How I Chose My Pen Name: On Racialized Names and the English Literary Canon

I’ve always been a little sensitive as to how “Asian-sounding” my name is. “Li,” after all, is the most common surname in the world, and is almost iconically Chinese. Growing up, the books I read and the movies I saw with Asian names attached to them were almost always exclusively about “Asian issues.” This gave me the impression that Asian writers can only ever write about Asian Issues and nothing else: no medieval adventure stories, no detective stories, nothing “normal.”

The truth is, being sensitive about the other-ness of my name was a form of internalized racism. “Li” was something I was ashamed of, or wanted to hide, or at the very least—something I felt very disconnected to.

My experience with Asian Writers Can Only Write Asian Things was just one tiny fragment of contemporary racialization. As a UBC English Literature student, racialization in literature is blatant and alive: we are all obligated to study a certain “literary canon” that is overwhelmingly white, cisgender, heterosexual, economically privileged, and male.

Read the rest of this post on the UBC English Student Association website.

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