her first collection of short stories. These are stories of language, motherhood, and the experiences of women in China and the United States grappling with sexism, racism, and trauma.
Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho (Viking, November 9)
This debut contains ten interconnected stories tracing the friendship between two Taiwanese American women over the course of 20 years, from grade school into adulthood. The stories examine the complexities of female friendship, how it evolves, how it can ebb and flow as these young girls grow into young women while exploring their identity and navigating relationships.
What’s so exciting about the books here is that most of them are in fact debuts, which is particularly encouraging and has me looking forward to a bright future landscape of Asian fiction.
For even more short fiction for this year’s TBR, check out this list of 2021 speculative short story collections!