Campus: CSU Long Beach -- July 1, 2002

Director of Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Cal State Long Beach Publishes First-Ever Anthology of Southeast Asian Short Fiction

After seven years of diligent work, the director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at California State University, Long Beach has published an historic, first-ever anthology of Southeast Asian short fiction.

Teri Yamada, an associate professor of comparative literature and classics at Cal State Long Beach, compiled Virtual Lotus: Modern Fiction of Southeast Asia, which was recently published by the University of Michigan Press. The seven-year effort to collect the work of 33 writers from 10 nations involved the cooperation of more than 60 scholars worldwide.

"Southeast Asia has become an important economic player in our global economy, and yet, the aesthetic richness and political insight of its modern literature remain essentially unknown," she said. "Virtual Lotus introduces the breadth, wit and social significance of this underrepresented literature to a broader audience."

Beginning with a small grant from CSULB, Yamada traveled in the early 1990s to a conference in Hawaii of the Association of Asian Studies. There, she began to contact scholars who helped open doors to top Southeast Asian writers.

"There was a Burmese scholar, U Saw Tun from the University of Illinois, who helped me contact major writers despite severe censorship laws in Burma," she said. "People had to be sent to Burma to work out the details. It was a complex project."

When university presses decided to apply U.S. copyright laws to the rest of the world, the verbal agreements that once sufficed had to be replaced with written, signed statements from authors and translators. "That took eight months for Burma alone," Yamada noted.

The complexity of Southeast Asia is reflected in the book's many themes. For instance, Burmese author Daw Ohn Khin's "An Unanswerable Question" ponders the brain drain of the nation's most educated youth in search of work.

"The message is that educated Burmese are leaving the country due to globalization," she said. "That is especially true of the Philippines as well."

There is also a unique Web site at http://members.freespeech.org/southeast-asian-literature. "It's the only Web site of its kind that I know," she said. "It helps students do research and offers a component for instructors interested in establishing their own courses on Southeast Asian literature. There are only four (such courses) in the United States."

Yamada earned her masters and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, the first in Southeast Asian culture and literature and the latter in Buddhist Studies. Yamada lived in Japan for eight years and has studied the Cambodian language for six years. She plans to visit Cambodia again this summer.


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