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2012 Program

The Life of the Mind common book selection for the Class of 2016 is Eric Liu’s The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker.


Eric Liu has written a powerful memoir, a memoir that renders the Asian American experience with a depth and a passion reminiscent of Richard Wright’s Black Boy. It is a major contribution to the literature that defines what it means to be an American.
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


About the Book

The_Accidental_Asian_coverBeyond black and white, native and alien, lies a vast and fertile field of human experience. It is here that Eric Liu, former speechwriter for President Clinton and noted political commentator, invites us to explore.

In these compellingly candid essays, Liu reflects on his life as a second-generation Chinese American and reveals the shifting frames of ethnic identity. Finding himself unable to read a Chinese memorial book about his father’s life, he looks critically at the cost of his own assimilation. But he casts an equally questioning eye on the effort to sustain vast racial categories like “Asian American.” And as he surveys the rising anxiety about China’s influence, Liu illuminates the space that Asians have always occupied in the American imagination. Reminiscent of the work of James Baldwin and its unwavering honesty, The Accidental Asian introduces a powerful and elegant voice into the discussion of what it means to be an American.


Praise for The Accidental Asian


Whether he’s recalling his adolescent frustration with “Chinese hair” that just wouldn’t permit itself to be styled, examining the history of Chinatown, or pondering the mixture of fear and fascination with which China is viewed by Americans, Liu writes with admirable personal intensity. It doesn’t matter whether you consider The Accidental Asian to be a memoir or a batch of interconnected essays; once you’ve read it, you will be forced to consider for yourself what place, if any, race has in America today (but even more so tomorrow).


In this candid, well-crafted memoir, Liu, a former speechwriter for President Clinton, explores his identity as a second-generation Chinese American. Although he was raised to assimilate, Liu recalls that his discomfort as an adolescent when trying to fit in was problematical because his hair and skin tone marked him as different from those around him.


About the Author

imagesEric Liu, the founder of Citizen University is the author of The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker and co-author of The Gardens of Democracy and The True Patriot. He is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School. Liu was a speechwriter for President Clinton and also his deputy domestic policy adviser. He currently lives in Seattle where teaches at the University of Washington and leads the Guiding Lights Network.

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