Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism, and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton

Posted in Anthologies, Asian Diaspora, Books, Canada, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-09-06 03:43Z by Steven

Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism, and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton

McGill-Queen’s University Press
July 2016
352 pages
6 x 9
ISBN: 9780773547223

Edited by:

Mary Chapman, Professor of English
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Newly discovered works by one of the earliest Asian North American writers.

When her 1912 story collection, Mrs. Spring Fragrance, was rescued from obscurity in the 1990s, scholars were quick to celebrate Sui Sin Far as a pioneering chronicler of Asian American Chinatowns. Newly discovered works, however, reveal that Edith Eaton (1865-1914) published on a wide variety of subjects—and under numerous pseudonyms—in Canada and Jamaica for a decade before she began writing Chinatown fiction signed “Sui Sin Far” for US magazines. Born in England to a Chinese mother and a British father, and raised in Montreal, Edith Eaton is a complex transnational writer whose expanded oeuvre demands reconsideration.

Becoming Sui Sin Far collects and contextualizes seventy of Eaton’s early works, most of which have not been republished since they first appeared in turn-of-the-century periodicals. These works of fiction and journalism, in diverse styles and from a variety of perspectives, document Eaton’s early career as a short story writer, “stunt-girl” journalist, ethnographer, political commentator, and travel writer. Showcasing her playful humour, savage wit, and deep sympathy, the texts included in this volume assert a significant place for Eaton in North American literary history. Mary Chapman’s introduction provides an insightful and readable overview of Eaton’s transnational career. The volume also includes an expanded bibliography that lists over two hundred and sixty works attributed to Eaton, a detailed biographical timeline, and a newly discovered interview with Eaton from the year in which she first adopted the orientalist pseudonym for which she is best known.

Becoming Sui Sin Far significantly expands our understanding of the themes and topics that defined Eaton’s oeuvre and will interest scholars and students of Canadian, American, Asian North American, and ethnic literatures and history.

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Edith Eaton’s Expanding Oeuvre

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Canada, Caribbean/Latin America, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-09-06 03:28Z by Steven

Edith Eaton’s Expanding Oeuvre

American Periodicals: A Journal of History & Criticism
Volume 27, Number 1, 2017
pages 6-10

Mary Chapman, Professor of English
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Since the early 1980s, when S. E. Solberg published a short checklist of twenty-two works of fiction and journalism by Chinese American author Sui Sin Far (Edith Eaton), our knowledge of her oeuvre has grown considerably. By 2007, through the efforts of Annette White-Parks and Amy Ling, as well as Dominika Ferens and Martha Cutter, Eaton’s oeuvre included about one hundred works of fiction, poetry, and journalism, many of which addressed the experiences of diasporic Chinese in North America. In the past ten years, I have discovered more than one hundred fifty texts by Eaton, some of which are collected in Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton.1 Eaton’s expanded oeuvre demonstrates that she was a much more complicated author than formerly believed, a writer who worked in a range of genres and styles, addressed numerous themes beyond the Chinese diaspora, and published in a wide assortment of turn-of-the-century magazines and newspapers in three national contexts: the United States, Canada, and Jamaica.

To locate uncollected works by Eaton, I took inspiration from the impressive detective work of White-Parks and Diana Birchall,2 who wrote biographies of Eaton and her sister Winnifred (Onoto Watanna), respectively, as well as from Ferens’s recovery of Eaton’s Jamaican journalism. To begin, I developed a list of periodicals and newspapers in which Eaton published or to which she submitted work, based on information about twenty-four periodicals provided in the acknowledgments of her only book, Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912):

I have to thank the Editors of The Independent, Out West, Hampton’s, The Century, Delineator, Ladies’ Home Journal, Designer, New Idea, Short Stories, Traveler, Good Housekeeping, Housekeeper, Gentlewoman, New York Evening Post, Holland’s, Little Folks, American Motherhood, New England, Youth’s Companion, Montreal Witness, Children’s, Overland, Sunset, and Westerner magazines, who were kind enough to care for my children when I sent them out into the world, for permitting the dear ones to return to me to be grouped together within this volume.3

Inspired by Jean Lee Cole’s recovery of periodical works by Winnifred Eaton, I also scoured Eaton’s autobiographical writings, correspondence with editors, and reviews of and introductions to her periodical publications for any mention of publications to which she may have submitted work.4 Eaton’s reference in “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian” to “local [Montreal] papers” that gave her a “number of assignments, including most of the local Chinese reporting,”5 for example, prompted me to consult late 1880s and 1890s issues of the Montreal Star, Montreal Witness, and Montreal Gazette. In “A Word from Miss Eaton” in the Westerner, Eaton mentions publishing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.6 The literary editor of the Westerner also notes in his preamble to “A Word from Sui Sin Far” that Eaton’s works had appeared in Woman’s Home Companion.7 Eaton’s correspondence with Land of Sunshine editor Charles Lummis and Century editor Robert Underwood Johnson, as well as a letter that Los Angeles Express editor Samuel Clover wrote to Johnson, also mention periodicals to which Eaton submitted fiction.8 To this list of publications, I added Fly Leaf, Lotus, the Chautauquan, and the Boston Globe—publications in which White-Parks and Ling had located works by Eaton—as well as Metropolitan Magazine, Gall’s News Letter, and Leslie’s Weekly—periodicals in which Cutter, Ferens, and June Howard had located additional texts.9

I then searched as many issues of these publications as possible for relevant years, in either digitized or paper form. Given the brevity of Eaton’s career (twenty-six years between 1888 and her death in 1914), looking through bound volumes or tables of contents for key years of nondigitized (and sometimes short-lived) monthly magazines was not arduous. Comprehensive searches of nondigitized daily newspapers were more challenging, however, so I searched the Los Angeles Express, Montreal Star, Montreal Gazette, Montreal Witness, Chicago Evening Post, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and New York Evening Post for only particular periods during which Eaton was likely to…

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Cross-Cultural Affinities between Native American and White Women in “The Alaska Widow” by Edith Eaton (Sui Sin Far)

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-03-30 16:30Z by Steven

Cross-Cultural Affinities between Native American and White Women in “The Alaska Widow” by Edith Eaton (Sui Sin Far)

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States
Volume 38, Number 1 (Spring 2013)
pages 155-163
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mls002

Mary Chapman, Associate Professor of English
University of British Columbia

When her work was recovered in the 1980s, Edith Eaton (Sui Sin Far) was credited with founding the canon of Asian-North American literature. The earliest Eaton scholarship focused on her resistance to yellow-peril discourse through her sympathetic portrayals of diasporic Chinese and Eurasians. This scholarship contrasted Edith Eaton’s “authentic” self-presentation as the half-Chinese “Sui Sin Far” with her sister Winnifred’s posturing as Japanese noblewoman author “Onoto Watanna.” Although fascinating in many ways, this scholarship was circumscribed by both an exclusive focus on the politics of race as it intersected with gender—and the lack of access to Eaton’s complete and more internally self-contradictory oeuvre. Scholars relying on the same handful of anthologized works—“The Story of One White Woman Who Married a Chinese” (1910), “Her Chinese Husband” (1910), “In the Land of the Free” (1909), “The Wisdom of the New” (1912), “Mrs. Spring Fragrance” (1910), and “The Inferior Woman” (1910)—explored only a few of Eaton’s themes, most notably Eurasian marriage, tricksterism, and American anti-Asian racism. By focusing on Eaton’s depictions of North American Chinatowns, scholars have rarely recognized the broader transnational political contexts in which Eaton wrote or the cross-racial collaborations depicted in many of her works. Most have understated the significance of Eaton’s British, Canadian, Jamaican, and Chinese cultural referents and ignored significant interactions with the native communities—French Canadian, Caribbean, and even Native North American—that she depicts in much of her work. Nor have scholars adequately appreciated the carefully framed politics of what Sean McCann dismisses as Eaton’s “ordinary, mundane and domestic” settings (76).

In the past ten years, scholars have located numerous unknown essays, works of fiction, and journalism by Eaton that expand her known oeuvre and challenge the Asian American dualism for which she is known. In 2002, Dominika Ferens uncovered a daily column Eaton wrote…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896-1937

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2013-03-06 20:05Z by Steven

Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896-1937

New York University Press
October 2011
228 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9780814752555
Paper ISBN: 9780814752562

Julia H. Lee, Assistant Professor of English and Asian American Studies
University of Texas, Austin

2013 Honorable Mention, Asian American Studies Association’s prize in Literary Studies

Why do black characters appear so frequently in Asian American literary works and Asian characters appear in African American literary works in the early twentieth century? Interracial Encounters attempts to answer this rather straightforward literary question, arguing that scenes depicting Black-Asian interactions, relationships, and conflicts capture the constitution of African American and Asian American identities as each group struggled to negotiate the racially exclusionary nature of American identity.

In this nuanced study, Julia H. Lee argues that the diversity and ambiguity that characterize these textual moments radically undermine the popular notion that the history of Afro-Asian relations can be reduced to a monolithic, media-friendly narrative, whether of cooperation or antagonism. Drawing on works by Charles Chesnutt, Wu Tingfang, Edith and Winnifred Eaton, Nella Larsen, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Younghill Kang, Interracial Encounters foregrounds how these reciprocal representations emerged from the nation’s pervasive pairing of the figure of the “Negro” and the “Asiatic” in oppositional, overlapping, or analogous relationships within a wide variety of popular, scientific, legal, and cultural discourses. Historicizing these interracial encounters within a national and global context highlights how multiple racial groups shaped the narrative of race and national identity in the early twentieth century, as well as how early twentieth century American literature emerged from that multiracial political context.


  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The “Negro Problem” and the “Yellow Peril”: Early Twentieth-Century America’s Views on Blacks and Asians
  • 3. Estrangement on a Train: Race and Narratives of American Identity in The Marrow of Tradition and America through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat
  • 4. The Eaton Sisters Go to Jamaica
  • 5. Quicksand and the Racial Aesthetics of Chinoiserie
  • 6. Nation, Narration, and the Afro-Asian Encounter in W. E. B. Du Bois’s Dark Princess and Younghill Kang’s East Goes West
  • 7. Coda
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • About the Author
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Edith and Winnifred Eaton: Chinatown Missions and Japanese Romances

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Biography, Books, Canada, Monographs, Women on 2012-11-27 04:01Z by Steven

Edith and Winnifred Eaton: Chinatown Missions and Japanese Romances

University of Illinois Press
240 pages
6 x 9 in.
14 black & white photographs, 7 line drawings
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-252-02721-5

Dominika Ferens, Professor of American Literature and Writing
University of Wrocław, Wrocław, Poland

Daughters of a British father and a Chinese mother, Edith and Winnifred Eaton pursued wildly different paths. While Edith wrote stories of downtrodden Chinese immigrants under the pen name Sui Sin Far, Winnifred presented herself as Japanese American and published Japanese romance novels in English under the name Onoto Watanna. In this invigorating reappraisal of the vision and accomplishments of the Eaton sisters, Dominika Ferens departs boldly from the dichotomy that has informed most commentary on them: Edith’s “authentic” representations of Chinese North Americans versus Winnifred’s “phony” portrayals of Japanese characters and settings.

Arguing that Edith as much as Winnifred constructed her persona along with her pen name, Ferens considers the fiction of both Eaton sisters as ethnography. Edith and Winnifred Eaton suggests that both authors wrote through the filter of contemporary ethnographic discourse on the Far East and also wrote for readers hungry for “authentic” insight into the morals, manners, and mentality of an exotic other.

Ferens traces two distinct discursive traditions–-missionary and travel writing–-that shaped the meanings of “China” and “Japan” in the nineteenth century. She shows how these traditions intersected with the unconventional literary careers of the Eaton sisters, informing the sober, moralistic tone of Edith’s stories as well as Winnifred’s exotic narrative style, plots, settings, and characterizations.

Bringing to the Eatons’ writings a contemporary understanding of the racial and textual politics of ethnographic writing, this important account shows how these two very different writers claimed ethnographic authority, how they used that authority to explore ideas of difference, race, class and gender, and how their depictions of nonwhites worked to disrupt the process of whites’ self-definition.

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Finding Edith Eaton

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Canada, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2012-11-27 03:47Z by Steven

Finding Edith Eaton

Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
Volume 29, Number 2, 2012
pages 263-269
DOI: 10.1353/leg.2012.0017

Mary Chapman, Associate Professor of English
University of British Columbia

Since her critical recovery in the early 1980s, Edith Maude Eaton has been celebrated as the first Asian North American writer and as an early, authentic Eurasian voice countering “yellow peril” discourse through sympathetic literary representations of diasporic Chinese subjects. Eaton, a half-Chinese, half-English writer who wrote under variants of the pseudonym Sui Sin Far, is best known for Mrs. Spring Fragrance, her 1912 collection of Chinatown stories, and for the stories and uncollected journalism reissued in the 1995 collection Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings. Recent discoveries of unknown works by Eaton made by Martha J. Cutter, Dominika Ferens, and June Howard have begun to complicate our scholarly understanding of both her biography and her oeuvre.
Late one night in 2006, I typed Edith Eaton’s name and her best-known pseudonyms (“Sui Sin Far” and “Sui Seen Fah”) into the search bar of Google Books. Instantly, a link came up (one that is, alas, no longer there) to a story signed “Edith Eaton” that appeared in the April 1909 issue of Bohemian Magazine. “The Alaska Widow” is not mentioned in Ferens’s detailed bibliography, in Annette White-Parks’s biography, or in the collection White-Parks co-edited with Amy Ling. It is also uncharacteristic of Eaton’s works. Unlike the stories collected in Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings, many of which are set in North American Chinatowns and/or feature Eurasian children, this story takes up the cultural dynamic produced by the Alaska gold rush and the Spanish-American War, and it features a child born to a Native American mother abandoned by a Caucasian adventurer father who later dies in the Philippines. “The Alaska Widow” is also unlike most of the works Eaton published after 1898 in that it is signed “Edith Eaton” without any parenthetical reference to her pen name. Because “The Alaska Widow” is so different from other works by Eaton, it made me wonder: How many other unknown stories by Eaton exist, and how might they challenge scholars’ understanding of the author?
In the years Eaton actively published (1888-1914), US print culture changed profoundly. The number of newspapers and periodicals quadrupled. While nascent mass newspapers cultivated advertising dollars by becoming politically neutral and purportedly objective, many periodicals marketed themselves to niche audiences organized by class, age, gender, aesthetics, vocation, and other categories. Together Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings have made available to scholars only about fifty (mostly Chinatown-themed) publications by Eaton. My archival research, combined with contributions from other scholars, including Cutter, Ferens, and Howard, has uncovered nearly two hundred additional texts of diverse genres, themes, styles, and politics published in more than forty different Canadian, United States, and Jamaican periodicals between 1888 and 1914.
In her early career, between 1888 and 1896, Eaton placed signed poetry and fiction in small-circulation Montreal publications such as the Dominion Illustrated and Metropolitan Magazine. She also filed regular, unsigned journalistic contributions (primarily about Montreal’s Chinatown) and sent impassioned letters to the editor (signing herself E. E.) about racist policies toward the Chinese in Canada to two local newspapers: the Montreal Daily Witness and Montreal Daily Star. In addition, she filed stories about smallpox outbreaks, fires, and murders from northern Ontario, where she worked as a stenographer from 1892 to 1893. Between 1896 and 1897 she wrote daily society and women’s page news for Jamaica’s Gall’s Daily Newsletter. But Eaton recognized early on that it would be almost impossible to earn a living publishing fiction in Canada. In 1896, therefore, she began to submit Chinatown stories, signed “Sui Seen Far,” to periodicals in the United States—the fin de siècle little magazines Fly Leaf and Lotus, as well as the regional emigration magazine Land of Sunshine and popular magazine Short Stories. On the basis of her success placing these stories, Eaton moved to the United States, relocating to California (San Francisco and Los Angeles), probably…

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Teaching Edith Eaton/Sui Sin Far: Multiple Approaches

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2012-03-22 22:57Z by Steven

Teaching Edith Eaton/Sui Sin Far: Multiple Approaches

Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies
Volume 1 (2010)
pages 70-78

Wei Ming Dariotis, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies
San Francisco State University

This essay compares pedagogical approaches to teaching the literature of Edith Eaton in two distinct contexts: a course on Asian American Literature and a course on Asian Americans of Mixed Heritage.  This is a comparison of the variant pedagogical approaches in these two different contexts.

Read the entire article here.

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Sui Sin Far / Edith Maude Eaton: A Literary Biography

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Biography, Books, Canada, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2012-01-30 03:10Z by Steven

Sui Sin Far / Edith Maude Eaton: A Literary Biography

University of Illinois Press
288 pages
ISBN-10: 0252021134; ISBN-13: 978-0252021138

Annette White-Parks, Professor Emeritus of English
University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse

Foreword by Roger Daniels

Winner of the Association for Asian American Studies Outstanding Book Award in Cultural Studies.

This first full-length biography of the first published Asian North American fiction writer portrays both the woman and her times.

The eldest daughter of a Chinese mother and British father, Edith Maude Eaton was born in England in 1865. Her family moved to Quebec, where she was removed from school at age ten to help support her parents and twelve siblings. In the 1880s and 1890s she worked as a stenographer, journalist, and fiction writer in Montreal, often writing under the name Sui Sin Far (Water Lily). She lived briefly in Jamaica and then, from 1898 to 1912, in the United States. Her one book, Mrs. Spring Fragrance, has been out of print since 1914.

Today Sui Sin Far is being rediscovered as part of American literature and history. She presented portraits of turn-of-the-century Chinatowns, not in the mode of the “yellow peril” literature in vogue at the time but with an insider’s sympathy. She gave voice to Chinese American women and children, and she responded to the social divisions and discrimination that confronted her by experimenting with trickster characters and tools of irony, sharing the coping mechanisms used by other writers who struggled to overcome the marginalization to which their race, class, or gender consigned them in that era.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword by Roger Daniels
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • 1. A Bird on the Wing
  • 2. Montreal: The Early Writings
  • 3. Pacific Coast Chinatown Stories
  • 4. Boston: The Mature Voice and Its Art
  • 5. Mrs. Spring Fragrance
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Multiple choice: Literary racial formations of mixed race Americans of Asian descent

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2010-05-27 03:12Z by Steven

Multiple choice: Literary racial formations of mixed race Americans of Asian descent

Rice University
May 2001
194 pages

Shannon T. Leonard
Rice University

A thesis submitted in partial fulfullment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy

This dissertation reassesses key paradigms of Asian American literary studies in the interest of critically accounting for the cultural productions of mixed race Asian Americans. Over the last twenty years, Asian American literary criticism has focused narrowly on a small body of writers, such as Maxine Hong Kingston, David Henry Hwang, and Amy Tan, who achieved mainstream popularity with U.S. feminists and/or multiculturalists, or focused on authors like Frank Chin and John Okada whose literary personas and works lend themselves to overt appropriations for civil rights causes and/or identity politics. “Multiple Choice” participates in a renewed interest in the expansion of Asian American literary boundaries and critical inquiry. “Multiple Choice” addresses the complex racial formations of select mixed race Asian American authors and subjects from the turn of the century to the present. My study situates, both theoretically and historically, the diverse ways in which mixed race peoples variously represent themselves. As the dissertation’s metaphorical title suggests, self-representations, or an individual’s ethnic choices, especially in the case of mixed race Americans, are constantly adjudicated by others (e.g. cultural critics, the media, or U.S. census designers and evaluators). Notwithstanding the omnipresence of these external forces, “Multiple Choice” also engages the complex sets of choices made from within specific Asian American communities, particularly those choices that come in conflict with other Asian American identities. The dissertation looks at writers both well-known and virtually unknown: Edith Eaton, Winnifred Eaton, Sadakichi Hartmann, Aimee Liu, Chang-rae Lee, Amy Tan, Shawn Wong, Jessica Hagedorn, Peter Bacho, Thaddeus Rutkowski, and Paisley Rekdal.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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