The Beat Asia Reads: Asian Women Writers You Need to Know


The Beat Asia Reads: Asian Women Writers You Need on Your Shelf

We're now past the era when women writers had to take on pseudonyms so they can get published and avoid having their works stereotyped by a less accepting society. The Brontë sisters ("Jane Eyre," "Wuthering Heights," and "Agnes Grey," to name a few of their novels), Mary Ann Evans ("Middlemarch"), and Louisa May Alcott ("Little Women") are just some of the female authors who come to mind: they did the unthinkable and went on to write some of the greatest novels in existence under male pen names. Nowadays, though, there hardly seems to be any shortage of women in literature and many have gone on to win prestigious literary prizes and make the bestseller lists.

In Asia, many brilliant women writers also abound and are all worthy to be read. In the spirit of diversifying your literary consumption this year, we challenge you to read more literature written by Asian women. To get you started, here are six women writers from Thailand, Macau, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong that deserve a spot on your bookshelf this 2023.

1. Veeraporn Nitiprapha - Thailand  

Thai author Veeraporn Nitiprapha had her beginnings in magazines and advertising before going on to publish her first novel in Thai, "Saiduan Ta Bod Nai Khaowongkot" (A Blind Earthworm in a Labyrinth). In 2015, the 53-year-old Nitiprapha won the prestigious Southeast Asian (S.E.A.) Writer Award for the book and went on to win the same literary prize three years later in 2018 for her second novel, "Memories of the Memories of the Black Rose Cat." She is the only female author to have won the award twice.    

In an exclusive interview with BK Magazine on Nov. 16, 2015, Nitiprapha shared that she began writing at the age of 22 and found inspiration in the 2010 Thai political protests for her debut novel. Although rooted in politics, "The Blind Earthworm in a Labyrinth" is a work that doesn't spoonfeed its reader with answers, and its political references a masterwork in subtlety.

2. Deolinda da Conceição - Macau

Macanese writers and readers can turn to Deolinda da Conceição for a deeper understanding not just of Macanese women's writing but Macanese literature in general. Believed to have been born in 1913, Deolinda is regarded as one of the first and most prominent women authors and journalists in Macau, having worked for the Voz de Macau and Notícias de Macau newspapers, as per Macau Lifestyle. Ahead of her time, she wrote widely about Chinese women who hailed from Macau, surfacing the voices of those who were unheard in a traditional and patriarchal society. Her short story collection "Cheong-Sam: A Cabaia" tackled the struggle and conditions of women in China and Macau — stories that were largely honest and real, and most of all, liberating.

3. Caroline Hau - Philippines

Caroline Hau
Caroline Hau. Photo by Website/Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University

Chinese-Filipino Caroline Hau wears many hats: professor, researcher, critic, and author. She teaches at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) at Kyoto University in Japan and has published multiple books in different genres. Her book "Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture" won the 37th Philippine National Book Award for Best Book of Literary Criticism/Literary History in 2017. The following year, she bagged the same award under the same category for her book "Interpreting Rizal: Did Padre Damaso Rape Pia Alba? Reticence, Revelation, and Revolution in Jose Rizal's Novels/Daydreaming About Rizal and Tetchō On Asianism as Network and Fantasy." Her debut novel "Tiempo Muerto: A Novel" was also awarded the 39th Philippine National Book Award for Best Novel in English in 2019.

In an interview with Kyoto University's CSEAS on Nov. 26, 2021, Hau shared that she entered the University of the Philippines-Diliman in 1986 right after the late dictator Marcos was overthrown. She then taught at the UP Department of English and Comparative Literature (DECL) in the 90s. It was during this period of "political and intellectual ferment" that became Hau’s "form of awakening."

4. Amanda Lee Koe - Singapore

Amanda Lee Koe
Amanda Lee Koe. Photo by Instagram/@amandaleekoe

Amanda Lee Koe is one of Singapore's most brilliant literary talents. In 2014, Koe became the youngest winner of the Singapore Literature Prize for her short story collection, "Ministry of Moral Panic." She eventually moved to New York City where she took up a Master of Fine Arts degree at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. 

The manuscript of Koe's debut novel, "Delayed Rays of a Star," bagged the Henfield Prize of the school and was published in 2019 by publishing houses Doubleday and Bloomsbury. Koe also served as Esquire Singapore's fiction editor and the National Museum of Singapore's Cinémathequè Quarterly's editor in chief. "Delayed Rays of a Star" went on to become a Straits Times number one bestseller and named among the National Public Radio's Best Books of The Year list.

5. Hanna Alkaf - Malaysia

Hanna Alkaf is one writer who has captured the wonder of children's stories and genre writing. Alkaf, who hails from Malaysia, has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and had worked as a writer in marketing, a fashion magazine, and a non-profit organisation. Today, she lives near Kuala Lumpur with her husband and two children and writes books for kids and teens full-time. 

Her first young adult novel "The Weight of Our Sky" bagged the Freeman Award for Young Adult/High School Literature, whereas her middle grade novel "The Girl and the Ghost" was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize. Her other books include "Queen of the Tiles," "Hamra and the Jungle of Memories," and "The Grimoire of Grave Fates," as well as the short story collection "Once Upon an Eid."

6. Dorothy Tse - Hong Kong

Dorothy Tse
Dorothy Tse. Photo by Website/Words Without Borders.

Fiction writer Dorothy Tse was born in Chaozhou, Guangdong, China and grew up in the fragrant harbour of Hong Kong. Tse was a 2011 Resident at the University of Iowa's International Writing Program. She is currently an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University's Department of Humanities and Creative Writing, where she lectures on creative theory and practice and professional writing. Tse is co-founder of Hong Kong's foremost literary magazine Fleurs de Lettres and is author of multiple books, namely the Chinese short story collections "So Black," "Monthly Matters," 2013 Hong Kong Book Prize winner "A Dictionary of Two Cities" (co-authored with Hong Kong writer Hon Lai-chu), and the English collection "Snow and Shadow."

Tse has won literary prizes, specifically the Hong Kong Biennial Award for Chinese Literature and Taiwan's Unitas New Fiction Writers' Award.

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